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Bolivia asks U.S. for deportation help after Cuba rejects dissident

Bolivia asks U.S. for deportation help after Cuba rejects dissident

The Bolivian government announced Thursday that Havana will not accept a Cuban dissident set to be deported from Bolivia for criticizing President Evo Morales' close ties to the island nation, and it said the United States must help search for another destination.
Dr. Amauris Sanmartino holds permanent residence status in Bolivia but was arrested this past weekend in the city of Santa Cruz, 540 kilometers (340 miles) east of La Paz, under a law forbidding immigrants to be involved in Bolivian politics.
"We've spoken with Cuba and Cuba doesn't want him," Interior Vice Minister Ruben Gamarra said Thursday, apparently putting to rest Sanmartino's stated fears that he would be killed upon returning home.
Sanmartino and 11 fellow dissidents fled Cuba in 2000 on a boat bound for Florida. Picked up by U.S. immigration authorities, the group was taken to Guantanamo Bay before U.S. officials helped find them a home in Bolivia.
Gamarra said the U.S. should find Sanmartino a new home, and even suggested shipping him back to Guantanamo.
"Those who arranged his entry (into Bolivia) must also arrange to either receive him at Guantanamo or look for a third country," Gamarra said.
Bolivian officials have contacted the U.S. Embassy in La Paz about sending Sanmartino to U.S. territory, but "it looks like they don't want him either," Gamarra added.
U.S. officials confirmed that they were discussing Sanmartino's future with the Bolivian government but declined to comment further on the case.
Sanmartino has claimed legal errors in the Bolivian government's handling of his case, but a La Paz district court on Wednesday said that they were not significant enough to block the deportation.
Sanmartino's lawyers have said they will appeal the decision.
The Bolivian government has accused Sanmartino of having ties to a radical separatist movement in Santa Cruz, a center of conservative opposition to Morales.
They also claim Sanmartino helped organize a violent Dec. 15 clash between anti-Morales protesters and the president's backers that injured dozens in the town of San Julian, 115 kilometers (70 miles) northwest of Santa Cruz.
Sanmartino has denied both accusations.
"This man has mistreated Bolivia, which received him with open arms," Vice President Alvaro Garcia said Wednesday. "He should leave. If he wants independence he should leave. What is he doing here?"
The Bolivian government originally considered Sanmartino a political refugee, but granted him permanent residence status shortly after his arrival. Morales administration officials have said Sanmartino no longer holds refugee status and can therefore be deported.
Sanmartino and opposition leaders accuse the government of hypocrisy by celebrating other foreigners who meddle in local politics. He said that Marxist revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, who was killed in Bolivia while trying to lead a 1967 revolt, was "a foreigner who entered Bolivia to kill people, but the government celebrates him all the time."
On Thursday, Sanmartino continued to receive medical attention for a heart condition aggravated by La Paz's high altitude.
Morales, Bolivia's first Indian president, maintains close ties to Cuba and considers Castro a mentor and personal friend, calling him a "wise uncle."
Since Morales took office, Castro has sent more than 1,500 Cuban doctors to provide urgently needed medical services in South America's poorest country.
Sanmartino has helped some of those doctors flee to neighboring Brazil or the United States.
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Associated Press Writer Paola Flores contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-05-15 01:00 GMT+08:00