Peru grants asylum to Chavez foe

Manuel Rosales
Venezuela's opposition leader Manuel Rosales, seen here in Lima on Wednesday, says corruption charges against him are politically motivated.Rolly Reyna / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Peru said Monday it has granted asylum to a Venezuelan opposition leader who faces corruption allegations back home but claims to be a victim of political persecution by President Hugo Chavez.

Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde announced the decision before Congress, telling reporters later that Manuel Rosales was given asylum for "humanitarian reasons."

Lawyer Javier Valle-Riestra said Rosales received word of the decision Monday morning: "Naturally, he is very happy."

Shortly before the announcement, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro urged Peru to "comply with international law, capture the criminal Manuel Rosales and return him to Venezuela to face trial for extremely grave crimes."

Venezuelan prosecutors accuse Rosales of illegal enrichment while he was governor of western

Zulia state, saying he failed to show a legal source of about $68,000 in income between 2000 and 2004.

Rosales, who lost a presidential race to Chavez in 2006, stepped down as mayor of Maracaibo, Venezuela's second-largest city, three weeks ago and went into hiding. Rosales' party said he was being harassed and feared for his safety, and he entered Peru as a tourist April 4 and requested political asylum last week.

Rosales says he reported the disputed income in his income tax returns. He calls the accusation a "political lynching" ordered by Chavez and says a fair trial is impossible.

Political motivation denied
Venezuela denies the charges are politically motivated and has issued a warrant for Rosales' arrest. Prosecutors have filed charges corruption charges against him, but they have not been approved.

Julio Montoya, a Rosales ally, said Monday that the opposition will miss his presence "in the streets of Venezuela, fighting for democracy."

"But I think it's preferable to have him traveling the world, telling the truth about Chavez's regime," he told The Associated Press.

Garcia Belaunde, the Peruvian foreign minister, said relations with Venezuela should not be affected.

"There's no reason for this to alter the relations between two brother countries," he said.

Venezuelan ruling party congressman Calixto Ortega said that while his party disagrees with the decision, it won't hurt ties.

"If Peru's government has decided in favor (of asylum), then that is a sovereign act and Venezuela of course has no alternative but to accept it," he said.

Peru granted asylum last year to another Chavez opponent, former Yaracuy state Gov. Eduardo Lapi, who was jailed on corruption charges but later escaped from prison and fled the country. Like Rosales, he claimed he wouldn't receive a fair trial.