The Cape Verdean government is getting more mired in the diplomatic brawl between the United States of America and the Venezuelan government, over claim that it has refused to give proper medical care to Alex Saab, a dealmaker to the Nicholas Maduro government, which it arrested last June, in spite of an order by the ECOWAS Court.
Mr Saab, a Columbian national and close associate to the Maduro-led government in Caracas, was arrested on June 12, 2020 by authorities in the tiny West African country when the private jet he was flying in stopped over to refuel.
The businessman is wanted by the U.S. government for allegedly laundering hundreds of millions of dollars. The government of Donald Trump is exerting pressure on Cape Verde to extradite Mr Saab to the U.S. to face trial.
Saab’s health condition
Representatives of Mr Saab said he has cancer and is in need of proper medical care, which they claim the Cape Verdean government has denied him so far.
In a case led by the Nigerian human right lawyer, Femi Falana, the ECOWAS Court in Abuja, on December 2, 2020 ordered the government in Praia to allow Mr Saab get the required medical attention to treat his ailment.
However, a month after the court order, Mr Saab’s lawyer and doctor told PREMIUM TIMES that the Cape Verdean authorities are yet to comply.
According to PREMIUM TIMES findings, there is no part of the Cape Verdean prison laws that exempts prisoners access to personal medical care when necessary.
Mr Saab’s doctor, Karol Sikora, a cancer specialist and Chief Medical Officer of Rutherford Health in the United Kingdom, said he was disappointed at the Cape Verdean authorities.
“I spent three days (December 20 to 23) in Cape Verde and unfortunately, the lawyer, Dr Pinto, could not get hold of permission from both the local and national prison authorities to see him.
“Even though they knew I was coming, I was given a visa for that specific purpose by the Cape Verde consulate in London and obviously on the passengers’ manifest, so there was no secrecy about my visit. I was really disappointed not to meet Saab,” he said, questioning the disturbing state of Africa prison services.
Mr Sikora, who shared Mr Saab’s medical history with this newspaper, highlighted how the denial of a regular dosage of his prescription could endanger his life based on the symptoms he exhibits while in detention.
“I spent a lot of time with Mr Saab’s lawyer discussing the symptoms and problems he had and there is no doubt that understanding the biology of this disease is that he is not getting medical care. They have not done any diagnostics test, no blood taken for any analysis.
“The danger of this is that if he does not receive medical care, he will develop fast invasive cancer of the stomach,” he explained.
Similarly, Jose-Manuel Pinto, who leads Mr Saab’s legal team lead in Cape Verde, in a separate interview with this newspaper, said he was the only person with direct contact with Mr Saab since his detention in June.
He said Mr Saab has lost over 26 kilogrammes since he was detained and “he complains about pain in the bones, cold, insomnia and as you know he is a cancer patient. He can’t eat the prison food, he has been eating outside.”
“He (Sikora) came to Cape Verde to see him, we made a request to the Prison Director and the National Director of Prison but we did not receive any answers from the authorities. So the doctor could not see him.
“He has lost a lot of weight, about 26 kilo. He has become so pale and (has) issues with his vision,” he concluded.
Mr Saab’s role in the Venezuelan government has been a matter of diplomatic controversy involving the Interpol), Cape Verde, Venezuela and the US government.
After he was arrested on June 12, the Nicolas Maduro-led administration in Caracas announced that Mr Saab was its special envoy on a “humanitarian mission” to get food and medical supplies, adding that his arrest violated international law prohibiting the arrest of diplomats.
“This fact, in violation of international law and norms, clearly corresponds with the actions of aggression and siege against the Venezuelan people, undertaken by the government of the United States with the aim of abruptly affecting and interrupting efforts on behalf of the Bolivarian government, aimed at guaranteeing the right to food, health and other basic rights of the Venezuelan people,” the government said in a statement on June 13.
Baltasar Garzón, a former Spanish judge and one of the attorneys on the case, in his statement to PREMIUM TIMES in November, accused both Interpol and Cape Verde of doing the bidding of the U.S., rather than following due process.
“Cape Verde’s willful violation of its own laws, and customary international law, will also tarnish the ECOWAS region’s commitment to upholding the highest standards of human rights and legal protections.
“Interpol has serious questions to answer about its repeated willingness to bend to political pressure from big countries like the United States. Interpol has a serious reputation problem and this is just making it worse. It’s impossible to trust what should be an independent international cooperation framework when it can be abused and twisted so easily,” he said.
In July 2020, Venezuela formally demanded Mr Saab’s release from detention, adding that he be “treated with justice”.
“Our only demand is that the affirmation of the Honorable President Jorge Carlos Fonseca be fulfilled. This implies that our compatriot be treated with justice and humanity, as he assured us in his letter of June 15, and in accordance with the immunities and privileges that accredit him as the Special Envoy of the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,” says Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jorge Arreaza, in a letter to Cape Verdean counterpart, Luis Tavares,
However, the U.S., which is putting pressure on the government in Praia to extradite Mr Saab, is not buying this argument.
In July, the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, offered to support Cape Verde in its “development efforts and maritime security.”
Mr Pompeo said the two countries have a relationship of more than 200 years.
The timing of the message has been interpreted in international circles as a veiled threat of the consequences that may befall the tiny island nation if it refuses to dance to the tune of the U.S.
‘Complex but not first’
In reaction to the ECOWAS judgement, the Cape Verdean President, Jorge Fonseca, admitted to the complexity of Mr Saab’s case, but said it had not in anyway affected his country’s relation with Venezuela.
“Not long ago, the current Venezuelan ambassador presented credentials letters to the president of Cape Verde,” he was quoted by VOA Portuguese as telling journalists on December 15.
He added that extradition of foreigners is not new to his administration but he has to ensure that judicial processes on extradition are respected.
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