Tuesday, March 29, 2005

LA PAZ, Bolivia — A prominent Bolivian human rights lawyer, who has made numerous trips to the United States in the past, was surprised earlier this month that his visa was canceled for meeting with terrorists.

According to Fernando Rodriguez, he was detained for six hours at Miami International Airport, and questioned by four officials, two from the Homeland Security Department and two others who identified themselves as members of an “anti-terrorist task force.”

Mr. Rodriguez said the officials told him he had met with “terrorist peasants.” He was then stripped off his U.S. visa, valid until 2014, and forced to board a plane back to La Paz.

The U.S. Embassy in La Paz confirmed that Mr. Rodriguez had been denied entry, but declined to give further details. Zachary Mann, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Miami, said he was not permitted to divulge information about the case for reasons of “privacy.”

“We don’t discuss particulars about when somebody arrives, the types of questions or responses given, or reasons for being found inadmissible,” said Mr. Mann.

Mr. Rodriguez, co-founder of the Bolivian chapter of the Inter-American Platform of Human Rights, Democracy and Development, was traveling to Washington to present evidence of abuses by petroleum, mining and logging companies against indigenous groups before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, an arm of the Organization of American States. Mr. Rodriguez said he had made a similar presentation to the commission in February 2004.

“There is no terrorism in Bolivia,” said Mr. Rodriguez, 47, who is member of a commission created by Bolivian President Carlos Mesa to formulate a national human rights policy. “There are no guerrillas either.

“There is no armed struggle. So I have no idea what peasants they’re talking about.”

Some in Bolivia fear that the administration of President Bush is using the war on terrorism as a pretext to demonize indigenous leaders and groups who are critical of U.S.-promoted free-market and coca-eradication policies.

“This is summary justice with no right to defense. It goes against the norms of international law,” said Ana Maria Romero de Campero, Bolivia’s former ombudsman. “The United States needs to give some explanation on what happened. If they can’t produce any evidence, they need to offer an apology. If not, we’re looking at a dangerous precedent.”

In Bolivia, U.S. Ambassador David Greenlee and his predecessor, Manuel Rocha, have alluded to links between the nation’s combative indigenous-based social movements and both narco-trafficking and terrorism.

Mr. Rocha went so far as to warn Bolivians of the “consequences” of voting for Evo Morales, the indigenous leader of a major opposition party and a popular figure with the nation’s large Quechua and Aymara population, on the eve of the 2002 presidential elections.

Neither Mr. Greenlee nor Mr. Rocha have presented any evidence of such a connection between indigenous leaders and terrorism, however. The State Department’s “2003 Patterns of Global Terrorism Report” expresses “concern” for purported terrorist acts in Bolivia, but does not identify any terrorist groups in the country.

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