Mérida, April 21st 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) - Manuel Rosales, a prominent Venezuelan opposition leader and mayor of Maracaibo facing corruption charges, failed to appear at a court appointment on Monday and has reportedly arrived in Peru and sought political asylum.
Last year, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez called for a national investigation of Rosales, who was a former governor of Zulia state and presidential candidate. Chávez called Rosales a "mafia man" and said he should be in jail for participating in the April 2002 coup d'etat and aiding the infiltration of paramilitary troops in Zulia state, which borders Colombia.
Last month, a public prosecutor charged Rosales with stealing public funds and accepting bribes for public contracts, based on evidence released by national investigators and an anti-corruption commission in the National Assembly.
Rosales's political party, A New Era (Un Nuevo Tiempo, UNT), announced that he had gone into hiding in early April. When Rosales did not show up to his court appointment on Monday, UNT President Omar Barboza said Rosales will not appear in a court that has been "converted into an instrument of political persecution."
A new court date has been set for May 11th. According to Venezuelan law, a person who repeatedly misses court appointments may be forced to appear. Interior and Justice Minister Tarek El-Aissami announced Monday that if Rosales does not appear in court, he will be considered a fugitive of justice, and "the court will activate the determined mechanisms for his international capture."
Rosales entered Perú on a tourist visa more than a week ago, according to Peruvian Foreign Relations Minister José García Belaunde. On Tuesday, Javier Valle Riestra, a Peruvian lawyer and congressman, told the press he had filed a request for political asylum on behalf of Rosales.
"Some Venezuelan men came to me, and seeing that that request was just, I immediately prepared the petition for political asylum," said Valle Riestra, who was also Prime Minister under the government of Alberto Fujimori and recently said the sentencing of Fujimori to twenty-five years in prison for crimes against humanity lacked "decisive evidence."
Last Friday a Caracas court ordered the freezing of Rosales's material and financial assets. Authorities who arrived to inspect Rosales's several large farms and private airplane landing strips in Zulia state reported that nearly all the property, including cattle, appeared to have been removed.
Rosales's seat as mayor of Maracaibo could be the object of a new local election, because the Organic Law on Municipal Public Power says that a mayor may not be absent for more than 15 days, according to National Assembly Legislator Carlos Escarrá from the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela.
Earlier this month, Rosales's allies in the Municipal Council of Maracaibo voted to grant Rosales 90 days of leave from his post, and appointed an interim mayor. Shortly afterward, a judge in a state court annulled the measure, calling it "illegitimate" because it ran contrary to national law.