Saturday, January 01, 2011

Best Irony of the Year (So Far): Brazil Refuses to Extradite Terrorist Murderer to Italy

On his last day in office, Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known here on previous occasions as Lucky Lula, said he would not extradite to Italy a terrorist murderer named Cesare Battisti, who was convicted in absentia of murdering four people in Italy in the 1970s. Here's a news clip from the Washington Post.

Italy, furious at Lula's action, recalled its ambassador to Brazil in protest.

Battisti has been a fugitive since 1981 when he escaped from an Italian jail. He turned up in Brazil in 2004. Barristi, who has requested political asylum in Brazil, was a member of the terrorist Armed Proletarians for Communism in Italy.

In Brazil there once was something of a tradition of people harboring international criminal fugitives, including the genocidal Nazi criminal Josef Mengele. Hundreds of Nazi war criminals fled to South America starting in 1945, not just to Brazil but to Argentina, Paraguay, Chile, Bolivia and elsewhere. Brazil has tried to live down the reputation, with some success now that almost all of the Nazi fugitives are presumed dead.

I note this here by way of irony. For four years, some Brazilian authorities and some people in Brazil have been demanding the extradition to Brazil of two American aviators, Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino, who were pilots of an American business jet that was involved in a horrific mid-air collision at 37,000 feet over the central Amazon on Sept. 29, 2006. The seven people on the American plane survived (I was one of them), while the 154 on the Brazilian airliner that collided with it died in a horrible crash into the jungle.

The crash was accompanied by an atmosphere of xenophobia and hysterical anti-Americanism in Brazil, which coincided with a presidential election in which Lula managed to eek out a second term. (Hence the "Lucky".) The Brazilian authorities rushed to scapegoat the American pilots for the accident, which is where I got involved in a protracted long-distance tangle with Brazil.

In its detailed report on the accident, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (N.T.S.B.) concluded that (as I had argued) egregious systemic and operational errors by the military-run Brazilan air traffic control system were the probable cause of the disaster.

The N.T.S.B. (which participated in the investigation because a U.S.-owned plane was involved) concluded this (italics mine): "The evidence collected during this investigation strongly supports the conclusion that this accident was caused by N600XL [the U.S. business jet] and GLO1907 [the Brazilian 737 airliner] following ATC [air traffic control] clearances which directed them to operate in opposite directions on the same airway at the same altitude resulting in a midair collision.

"The loss of effective air traffic control was not the result of a single error, but of a combination of numerous individual and institutional ATC factors, which reflected systemic shortcomings in emphasis on positive air traffic control concepts."

However, that cut no ice with Brazilian prosecutors determined to blame the Americans. The two American pilots remain on criminal trial, in absentia, on those trumped-up charges in Brazil. Most Brazilians now realize that official butt-covering and media-fanned hysteria created great errors in the Brazilian reaction to the disaster -- not least of which was the unwise move to rush to criminalize an aviation accident.

The charges against the two Americans carry prison sentences, but under existing U.S.-Brazilian treaties and practices, they do not rise to the level requiring extradition to Brazil. However, some Brazilian officials and prosecutors have demanded that the Americans be extradited.

As I said, just noting the irony.



Jerry said...

Your comments on the irony of the extradition stance by Lula are quite on point. However, I'd point out that he didn't just "eke out" his re-election as you say. He got 69% of the vote, a landslide in most people's eyes.

See also said...

Jerry- Yes, true -- but only after he was forced into a runoff two days after the crash. Joe