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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

Accused Russian Spy Was an Asylee

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Among the 10 people arrested and accused of "conspiring to act as unlawful agents of the Russian Federation within the United States" and "conspiracy to commit money laundering" are "Vicky Pelaez and the defendant known as 'Juan Lazaro,'" her husband, both residents of Yonkers, New York. 


Ms. Pelaez is a journalist and a native Peruvian.  While working as a journalist in December 1984, members of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement kidnapped Ms. Pelaez and her cameraman.  She was released a day later after her TV station agreed to air a propaganda piece by the guerilla movement.  Before she was released, she apparently persuaded one of the group's leaders to let her interview him.  The interview later appeared in a left-leaning newspaper. 





Only one man can stop the Commies and still look this good.


After the kidnapping, Ms. Pelaez and her husband came to the United States where she applied for asylum.  Her case was granted, and she went on to become a U.S. citizen and a popular writer for a Spanish language newspaper in New York.  Apparently, Ms. Pelaez has been supportive of socialist governments in Latin America, including Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia.  She has also opposed the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and supported the rights of Indigenous peoples and undocumented immigrants in the United States.


Ms. Pelaez's husband, "Juan Lazaro," admitted that the Russians paid for his home and that he passed letters to their intelligence service, but he has refused to reveal his true name, according to prosecutors.  It seems that Ms. Pelaez's attorney is disputing this account, and I have not verified it.


All the defendants, including Ms. Pelaez's husband, are being held without bail, except Ms. Pelaez, who is expected to be released today, although she will be confined to home detention.  It seems that she is the only member of the group that did nto receive "spy training" from the Russians.  


Ms. Pelaez's political views have led some to believe that this is a case of political persecution by the U.S. government.  Her criminal attorney describes a conversation he had with her:


"When I first met Vicky I asked her: if you are innocent why the U.S. government would bring this charges against you." Vicky Pelaez believes that her criticism against the U.S. policies have converted her in a target for many people "that are very angry" at her political views.


An interesting side issue is the status of her husband.  Whether he was granted asylum or came here as her derivative (or came here in some other way) is unclear.  If he received asylum himself or entered the U.S. as Ms. Pelaez's derivative, his entry into the U.S. represents a failure of the background security check: he entered using a false name and he was apparently not born in Uruguay, as he had claimed.  Of course, the husband came to the United States 25 years ago, and the security systems have (hopefully) improved since then. 


As we learn more about this strange case, maybe the details of Ms. Pelaez and her husband's entry into our country will be revealed.  Time will tell if there are lessons to be learned.

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