In the 1970s, during the anni di piombo (“years of lead”), Cesare Battisti was a member of the so-called Armed Proletarians for Communism (PAC), a terrorist group which was much like the Red Brigades, though smaller and less known. Arrested by Italian police, he escaped from prison in 1981, while awaiting trial on four charges of murder allegedly committed in the late 1970s, when he was still a member of the above mentioned armed group. Eventually he was convicted in absentia and sentenced to life.
In the meantime Battisti, after flying to Latin America, where he lived in the 1980s. There he started writing crime novels and became a cult figure among intellectuals and the left-wing opposition in Paris, where he had taken refuge in 1990 and where a court had refused an extradition request from Italy, arguing that Battisti’s trial would be based on testimony from informers. This was a consequence of the “new deal” started by French socialist president François Mitterand, who in 1985 granted an amnesty to far-left terrorists from Italy who renounced their past and promised to keep out of domestic politics. But in 2004 Chirac’s Government abandoned Mitterrand’s policy, and another court approved the extradition of Battisti, who in turn disappeared and eventually fled to Brazil, where three year later, in March 2007, he was arrested.
And here is where the last chapter of this story begins: on January 13 Brazilian Justice Minister Tarso Genro decided to grant asylum to Cesare Battisti, on the grounds that he risked “political persecution” were he to be extradited to Italy. Tarso Genro explained that his decision was based on a 1951 Brazilian statute and a subsequent 1997 law defining the guidelines for granting asylum that included ”the real threat of persecution due to race...or political opinion,” Ansa reports. As it was not enough, last Friday the president of Brazil, Inacio Lula da Silva, sent a letter to his Italian colleague Giorgio Napolitano in response to his letter in which the Italian president expressed his “astonishment and regret” about Tarso Genro’s decision. Lula basically maintained that the Brazilian government can take its own decisions to grant political asylum or not to whomever it wants. At last, Brazil’s top prosecutor, Antonio Fernando Souza, asked the Supreme Court on Monday to end extradition proceedings against Battisti. As a result, today Italy has recalled its ambassador to Brazil for consultations.
Here is an interesting comment by the Economist:
Brazil’s reasons for protecting Mr Battisti are unconvincing. The justice minister, Tarso Genro, referred to his country’s tradition of harbouring political exiles, ranging from Alfredo Stroessner, a particularly nasty ex-dictator (of Paraguay), to Olivério Medina, an ex-guerrilla (in Colombia). Now that democracy is the norm in the Americas, that tradition is anachronistic. Mr Genro also seems to think that Mr Battisti was convicted of political crimes, rather than plain murder.
Two sentiments underlie Mr Genro’s reticence. One is Brazil’s reluctance to examine its own past. Whenever the question of an inquiry into the military government of 1964-85 arises, it is quickly squashed (unlike similar demands in Argentina or Chile). The second sentiment, that of solidarity, is to be found among some members of Lula’s party who were far-left militants in the 1970s. In Italy, which lost a former prime minister to the Red Brigades and had a government adviser murdered as recently as 2002 by its imitators, attitudes are much less indulgent.
It’s also worthy to note that once again a “progressive” and “enlightened” Western government has decided to go to Battisti’s rescue. Perhaps in Brazil and other left-oriented countries you must be a former terrorist, preferably a convicted murderer, to have granted what is denied to almost anyone else: a hearty welcome by the highest authorities, loyal and supportive friends (in the government), and a safe place to live in.