Mérida, September 15th 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Raul Diaz, sentenced for helping to plant explosives near two embassies in 2003, left Venezuela covertly on 5 September then entered the U.S and sought political asylum, received the support of congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and conducted interviews where he claimed he had been a political prisoner.
AVN reported that Diaz entered the U.S without any difficulties despite the charges against him, and while Telesur said he escaped prison last year, in his interviews Diaz claimed he escaped sometime after May this year.
Diaz was arrested in 2003 after explosions in the Spanish and Colombian embassies in February that year. He was sentenced to nine years and four months in jail for terrorism as one of the material authors of the attacks.
The explosions occurred towards the end of the oil industry lockout where opposition parties and organisations shut down Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), at the time still largely controlled by elites. The Venezuelan government argued that the embassy bombings aimed to destabilise the government.
Several discharged military men were also accused of being behind the attacks. Two lieutenants who were accused, José Colina and German Varela, fled the country and also sought political asylum in Miami. Venezuela has since tried to extradite them. Also, according to El Nuevo Herald of Miami, both officers had previously undergone military training courses in the U.S.
Diaz, under a program created by the current Venezuelan government for well behaved prisoners, was allowed to leave the prison to work or study, then returned there to sleep. It was on that basis that he was able to organise his escape.
On 11 September Diaz met with Ros-Lehtinen and Patricia Andrade, head of the Venezuelan Awareness Foundation, which is filing his case for political asylum, and talked to the press.
According to the Miami Herald, Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen sent letters to the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights asking for help in the case.
Ros-Lehtinen said herself and Andrade had worked hard for Diaz and told press, “The attacks by Chavez against human rights and the most basic freedoms… represent a serious concern for those who struggle against tyrants and their repressive systems… Hugo Chavez is a power hungry despot intent on destroying anyone and anything that he perceives to be an obstacle to his never ending rule”.
Ros-Lehtinen is a Cuban born Republican, plays a prominent role in the Cuba-American Lobby pressuring for political change in Cuba, actively supports the U.S embargo on Cuba, has also lobbied in support of Orlando Bosch, a Cuban convicted of terrorist attacks, and she once said in a documentary that she “welcomed” the assassination of Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Andrade’s Foundation is affiliated to UnoAmerica, the “Union of Democratic Organisations of America,” an organisation that supported the coup in Honduras last year, and whose president Alejandro Pena Esclusa was arrested in July this year after police allegedly found explosives in his home and after Salvadoran terrorist Francisco Chavez Abarca linked him to destabilisation plans.
Since arriving in Miami Diaz has conducted various interviews with the press, including with CNN host Patricia Janiot on 13 September.
In the interview Janiot asked Diaz how he managed to escape Venezuela, about his claim for political asylum and about supposed general repression by the Venezuelan government.
She asked, “How did you manage to get out?” and Diaz responded, “On the 13 May this year a Caracas judge… gave me a benefit, that lasted for three months… which allowed me to look for a way out of the country”. He explained the “open regime benefit” meant that he only slept in the jail from Monday to Thursday at night.
When Janiot asked why he considered himself a political prisoner, he responded that his innocence was proven and the state used all its power to prove him guilty.
He also said he was involved in a protest of militia against Chavez in October 2002, where he was a civilian, and claimed this was the reason he was “linked” to the bombings. He also claimed police tortured people to give evidence against him, and that other evidence was “falsified”.
Janiot asked a question about Cuban “political prisoners” following a general mainstream media line of trying to link so-called Cuban and Venezuelan repression. Diaz claimed there are “more than thirty [political] prisoners in jail in Venezuela” and that a further “one or two thousand” opposition members were being pursued.
Janiot ended the CNN interview by saying, “…Raul Diaz Pena, a Venezuelan student who managed to outwit, we might say, the Venezuelan authorities and come to the United States where he’s seeking political asylum”.
Eva Golinger also reported that two weeks ago CNN broadcast a documentary called “The Guardians of Chavez”, which attempted to link the Chavez government with criminals and terrorist groups.
Meanwhile, in another interview titled “Fleeing Chavez” on Maria Elvira Live, a Spanish language program on Miami TV, Elvira asked almost the same questions as Janiot but asked for more details about how Diaz fled the country.
Diaz said, “On Saturday I went home… then I went through the east of the country… by sea, to an island, and from there I managed to immigrate with some contacts”. The Miami Herald specified that this island was Trinidad.
“You had planned it all?” Elvira asked. “Yes I had it all planned,” Diaz responded. “That’s great that they helped you…How much did it cost you?” Elvira asked. “$6,000,” he said.
“You got out just like the Cubans,” Elvira concluded.
Elvira finished the interview talking about so called torture in Venezuelan prisons, and implied that Cubans were involved.
Opposition groups in Venezuela have tried to frame Diaz’s case, along with others, as an issue of human rights, and in the past, have made demands that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) investigate the so called “political persecution”.
However the Venezuelan government has responded that the cases cited by the opposition are all common criminal cases.
Diaz is the latest in a list of convicted or accused criminals who have fled to the U.S and received protection. Most recently, Nelson Mezerhane, owner of Banco Federal, fled to Miami after the government took custody of his bank for not maintaining minimum reserve levels in June.
While the U.S accuses Venezuela of not cooperating in the “international war against terrorism”, the U.S has denied all of Venezuela’s extradition requests for terrorists and criminals who have fled Venezuela to the U.S.