Caracas, September 3, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Peruvian Foreign Minister, José Antonio García Belaunde, confirmed yesterday that Peru, in a move that could potentially undermine fragile diplomatic relations with Venezuela, has granted political asylum to the Venezuelan fugitive Carlos Ortega. Ortega was convicted of the crimes of civil rebellion and instigation to commit illegal acts for his role in the December 2002 shut-down and sabotage of the oil industry that was aimed at bringing down the Chavez government.
Ortega, the ex-president of the Confederation of Venezuela Workers (CTV), led the illegal shut-down and sabotage of the oil industry, together with the national Chamber of Commerce Fedecamaras and the upper management of the state oil industry. It is estimated that Ortega's actions during the oil industry shut-down, which lasted for 63 days over December 2002 to February 2003, caused damage of up to $10 billion to the Venezuelan economy. Ortega was charged with various crimes in relation to his actions during the shut-down in March 2003, however he evaded Venezuelan authorities and requested political asylum in the Embassy of Costa Rica in Caracas.
After spending over a year in exile in Costa Rica, Ortega's asylum was revoked in August 2004 when he violated his asylum agreement by speaking at an anti-Chavez rally in Miami where he said he was going to return to Venezuela and work clandestinely to overthrow the government. Ortega then spent months in hiding before he was arrested in Caracas in March 2005.
In December 2005 Ortega was found guilty of civil rebellion and instigation to commit illegal acts for his role in the 2002-2003 oil industry shut down and sentenced to 16 years imprisonment. However, after serving only eight months of his sentence, Ortega, along with a number of military officers linked to a group of Colombian paramilitaries detained in May 2004 for allegedly conspiring to assassinate Chavez, escaped from Venezuela's Ramos Verde military prison on August 13 last year. Ortega, whose whereabouts were unknown until his recent reappearance in Peru, is also linked to the failed April 2002 US-backed military coup against the Chavez government.
In a comment which could be construed as a political insult, Peru's Foreign Minister, Belaunde commented that Ortega was being granted asylum for “humanitarian reasons,” and continued, “I hope that diplomatic problems do not originate from this decision, because this case has been viewed by the Commission for Asylum and Refugees.”
Venezuela and Peru have only recently renewed diplomatic relations after a war of words escalated in the lead-up to Peru's presidential elections in April last year, as Chavez openly endorsed left-wing presidential candidate, Ollanta Humala and referred to centre-right candidate Alan Garcia as a lackey of imperialism. Both countries subsequently withdrew their respective ambassadors in May.
The sabotage of Venezuela's aid efforts in the aftermath of the earthquake which struck Peru on August 15, sparked a further political row as tins of tuna purportedly from Venezuela were distributed with political messages criticising Peru's president Alan Garcia. Venezuela's new ambassador to Peru, José Armando Laguna denied any links to the controversial aid and said it was an attempt to smear Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, "This is a damaging manipulation, a vile manipulation because Venezuela has brought humanitarian aid, not party politics," he added.
Despite these diplomatic differences Peruvian President Alan Garcia on Saturday welcomed Venezuela's decision to rejoin the Andean Community of Nations (CAN) a regional trade organization in Latin America that groups Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Venezuela had pulled out of the CAN in April last year to protest Peru and Colombia's signing of free trade agreements with the United States.