Monday, April 27, 2009

Venezuelan official granted asylum in Peru

LIMA, Peru (CNN) -- Manuel Rosales, the mayor of Maracaibo, Venezuela, has been granted political asylum in Peru, Peru's foreign minister said Monday.

Manuel Rosales denies that he illegally enriched himself as governor of Zulia state.

Rosales, a leading political opponent who lost the 2006 presidential race to Hugo Chavez, faces corruption charges in Venezuela.

He was supposed to have turned himself in to authorities last week but failed to appear. His attorney said then that Rosales had fled to Peru and would seek asylum there.

Peruvian Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde said that the asylum was granted on humanitarian grounds and that recent statements by Rosales against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez were not taken into account, the state-run Andina news agency said.

Venezuelan officials say Rosales illegally enriched himself as governor of Zulia state from 2002 to 2004.

Rosales denies the allegation, saying Chavez is out to get him for political reasons and is persecuting him on trumped-up corruption charges.

"Since they haven't been able to take me off the political map by the electoral route, now they're using the power they have in all the movements of the public prosecutor," Rosales told CNN en Español last month.

One of Rosales' lawyers noted that Chavez said publicly in October 2008, before Rosales was charged, that he wanted the mayor in prison.

In last month's interview, Rosales called the charges that he had illegally accepted money "totally false," and said he not only declared all of his income, but paid taxes on it.

Katiuska Plaza, district attorney for Zulia state, said in a 26-count complaint last month that Rosales illegally enriched himself in 2002 and 2004.

Rosales called the district attorney's actions "a manipulation," and said the prosecutor "is acting on Chavez's orders."

Another prominent Chavez opponent was arrested this month on corruption charges.

Former Venezuelan Defense Minister Raul Baduel played a key role in turning back a coup attempt against Chavez in 2002 but broke with him in November 2007 over constitutional changes Chavez was proposing. Baduel has been a strong Chavez critic since then.

Baduel, who also was the president's military general-in-chief, was arrested at gunpoint in front of his wife April 2, the general's attorney said at the time. It was Baduel's second arrest on charges that he stole $14 million from the armed forces.

He has denied the allegation and said last year the charges were politically motivated.

And Antonio Ledezma, an opposition figure who is mayor of Caracas, is finding his powers reduced. Last week, the pro-Chavez National Assembly shifted many of his powers to the federal government.

Ledezma has accused Chavez of orchestrating protests against him.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Hugo Chávez's rival might be jailed in Venezuela

An arrest warrant was requested for Maracaibo Mayor Manuel Rosales. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez had previously threatened to wipe his rival from the political map. Manuel Rosales, who stood against Chávez in the December 2006 presidential election, attributed the arrest warrant to 'an order from Chávez' and said he would fight it on all fronts.

CARACAS -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez took a big step closer Thursday to his stated goal of putting his former rival for the presidency, Manuel Rosales, behind bars.

A prosecutor in the western border state of Zulia said she would request an arrest warrant for Rosales, the former state governor, who in November was elected mayor of Maracaibo, the state capital. The charge is ``illicit enrichment.''

Rosales, who stood against Chávez in the December 2006 presidential election, winning just less than 40 percent of the vote, attributed the arrest warrant to ''an order from Chávez'' and said he would fight it on all fronts.

In December, Chávez announced that he was ''determined to put Manuel Rosales in jail.'' Before the November election, he had threatened to launch ''a military plan'' against Rosales if he won. He has also threatened to ``wipe [Rosales] from the political map.''


Rosales, 56, was governor of Zulia from 2000 to 2008. In April 2002, he signed the infamous decree issued by the de facto president, Pedro Carmona, dissolving all branches of government but the executive, after Chávez was briefly ousted in an ultimately frustrated coup. The Venezuelan leader has never forgiven him for what he considers an act of treachery.

The arrest order now goes to a judge for a hearing within the next three weeks. If convicted, Rosales could face between three and 10 years in jail.

The specific charge, first leveled in 2004, is that Rosales failed to account for $66,000 in income, which the mayor says came primarily from his private activities as a rancher and was declared to the tax authorities.

It is just one of a number of accusations against him that have been raised, or revived, since Chávez warned three months ago that he was determined to jail him. In December, legislators in the national assembly, which is dominated by Chávez supporters, determined that the mayor was ''politically responsible'' for irregularities in the state lottery.

Pro-Chávez legislator Mario Isea has accused Rosales of having $11 million invested in several companies in Miami, supposedly the product of illicit enrichment.

Although the courts and the prosecution service are nominally independent from the executive, in practice they have a record of doing the president's bidding.

Last year, the New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch said Chávez had, ''effectively neutralized the judiciary as an independent branch of government'' -- a charge emphatically denied by the government, which accuses the organization of anti-Chávez bias.


Political commentator Fausto Masó attributed the threat against Rosales to a desire on Chávez's part to ''inspire fear.'' But he added that the gamble was a risky one.

''Rosales isn't going to leave the country,'' Masó told The Miami Herald. ``And this could cause trouble in Zulia.''

Already, the opposition-run state, which has a history of resistance to central-government control, is up in arms over Chávez's decision this week to send troops to seize ports and airports across the country that for the past 20 years have been run by state authorities.

The move, which the opposition considers a blatant violation of the 1999 constitution, has provoked a strong reaction from opposition mayors and governors, who on Wednesday announced a united front in defense of the constitution and a plan for mass rallies.

''For the first time, we're seeing the [opposition] mayors and governors united,'' Masó said.

``And the tone of their speeches is much more aggressive now.''


Chávez has problems on other fronts, too, notably a growing number of labor disputes, affecting sectors of the economy as diverse as the industrial belt in the southeastern state of Bolívar to the hospitals and the Caracas metro.

Last week, 14 labor organizations from both sides of the political divide came together to form a Labor Union Solidarity Movement in response to verbal attacks on the unions by the president.

In the past, Chávez has shown a tendency to react to difficult circumstances by provoking conflict. It was this that almost proved his undoing in April 2002. But Masó points out that he sometimes retreats.

''Up to now, when he faces real difficulties, he backs down,'' Masó said.

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