The Italian government has sent an airplane to Bolivia to collect left-wing militant Cesare Battisti, the legendary fugitive who is wanted for four murders he allegedly committed during Italy’s so-called “Years of Lead”, dominated by national terrorism in the 1970s and '80s.
Battisti was arrested late Saturday by Italian agents working with Interpol. He was wearing a fake beard at the time of his arrest in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia. He was walking out in the open, presumably unaware that he was under surveillance by the special agents. On Sunday, Italian state police tweeted a video of him walking in disguise moments before his arrest.
His victims were two police officers, a jeweler and a local butcher. His extradition was promised to Italy’s right-wing leader Matteo Salvini by Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s new far-right president.
Battisti had been living comfortably under asylum in Brazil for more than a decade after Brazil’s former left-wing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva granted him political refugee status when he left office in 2010. Battisti escaped across the border to Bolivia in 2017 to avoid money-laundering and tax evasion charges in Brazil. He was briefly detained in Bolivia in 2017, but released a few days later. In December, Brazilian authorities lifted his political asylum and issued an arrest warrant for him.
When Bolsonaro took office in early January, he vowed to send the left-wing fugitive back to Italy to serve his prison term. On Sunday, Bolsonaro’s son Edoardo, a popular parliamentarian, tweeted a message to Salvini. “Brazil is no longer a land of bandits. The ‘little gift’ is coming.” Salvini immediately ‘liked’ the tweet. President Bolsonaro also tweeted to Salvini, “You can always count on us.”
Salvini responded with his own heartfelt thanks on Facebook. “My heartfelt thank you to President Jair Messias Bolsonaro and to the new Brazilian government for the changed political climate which, along with a positive international setting in which Italy has become a protagonist, have made possible this long awaited success.”
The Years of Lead were marked with far-right and far-left political violence in Italy that spanned an era from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. They were so-called because of the number of bullets used by both extremist groups. Battisti was a living reminder for many Italians of this painful period.
He escaped from Italian custody in 1981 while standing trial for the murders he is alleged to have committed while he belonged to the left-wing militant group Armed Proletarians for Communism. He was found guilty in 1993 and sentenced to concurrent life sentences in absentia. He admits to being part of the communist militant group but has denied the murders. He said he faced threats of torture if he returned to Italy.
Battisti originally found refuge in France where he was able to live freely under the Mitterrand Doctrine, which forgave Italian leftist rebels who had promised to break ties with their terrorist organizations. There he became a successful crime novelist, writing 15 books including one called Buena Onda (Good Vibe) about his involvement in the murders Italian authorities say he committed.
In 2002, when the Mitterrand Doctrine expired, he fled to Brazil where he lived as a fugitive until he was granted political asylum in 2010.
Alberto Torregiani, who was 13 years old when his father, a jeweler, was allegedly killed by Battisti in 1979, was caught in the crossfire and has been a paraplegic ever since. He has regularly held vigil in front of the Brazilian embassy in Rome. He told The Daily Beast in 2011 that he would not rest until his father’s assassin was brought to justice. He told Italian reporters on Sunday that he welcomed the news, but would only rest when Battisti was in an Italian prison.