Daring Escape From Bolivia Puts Brazilian Diplomats in Hot Seat

Wednesday, 04 Sep 2013 07:46 AM

By Joel Himelfarb

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A bizarre diplomatic crisis blew up over the weekend when Bolivian Senator Roger Pinto Molina, a fierce critic of President Evo Morales, slipped out of the Brazilian embassy in La Paz, where he had been confined for more than a year, and made a 1,000-mile dash to freedom over the border and into Brazil.
 
Molina's arrival surprised and infuriated Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, the Daily Beast reported. By Monday, Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota was out of a job and Rousseff was coping with a diplomatic mess.
 
Latin America has a long tradition of honoring appeals by political undesirables from neighbors near and far, and Molina had been granted diplomatic asylum in Brazil over a year ago. Under the 59-year-old Caracas Convention, to which La Paz is a signatory, he ought to have been cleared for safe passage to Brazil.
 
But Bolivian President Evo Morales sometimes plays by different rules — especially when dealing with his political opponents, according to the Daily Beast.
 
As it happens, Pinto Molina is the leader of the Bolivian opposition front. For the past five years, he has openly criticized the Morales government, calling out the ruling Movement Towards Socialism party for its support of Bolivian coca growers.
 
Morales responded by charging Pinto Molina with crimes that included corruption, and the latter fled to the Brazilian embassy after receiving death threats.
 
Pinto Molina won diplomatic asylum in Brazil 15 months ago. But Morales refused to grant him safe conduct out of the country, and he found himself confined to a tiny room at the Brazilian embassy in La Paz.
 
The impasse was broken last Saturday when, after 455 days of confinement, Brazilian diplomats moved boldly to arrange Pinto’s escape.
 
Leaving La Paz in the early morning, two cars wound their way through ice and snow atop 15,000-foot peaks to the steamy tropical lowlands of the Chapare, the heart of coca-growing country.
 
"The area is totally controlled by coca farmers loyal to Morales. If we were found out, it could have meant sure arrest or even death," one member of the convoy told the Daily Beast.
 
But the reception in Brazil was not entirely welcoming. Roussef reprimanded her diplomatic corps for spiriting Pinto Molina to safety and demanded and accepted  the resignation of Foreign Minister Patriota.
 
Analysts say the hostile reaction stems from the president’s displeasure with diplomatic surprises and a pattern — which began under Roussef’s predecessor — of “caving in” to Morales and his allies in Cuba and Venezuela on various issues.
 
O Globo , a leading daily newspaper based in Rio de Janeiro, called the Pinto Molina affair “one of the worst moments of Brazilian diplomacy.”

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