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Brazil: Extradition refusal threatens relations with Italy

The Brazilian government calls Cesare Battisti a political activist. For the Italian government, the writer is a convicted terrorist. The controversial decision of the Brazilian government to guarantee political refugee status for him, two weeks ago, has divided opinions in Brazil, attracted severe criticism in Italy and is on the verge of causing an international rift in the otherwise friendly Brazil-Italian relations.

A former member of the Armed Proletarians for Communism, a far-left group which supported violent revolution in Italy in the 70's, Battisti has been tried and sentenced to life in prison for a series of crimes, including murder. He first fled to France, and after causing diplomatic tension between Italy and France, he fled to Brazil, where he had been living since 2002 and a request for his extradition was being considered by the Brazilian Supreme Court.

However, Battisti has just been given the status of political refugee by Brazilian Minister of Justice Tarso Genro, after his initial request for asylum was denied by the National Committee for Refugees, on the grounds that Battisti had been convicted in his absence and on the basis of allegedly unreliable evidence. Genro's decision, later backed by President Lula, has caused the authorities in Rome to recall its ambassador to Brazil, Michele Valensise, “for consultation” as the latest development of the escalating row.

There have been calls for a boycott of Brazilian goods – in 2008 business between the two countries generated US$ 10bn – and requests for Italians to cancel holidays to the country. Even the  Brazil vs. Italy friendly football match in London on February 10 might be called off [it].

In Brazil, opinions are divided and there are at the moment two petitions doing the rounds on the internet, one in support of the Italian government [pt], the other in support of the Brazilian decision [pt]. While the Italian government seems to be increasingly angry, their Brazilian counterpart has tried to play the issue down saying that there is no diplomatic crisis. Marcos Otterco [pt] says that the fact that the Italian ambassador to Brazil was recalled is ominous:

Se a Itália levar adiante sua retaliação, e tudo indica que isso não ficará barato, o Brasil terá muito a perder e nada a ganhar. Prepare-se para onda de deportação de brasileiros residentes na Itália.

If Italy carries out the retaliation, and everything indicates that they will, this will cost Brazil, which has much to lose and nothing to gain, a lot. Get ready for a wave of deportations of Brazilians living in Italy.

On the other hand, the blogger at Consciê [pt] says that successful crime novelist Battisti was an unimportant militant who only took central stage after he wrote a book denouncing the Italian justice system's poor handling of trials. According to him, there are other interests at stake:

É para esconder do mundo que seus julgamentos não passavam de linchamentos com verniz de legalidade que a Itália quer calar Battisti.

E salta aos olhos que a sanha destrambelhada de Berlusconi e seus cúmplices tem o objetivo secundário de humilhar os eminentes cidadãos libertários do mundo inteiro que abraçaram solidariamente a causa de Battisti.

Italy wants to shut up Battisti to hide from the world the fact that their trials are nothing but lynchings with a veneer of legality.

And it is clear that the clumsy wrath of Berlusconi and his accomplices has the secondary purpose of humiliating eminent libertarian citizens of the world that jointly embraced Battisti's cause.

Not surprisingly, public opinion in Italy has perceived the concession of refugee status for the Italian citizen as a display of support from the Brazilian government for the extremist movements that ravaged Italy, not to mention the insult to Italian society. Juca [pt] thinks that President Lula, on the other hand, did not perceive the gravity of the situation and now has a very hot potato in his hands:

Agora, estabelecido o escândalo, não sabe o governo Lula o que fazer para que o incidente não se transforme em uma grave crise internacional que poderá render ao Brasil o afastamento, por falta de convite, para a importante próxima reunião do G8, grupo atualmente presidido pela Itália, sob a alegação de que o nosso país não colabora com o combate internacional ao terrorismo, ao contrário, o prestigia dando refúgio a terroristas.

Now, that the scandal has been created, Lula's government does not know what to do to avoid the incident becoming a serious international crisis that could bring isolation on Brazil and exclusion from the next G8 meeting, currently chaired by Italy, under the claim that our country does not cooperate with the international fight against terrorism, but salutes it instead, giving refuge to terrorists.

Whereas some people claim that, with this decision, Brazil shows it is an example of democracy [pt] and that the criticism is part of a political dispute. Ralf Rickli [pt] highlights that the media has so far only shown one side of the story: the protests from the Italian side. The blogger comments on the doubts cast on Battisti's trial in absentia in 1987, and mentions the fact that the Mitterand government had also denied his extradition. The blogger asks: “why doesn't our mainstream media report this?” and answers:

E aí de repente lembro que o atual primeiro-ministro da Itália é um magnata da imprensa… Representante típico de uma certa direita que se vale da força da imprensa como instrumento de poder – com o qual vem se safando inclusive de repetidas acusações de corrupção e de ligação com a Máfia.

Mas deve ser só coincidência, não? Não deve haver nenhuma relação…

And then I suddenly remember that the current Italian Prime Minister is a media magnate… A typical representative of a right wing group that uses the strength of the media as an instrument of power – with which it has been getting away with repeated accusations of corruption and links with the Mafia.

But it should be only coincidence, no? There should be no relationship…

On the press handling of the issue, Sociologist Rudá Ricci [pt] calls most criticism an irrational reaction of left-wing militants and some of the media:

Irracional porque do ponto de vista legal, o ato não fere nenhum princípio. Mas é um ato político, sem dúvida. E é por aí que a nuvem de fumaça se espalha. Comecemos pelas reações à direita:
1) O Clube Militar emite nota destacando que se trata de concessão de asilo a um assassino sanguinário. Aliás, vai mais longe e cita uma tal “ditadura sanguinária”;
2) O governador José Serra, de olho no eleitorado paulista (muito conservador) afirma timidamente que se trata de um equívoco. Tímido porque ele mesmo foi um refugiado político no Chile e conviveu com brasileiros que eram denunciados pelos mesmos crimes que Battisti;
3) O senador e ex-presidente italiano Francesco Cossiga ataca Tarso Genro dizendo que se trata de um ministro “cretino”;
4) A polícia italiana diz que o próprio Battisti matou quatro pessoas. Ele nega.

Os argumentos são exagerados e frágeis, como se percebe.

Irrational because from the legal point of view, the decision does not hurt any principle. But there is no doubt it is a political decision. And this is where the confusion starts. Let's start with the right-wing reactions:
1) The Military Club has publicized a note emphasizing that it is granting asylum to a bloodthirsty killer. Moreover, they go further and mention a “bloody dictatorship”;
2) The Governor [of the state of São Paulo] Jose Serra, with an eye on the local (very conservative) electorate says timidly that this was a misunderstanding. He was shy because he was a political refugee in Chile and lived among Brazilians who were denounced for crimes like Battisti's;
3) The senator and former Italian president Francesco Cossiga attacked Tarso Genro saying that the minister is an “asshole”;
4) The Italian police says that Battisti killed four people himself. He denies it.

The arguments are exaggerated and fragile, as we understand.

Others don't quite agree and think the country has taken a wrong turn. Fernando Rizzolo [pt] qualifies the Brazilian Government's decision which has put Brazil in a fix as marred by ideological ties rather than legal considerations:

É impressionante a que ponto a paixão pela ideologia da esquerda faz com que um País como o Brasil se indisponha com a Europa. Não é possível que o ministro Tarso Genro, o PT, o presidente Lula encontrem neste cidadão Battisti “algo maior” ao defendê-lo e colocar o Brasil numa situação complicadíssima. A Itália é uma democracia, a própria esquerda italiana não o defende. Para que tudo isso ? Lula deveria ter reconsiderado a decisão de Tarso, mas não, o PT tem um amor incrível as causas esquerdistas, a ponto de sacrificar um País, não é ?

It is amazing the extent to which the passion for the left-wing ideology makes a country like Brazil row with Europe. It is not possible that Minister Tarso Genro, the Workers’ Party (PT) and President Lula believe that this citizen Battisti is “something deserving” backing putting Brazil in a very complicated situation. Italy is a democracy, the most left-wing groups in Italy do not back him. So, why all this? President Lula should have reconsidered Tarso's decision, but instead, [the president's] PT has an incredible love of leftist causes, to the point of sacrificing the country, no?

Leandro Sartori Molino [pt] believes that both governments are making a mistake in putting at risk the historic relationship between Italy and Brazil over such a little issue:

Mas nós, meros cidadãos brasileiros e italianos, que não temos nada a ver com essa ridicularidade, estamos, no mínimo, assustados: o que poderá ocorrer conosco, que adoramos passear pelas Praias do Nordeste brasileiro, sambar em seu impressionante Carnaval, tomar um delicioso “spresso” na Piazza Novona, ouvir os gondoleiros de Venezza ao passear por seus canais, tomar vinho, comer uma deliciosa macorranada, tomar caipirinha e comer feijoada?

But we, mere Brazilian and Italian citizens who have got nothing to do with this palaver, are at least scared: what could happen to us, who love strolling on the beaches of northeastern Brazil, dancing samba in its impressive carnival, taking a delicious “spresso” in Piazza Novona, hearing the Venician gondoliers as we stroll along their canals, drinking wine, eating delicious pasta, drinking caipirinhas and eating feijoada?
UPDATE 04/02/2009: Global Voices also has Italian blogger responses on this issue.
  • T. Horn

    Surprise, surprise. Shortly before Obama took the oath of office in the US as President, Lula gave in and freed the “human slaves”. Yes, that’s freed the slaves, all 4,500 of them. And, according to one source, the human slave traffic exceeds 25,000 “human slaves” in bondage in Brazil’s tobacco and fruit farms. It surpasses reasonable expectations that Lula and his boys, which have managed at least the first un-dictatorship, got excited about a black American being President, but I’m sure Obama didn’t notice the lengthy time lapse in Lula’s “free ‘dem” post Abe Lincoln – hundreds of decades “post slavery”. On the one hand, Brazil is the number 1 and 2 provider of tobacco goods, the stuff that kills in the US every one person every 8 seconds. And more – most likely. However, let the freedom ring for Brazillianos who live in the USA and “born in the USA” is the sinking ship for places like Los Angeles which take in “anchor babies” (it costs about 30 k per Brasilliano kid), who come in, hook up with the University system, and then, 6 months later, drop a Norweigan mixed trix child – and “I’ll be back” Gov., seems not to notice this. However, if you’re American, try to open a bank account in Brazil on a regular Visa, or try to bring in your new personal laptop without having it seized and taxed, or both; try to avoid the pirates selling openly in the markets of Brazillia, the el grande city of the 60’s, at the expense of holiwood and intellectual property rights – impossible world, but where was Brazil in 1944 – waiting to see which side would win, finally deciding, then post-war – taking in Mengala and any good old Nazi who had the bucks. Lula doesn’t make his money the old fashioned way. He does it in a democartic fashion – he frees the slaves, and barters for prison-bound foreigners. And, USA – drop your guard, they’re dropping anchors.

  • bernardo parrella

    One good point is surely that “Lula did not perceive the gravity of the situation and now has a very hot potato in his hands”.

    In Italy the terrorism years have not yet been fully understood and digested by ordinary citizens, not to mention many “secrets” still undisclosed by terrorists and authorities alike (as for the well-known case of Aldo Moro, kidnapped and then killed by the Red Brigades more than 30 years ago), while even now books, studies and discussion on that topics abound everywhere.

    Even if it’s true that Battisti was a late and “minor” terrorist, this scenario doesn’t allow for what it looks like (in Italy) a light and impulsive decision, and the situation is actually quite serious, and it seems that with is getting worse by the day…

    Maybe, Paula, we should have a follow-up to this post, with reactions and opinions from Italian bloggers and netizens?

  • bernardo parrella

    for instance, a quick search on facebook brings up 46 groups – all but two against the brazilian decision and asking for protests, boycott, etc. (and one of those two group has clearly an extreme left inspiration)

    some groups have just a handful of members, most a few hundreds and the top one – Cesare Battisti deve tornare in Italia per scontare l’ergastolo – has 15,616 members, 742 wall posts and much more…

  • Paula

    Hello Bernardo

    I think it would be a good idea to aggregate Italian reactions and I have heard that the French blogosphere is also writing about it. I, myself, agree with the last blogger quoted, :)


  • Alessandro Riolo

    I don’t believe the Italian government is truly surprised from the Brazilian government behaviour.
    In truth, has been 22 years that Brazil has sheltered the likes of Achille Lollo who burnt alive 2 teenagers because their father was of opposite political views of its own, and who feel that safe that he can even confessed that to the press (

  • bernardo parrella

    thanks for that link, didn’t know that story in detail, but i think that the “lollo case” is quite different from battisti’s

    and more in general, despite such situations we cannot say that the relationships between italy and brazil have been and are less then friendly in many ways and sectors

    anyway, we’re working on a post for GV gathering some italian online reactions to the whole thing

  • Nilson Karoll

    It was a stupid decision of Brasilian Goverment, there is no respect for the Constitution. Once again, the whole world can see how the authorities of Brazil are unprepared. How can a minister of justice support a killer like Cesare Battisti.
    I hope the Supreme Cort of Brazil does not make the same mistake and take Brazil to a great diplomatic conflict.

  • Pingback: Global Voices Online » Italy Seethes over Brazil’s Extradition Refusal()

  • svhayter

    There is no convincing proof that Battisti killed anyone. Italian Justice back then was laughable — mass trials, allegations of torture, conviction by contumacy — from people who then had the charges against them dropped. These murder charges were not mentioned when Battisti was originally tried. They came up later after he had escaped to Mexico. It made sense for former leftists to pin crimes on him, to get charges aginst them dropped r sentences reduced, since he was seemingly safe in Mexico. Italy still operates under Mussolin’s civil code. The right wingers are nutjobs — Gladio anyone? And they control the media. It’s the Balkans with better cuisine. The legal case against Battisti stinks, and he will nt find justice, and will have to fear for his life, is he is returned to Italy. Maybe that’s why Brazil decided not to extradite him.

  • Antimo


    you allegatiosn that Italy’s justsive system during the 70s was “loughbale” is simply ridicoukls abnd gorundless.
    Torture? mass trials? Where do you get these ifnromation? If you want to debate over Italian Justice system you shoudl provide evidences and credible sources.

    There are several sentceses of the Europen Suprem Court for Human Rights that states that Italian Justice System, at the time Battisti was tried, was pereftly in line with Eurpean standards.
    Your opinion is merely based on ideological grounds. Italy has defieated Terrorism in its tribunals. 95% of tried terrorist are now free citizens. Many of them teaches at public universities. There isn’t a single case involving mistreatements ( i do not even ,mention the word “Torture”) of any terrorist in Italy. You better go make some credible research before making such ridicouls and goundless statements.

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