Former guerrilla held for return to Italy
Cesare Battisti, a former leftwing guerrilla wanted by the Italian authorities for four murders in the late 1970s, has been arrested in Bolivia and is likely to be extradited.
The move followed a pledge to send him home by Jair Bolsonaro, the new rightwing president of Brazil, where Battisti was living.
The Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, sent a government aircraft to bring Battisti, 63, back to Rome. He praised the Bolivian and Brazilian authorities for his overnight capture in the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, and said the fugitive would begin his life sentences as soon as he lands on Italian soil. The Corriere della Sera newspaper reported Battisti was wearing sunglasses and a fake beard at the time of his capture.
Battisti was convicted in Italy in 1979 of belonging to the outlawed Armed Proletarians for Communism, and escaped from prison in 1981. He was convicted in absentia of killing two police officers, taking part in the murder of a butcher and helping to plan the killing of a jeweller. Battisti admitted to being part of the group but denied responsibility for any deaths.
The authorities had been seeking his extradition for years, but the case was given fresh impetus by the good relations between Italy’s far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, and Brazil’s new president.
Shortly after Bolsonaro was elected in October, he promised Salvini that he would send Battisti back to Italy to serve his term. He said the extradition of Battisti, whom he described as a figure “adored by the Brazilian left”, would reflect to the world his government’s commitment to fighting terrorism. Bolsonaro’s son, Eduardo, wrote on Twitter: “Salvini, a small gift for you is on its way.”
Salvini celebrated by posting a photo of Battisti on his Facebook page, captioned “the good times are over”. He added: “My heartfelt thanks to president Jair Messias Bolsonaro and to the new Brazilian government for the changed political climate which, together with a positive international scenario in which Italy has become a protagonist, enabled this triumph.”
Battisti had been living in Cananéia, the southernmost city in the state of São Paulo. Before that, he spent almost two decades on the run in Mexico and France, where he was protected by the Mitterrand doctrine, a 1985 law that offered asylum to about 100 former Italian guerrillas “on the condition that they withdrew from politics”.
In 2004, he took refuge in Brazil, where he lived for three years until his arrest in 2007 in Rio de Janeiro. After four years in custody, the departing president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, issued a decree refusing Battisti’s extradition to Italy, and he was freed.
Battisti was from the central Italian hilltop town of Sermoneta. He joined militants in Milan in the mid-1970s. The Armed Proletarians for Communism had sought to bring down the Italian government during the “years of lead”, a period of social and political turmoil between the late 1960s and early 1980s marked by terrorism.
The former leftwing prime minister Matteo Renzi welcomed news of Battisti’s arrest: “All Italians, regardless of their political distinction, want a murderer of this kind to be brought back to our country as soon as possible in order to serve his sentence.”
Brazil’s federal police released this collection of 20 different passportstyle pictures of Cesare Battisti
Battisti after his arrest in Bolivia, where he had fled from Brazil