By 5 votes to 4 the Brazilian Supreme Court (STF) ruled that former Italian guerrilla Cesare Battisti, condemned in Italy for killing four people, should be extradited to Italy. The president of the Supreme Federal Tribunal, Gilmar Mendes, gave the decisive vote.
Everybody in the Lula administration was betting that Battisti would be allowed to stay in Brazil. Mendes sided with four other judges in favor of extradition: Cezar Peluso, Ricardo Lewandowski, Carlos Ayres Britto and Ellen Gracie. On the other side were Cármen Lúcia, Eros Grau, Joaquim Barbosa and Marco Aurélio Mello.
Although the Supreme's decision seemed to put and end to the long and heated process moreover because Lula had vowed to follow the Court's decision nobody knows what's going to happen to the ex-terrorist. After deciding to extradite the Italian the Supreme court went on to rule, again 5 to 4, that Lula should have the last word in the matter.
The consensus seems to be that Lula will keep Battisti in Brazil invoking humanitarian reasons. Everybody in government, some of them former guerrillas themselves, seem to sympathize with someone Rome sees as a criminal but many Brazilians view as a freedom fighter. .
One example of this government fondness for Battisti is the political asylum given the man by Justice minister, Tarso Genro, in 2007, interrupting the extradition process initiated by the Italian government.
In doing so Genro, a former activist from the Left, went against the recommendation by the Refugees National Committee (Conare), which opposed the move. The minister was accused of protecting someone he admired since Battisti used to belong to the far-left group Armed Proletarians for Communism (Proletari Armati per il Comunismo) or PAC.
Gilmar Mendes had opposed Genro's decision. In his vote, this Wednesday, Mendes argued that the murders for which Battisti was charged were not political crime and therefore not deserving of political asylum.
Earlier in the process, the government of Italy protested and even summoned the Brazilian ambassador in Rome to hear his explanation and show its outrage.
PAC lasted from 1976 to 1979 and was charged with a series of armed attacks. Battisti was sentenced to life in prison for four murders that occurred between 1977 and 1979.
He denies he killed anyone and says that when the crimes occurred he had already left the group. Battisti has expressed often his fear that he will be killed if sent back to Italy.
Brazilian analysts believe that Lula will keep Battisti in Brazil. But instead of having him as a political refugee the government might find a solution that would be palatable to Rome. "Nobody in the government thinks that Battisti should go back to Italy," a government interlocutor told Rio's daily O Globo.
Without anticipating what Lula will do the minister of Institutional Relations, Alexandre Padilha hinted at a solution that would please Battisti: "The Supreme acknowledged that the decision over Battisti is up to the president. This was already what minister Tarso Genro believed from the start. But as of now there is no position on what will be the president's decision."
Lula is not talking. But since his short visit to Italy last weekend he seems to have decided that the best is to keep Battisti in Brazil.
As expected the opposition in Congress applauded the Supreme Court's decision. Ronaldo Caiado, the DEM's leader, thinks that the STF should not only approve the extradition but also order Lula to comply with the ruling.
The pro-government side on the other hand lamented that the Supreme decided to interfere in the matter. The STF shouldn't even discuss the subject, said Cândido Vacarezza the Workers Party's leader.
"It doesn't seem right for the Supreme to express an opinion over an issue that it is not going to decide, which is the President's prerogative. The Supreme became smaller," said Vacarezza.
"I applaud the STF's decision, but I do not understand why we should leave this decision in the president's hands. He (Battisti)Â is a common criminal," reacted Caiado.