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LATIN AMERICA

Rousseff’s fury over Bolivian fugitive incident

Ambassador prompts presidential ire by comparing senator’s confinement to dictatorship prisons

Juan Arias
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff speaking on Tuesday.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff speaking on Tuesday. Fernando Bizerra Jr. (EFE)

Brazil President Dilma Rousseff is facing the need for a foreign policy overhaul after Brazilian diplomats in La Paz secretly helped a Bolivian senator escape to Brazil, drawing the ire of Bolivian authorities and criticism from the national media.

After dismissing Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota over the incident, even though he allegedly knew nothing of the affair, Rousseff broke her silence on Tuesday to criticize her ambassador to La Paz, Eduardo Saboia, who had Senator Roger Pinto Molina driven across the border in an official car in the middle of the night. Before that, Pinto Molina had been living inside the Brazilian Embassy for 15 months.

Bolivia considers Pinto Molina a criminal who faces 14 trials for a variety of offenses, including causing losses worth 1.7 million dollars to the state when he was a government official. The Brazilian opposition has long supported Pinto Molina, claiming he is the victim of an attack by the Bolivian government for publicly linking high-ranking officials with the drug trade.

Dilma Rousseff was especially irritated to hear Ambassador Saboia compare the senator’s situation at the embassy with that endured by prisoners during Brazil’s dictatorship (1964-1985). Saboia stated that it made him feel like one of the jailers of the regime.

“The first thing that a democratic, civilized state does is protect its allies,” said a visibly angry Rousseff at a press conference on Tuesday. “We are not in a state of exception. I was there at Doi-Codi [the prison run by the military dictatorship, where Rousseff herself was held between 1970 and 1972] and I know very well what it was like. Doi-Codi is as distant from the Brazilian Embassy in La Paz as heaven is from hell.”

Brazil’s opposition has shown support for the Bolivian senator’s flight to their country, and for Ambassador Saboia, who has threatened to disclose everything he knows about the case.

This is the third incident between Brazil and Bolivia in seven years. Under Lula da Silva, Bolivian President Evo Morales ordered a military invasion of a Petrobrás refinery, which he ultimately nationalized. Two years ago, the airplane carrying Brazil’s defense minister, Celso Amorim, was searched by Bolivian soldiers who were looking for Pinto Molina.

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