Pacho Cortés Leaves Prison, Under House Arrest
Will Appeal to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for a Full Release
By Alex Contreras Baspineiro
Narco News South American Bureau Chief
January 11, 2005
COCHABAMBA, BOLIVIA: Francisco “Pacho” Cortés, who the Bolivian state has labeled a “dangerous narco-terrorist” and accused of armed uprising, espionage, terrorism and drug trafficking, left the San Pedro prison yesterday but remained under house arrest.
Around noon on Monday, January 10, Cortés was transferred to an apartment in the Alto San Pedro neighborhood of La Paz, where he must remain as ordered by the Fifth Sentencing Court.
“I have been moved from a public prison to a private prison,” said Cortés. “The first twenty-four hours of my conditional freedom have been traumatic, because I must remain, day and night, in the custody of two police officers. I don’t understand this justice or the Bolivian government, which only follows the U.S. embassy’s orders.”
In a telephone conversation today with Narco News, Pacho Cortés said that the house arrest is another kind of repression. Last week, Cortés told Narco News he would only walk out of prison as a free man, without restrictions, but given the recent rulings by the court he saw this his only real option.
The Fifth Court announced yesterday that Pacho was released upon the payment of a 65,000 boliviano ($7,900 dollar) bail. A number of human rights organizations contributed to the payment after an international campaign organized by Vía Campesina last month.
According to the court, Cortés must remain in police custody to avoid a possible escape, until the trial set to begin next month has finished.
The $180 rent for Cortés’s apartment will be paid by the Public Ministry, Bolivia’s justice department. Pacho said that he has a refrigerator and kitchen but nothing to eat.
“It seems they brought us to this new private confinement so we could go on a hunger strike, because we have no money with which to buy food,” he said.
On April 10, 2003, Cortés, along with coca growers’ leaders Claudio Ramirez and Carmelo Peñaranda, and children Betty Nina and Nelly Ramirez, were arrested in the so-called operation “Early Alert.” This political operation – which seemed more like a show for the media – involved the U.S.’s own Drug Enforcement Agency, according to the statements by the Bolivian Vice Minister of Government.
In twenty-one months of imprisonment, first in the Chonchocoro maximum-security prison and then in San Pedro, the Public Ministry could not prove anything against Cortés nor the others accused, despite using a series of legal tricks.
Cortés’s defense argued that he was entitled to an unconditional release according to Bolivia’s New Penal Procedural Code (NCPP in its Spanish initials), which states that any person not sentenced after eighteen months of imprisonment must be freed.
On December 7, Judge Nancy Altuzarra set the conditions for Cortés release: he had to pay a bail of 100,000 bolivianos (around $12,000) and he could not leave la Paz. The ruling was appealed.
On December 24, human rights organizations paid Pacho’s then-reduced bail of 65,000 bolivianos.
Once Cortés was released, the defense, arguing that still no evidence had been found against them, again submitted a habeas corpus demanding full liberty for Cortés and the others accused.
Cortés said that yesterday, before leaving the San Pedro Prison, he signed a card reading “I am not walking free, but rather being transferred to another prison.”
“Faced with this new manipulation of justice and of the Bolivian government, where the U.S. embassy is the one who commands, I have no other alternative than to appeal to international solidarity, and above all to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, because I am innocent of all the charges against me. Because of this I demand a full release, pure and simple.”
The mere fact that this “narco-terrorist” has left the San Pedro prison is a major defeat for the Bolivian and U.S. governments in their false war against drugs and terrorism.
Pacho said that although there are strong interests working to legalize an invasion of our lands, to eliminate our rights and criminalize the social movements, he will continue to fight for his freedom. He is sure that solidarity, dignity and truth can move mountains.
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