The Italian Almanac

Cesare Battisti

A New Low

Italy recalled its Brazil ambassador to Rome after the south American country refused to extradite Italian ex-terrorist Cesare Battisti. Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Ambassador Gherardo La Francesca had been called back for consultations on bilateral accords ahead of Rome's announced appeal to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Battisti's release has brought relations between the two countries to a new low with officials and victims' relatives voicing anger.

Premier Silvio Berlusconi expressed "keen regret" at the Brazilian supreme court's decision to release Battisti, who was convicted of four murders in the 1970s. Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said: "This does not end here". President Giorgio Napolitano said he would "fully support" Italy's moves to try to get Battisti back. Both he and Frattini argued the decision breached treaties between the two countries.

In its ruling, the supreme court voted six to three to uphold a decision by Brazilian ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in one of his last acts in office at the end of last year. Napolitano wrote to Lula's successor, Dilma Rousseff, in January to try to get the decision reversed. Napolitano's letter came a day after Brazil's justice minister, Jose' Eduardo Cardozo, reiterated that Lula had been right to grant Battisti asylum for fear of persecution if sent back to Italy. It also came a day after the European Parliament overwhelmingly approved a motion presented by all Italian parties urging the European Union to back Italy's bid to get Battisti back.

Battisti was arrested in Brazil in April 2007, some five years after he had fled to that country to avoid extradition to Italy from France following the end of the Mitterrand doctrine which gave sanctuary to fugitive leftist guerrillas. He had lived in France for 15 years and become a successful writer of crime novels. In January 2009 the Brazilian justice ministry granted Battisti political asylum on the grounds that he would face ''political persecution'' in Italy.

The ruling outraged the Italian government who demanded that it be taken to the Brazilian supreme court, which in November 2009 reversed the earlier decision and turned down Battisti's request for asylum. However, the court added that the Brazilian constitution gave the president personal powers to deny the extradition if he chose to. After Lula's ruling, the matter was again put to the supreme court.

One of Battisti's lawyers said his client had decided to continue to live in Brazil. "He has a lot of friends here. He'll probably work as a writer".