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Tuesday, 26 September, 2000, 03:29 GMT 04:29 UK
Panama: Political dumping ground
Haitian strongman Raoul Cedras
Haitian strongman Raoul Cedras
By South America correspondent James Reynolds

The Panamanian Government says it is considering whether to grant asylum to Peru's former intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos.

Mr Montesinos, who is at the centre of a bribery scandal in his own country which has caused President Alberto Fujimori to call new elections, arrived in Panama on Sunday morning.

Shah of Iran
Shah of Iran found refuge on Panamanian island of Contadora
On Saturday the Panamanian Government announced its decision to reject an asylum request from Mr Montesinos, but for many in Latin America it all sounds like a rather familiar story.

Firstly a controversial leader faces pressure to leave office, then a deal is done and the leader is allowed to claim asylum in Panama, free from the threat of trial in his own country.

Over the last 25 years the Panamanian Government has given refuge to a series of deposed leaders, including the Shah of Iran and former rulers of Guatemala, Haiti and Ecuador.

Phone calls

This time the Panamanian Government has put up a bit of a fight against taking in Vladimiro Montesinos. But its resistance has run into problems.

Exiles
1979 - Shah of Iran
1993 - former Guatemalan President Jorge Serrano Elias
1994 - Haitian military leader Raoul Cedras
1997 - Ecuadorean President Abdala Bucaram,
The US State Department and the Organisation of American States have both urged Panama's President, Mireya Moscoso, to accept Mr Montesinos in the interests of the stability of Peru.

And one Panamanian newspaper reports that Mrs Moscoso has received calls from 11 Latin American heads of state urging her to accept Vladimiro Montesinos's asylum request. The urgency of their appeal to Panama is in marked contrast to their reluctance to offer asylum to Mr Montesinos in their own countries.

The concerted effort by Latin America's leaders to persuade Panama to take in Vladimiro Montesinos has broken the rather shaky principle of non-intervention into each other's internal affairs.

To some in Panama, the president's appeal has merely served to uphold another, more widely accepted principle - that Panama is, in the words of one politician, the dumping ground for those politicians no one else wants.

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See also:

23 Sep 00 | Americas
Peru to dismiss intelligence chief
18 Sep 00 | Americas
Peru opposition fears military coup
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