Fugitive communist militant and writer Cesare Battisti captured after 37 years of evasion
An Italian aircraft is on its way to Bolivia to pick up the fugitive communist militant Cesare Battisti, who has been captured there nearly three decades after he was convicted of multiple murders.
- Battisti was charged with four murder counts in absentia after fleeing jail in 1981
- The writer had a safe haven in France due to a policy protecting former far-left Italian militants
- Brazil had granted him asylum in 2010, but the last President signed an extradition order
The development sets the stage for a climax to one of Italy’s longest-running efforts to bring a fugitive to justice, as Bolivian police arrested Battisti, 64, overnight.
He had been living in Brazil for years, but last month Brazil’s outgoing president signed a decree ordering his extradition, apparently sparking Battisti’s latest flight to try to evade justice.
The Foreign Ministry vowed to have Battisti extradited “as quickly as possible” and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said he would “finish his days in prison” as soon as he steps on Italian soil.
Battisti escaped from an Italian prison in 1981 while awaiting trial on four counts of murder allegedly committed when he was a member of the Armed Proletarians for Communism, and was subsequently given a life sentence in absentia.
He has acknowledged membership in the group but has denied killing anyone.
Rome finally gets its way
Battisti’s membership of the Armed Proletarians for Communism came at a time of great political and social upheaval for Italy.
Italy had been seeking extradition for decades, thwarted initially by Paris, then Brasilia. (Reuters: Max Rossi)
Between the late 1960s and early 1980s, the country was thrown into the Anni di Piombo — or Years of Lead —that saw acts political terrorism spring from both the left and the right in acts designed to shock.
Far-left militants known as the Red Brigades assassinated Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro in 1978, dumping his bullet-riddled body in a car boot in the centre of Rome.
It was during this period where Battisti was accused of murdering, or being an accessory to the murders of shopkeepers, a butcher and jeweller and two police officers in 1979.
He was sentenced to 12-and-a-half years in prison, but managed to break out of a jail in Rome in 1981.
He then fled to France and was given protection under the Mitterand Doctrine — a French policy protecting left-wing Italian terrorists that “renounced violence” that held in place until the early 2000s.
When France’s commitment to the doctrine fell, Battisti fled to Mexico, then to Brazil, where he was able to enjoy relative freedom and support from the French left throughout.
In the intervening years, Battisti was able to make a career as a novelist, following in the footsteps of other Mediterranean Noir writers such as Massimo Carlotto.
Former French President François Hollande paid Battisti a visit in a Paris prison in 2004, while prominent French philosopher Bernard Henri Lévy was by his side in a Brazilian prison in 2007.
Writing in support of the man around the time of his Brazilian arrest, Mr Lévy made a direct appeal to the then Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva:
“Extraditing Battisti would create a dangerous precedent. Not extraditing him would show the world — which has its eyes fixed on Brazil and on you — that there are principles that neither reasons of national interest nor the logic of cold monsters can purchase,” he wrote.
The President eventually granted asylum to Battisti in 2010.
Brazil’s outgoing President sealed Battisti’s fate
Battisti was arrested again in 2017 after he was caught trying to cross the Brazil-Bolivia border carrying the equivalent of about $7,500 in undeclared cash.
He was released after a few days.
Battisti was arrested in Brazil twice, once in 2009 and his penultimate arrest in 2017. (Reuters: Sergio Moraes )
As a result of that incident, Brazilian Supreme Federal Tribunal Justice Luiz Fux said in December that Interpol had issued the latest request for Battisti’s arrest on tax evasion and money laundering charges, leading him to issue a Brazilian warrant.
Based on that, outgoing Brazilian President Michel Temer signed the decree ordering the extradition.
Minister Salvini praised Bolivian police and Brazil’s new government for following through on the case.
He called Mr Battisti a “delinquent who doesn’t deserve to live comfortably on the beach but rather to finish his days in prison”.