- The Washington Times - Monday, December 25, 2006

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia — Authorities have arrested prominent Cuban dissident Amauri San Martino, who escaped to freedom by swimming to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay six years ago, and plan to seek his extradition to Cuba, the government said yesterday.

Mr. San Martino, who has become a vocal critic of Bolivian President Evo Morales’ growing ties with Havana, was picked up at his home on Saturday by a group of armed men in plainclothes, according to witnesses.

The dissident also has been instrumental in the defection of more than 100 Cuban doctors from Bolivia, where 2,000 Cuban medical personnel, teachers and other aid workers have been working under a cooperation agreement between the two governments.

The United States arranged asylum in Bolivia for Mr. San Martino after he swam onto a beach at Guantanamo Bay in 2000. He was denied entry into the U.S. because the naval facility is not legally considered to be American soil; under existing law, only Cuban exiles who land in the continental United States can be granted residence.

The Bolivian government did not comment on Mr. San Martino’s arrest for almost two days. Yesterday morning, the Interior Ministry issued a brief statement, saying that he would be deported to Cuba because he is no longer considered to be a refugee.

“Mr. San Martino has violated his refugee status through his political activities and repeated attacks against the government,” said Osvaldo Peredo, a chief spokesman in Santa Cruz for the ruling Movement Toward Socialism.

The government said Mr. San Martino had violated a 1996 law forbidding immigrants to “intervene in any form in internal politics or incite by any means the alteration of the social and political order.”

Members of the opposition insist that Mr. San Martino has a right to speak his mind and that his criticism was directed mainly at the Cuban government of President Fidel Castro.

“This violates international agreements for the protection of refugees. It’s the worst thing that has happened under the Morales regime, which is trying to emulate the Castro regime,” said Walter Arrazola, a Santa Cruz deputy for the opposition Podemos party.

Government officials say that Mr. San Martino’s activities went beyond vocal criticism and that he was trying to undermine relations with Cuba by providing assistance to Cubans seeking to defect.

According to one official, who asked not to be named, the government has evidence that Mr. San Martino provided money and false documents to several Cuban doctors who have defected through Bolivia.

Mr. Arrazola and Cuban exile groups plan to fight the deportation, which they said violates international human rights standards. They said he was arrested without a court order or official police notification.

Mr. San Martino’s Bolivian wife, Normina Chavez, said she was able to contact him yesterday at a clinic in La Paz, where he was interned after starting to bleed seriously from apparent mistreatment.

According to her account of their brief conversation, he was driven to a series of safe houses by a five-man undercover team, which finally flew him to the Bolivian capital to start processing his deportation at the Interior Ministry.

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