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Nicaragua grants asylum to Peruvian indigenous leader

June 5, 2009

The government of Nicaragua has granted political asylum to Peruvian indigenous leader Alberto Pizango, who is wanted in Peru on charges of inciting violent protests over oil exploration rights in the Amazon.

Pizango is charged with sedition after allegedly leading an indigenous group in protest over Amazon land usage rights. The protests turned violent last weekend when police tried to break up a roadblock, resulting in more than 50 deaths, according to wire reports.

Pizango, who has been hiding in the Nicaraguan embassy in Lima since Monday, was granted asylum Tuesday by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, according to Sandinista Front founder and Nicaraguan Ambassador to Peru Tomás Borge.

Borge, who is currently in Managua, told local media outlets that Pizango´s case “has all the characteristics of a political issue” and is under review by the Organization of American States and Peruvian Congress.

“Our (only) alternative, taking into account the spirit of solidarity (Nicaraguan) President Daniel Ortega holds with those who supposedly (suffer) political persecution, is to offer political asylum to Alberto Pizango,” Borge said.

Foreign policy experts say the issue of asylum is very politicized in Latin America.

Emilio Alvarez, Nicaragua´s former foreign minister, told The Nica Times that the Pizango case is “definitely politicized” and in line with “leftist government´s defense of people who feel exploited.”

However, Alvarez did not rule out that Nicaragua´s decision was in part a tit for tat response to the Peruvian government´s decision to recently grant asylum to Venezuelan opposition leader Manuel Rosales – a decision that was harshly criticized by the government of Hugo Chávez, Ortega´s closest political ally.

Alvarez added that Nicaragua appears to be gaining an international reputation itself for granting political asylum to controversial figures. Last year, President Ortega gave asylum to four alleged guerrillas and sympathizers of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia following the bombing of a jungle camp in Ecuador by the Colombian military.

But not everyone is coming to Nicaragua seeking refuge. Some are fleeing.

Nicaraguan journalist Georgina Lupiac recently became the second Nicaraguan this year to be granted political asylum in the United States after she convinced a U.S. Immigration Court that she was a victim of political persecution in Nicaragua and that her personal safety was in danger if she returned home.

The other Nicaraguan woman granted asylum in the U.S. earlier this year was a former campaign volunteer for opposition candidate Eduardo Montealegre who was attacked by a Sandinista mob in the post-electoral violence, according to a report on the Web Site worldnetdaily.com.

Former Sandinista Deputy Foreign Minister Victor Hugo Tinoco said all asylum cases are different and need to be judged individually. He said the impact of the Pizango case on Nicaragua´s foreign relations will depend on the Peruvian government´s reaction.

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