Monday, September 02, 2013

Bolivian senator's bolt to Brazil sparks diplomatic row

PINTO CASE • Roger Pinto – accused of corruption – escaped across border after spending 452 days at Brazilian embassy in La Paz.

By Jonathan Watts

Bolivian senator Roger Pinto. Photo © ENewsTV
A controversial asylum seeker, a Latin American embassy and a daring escape from the authorities. The ingredients of the diplomatic drama that has just forced the resignation of Brazilian foreign minister Antonio Patriota may sound familiar, even appealing, to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

But the repercussions are now shaking two of South America's staunchest allies. Brazil and Bolivia are at odds over the flight of Roger Pinto, a Bolivian senator who had for 452 days been seeking asylum at the Brazilian embassy in La Paz.

Like Assange at the Ecuadorean embassy in London and Snowden at Moscow airport, the opposition politician was stuck in diplomatic limbo while governments wrangled over his fate.

Although Brazil offered temporary refuge, Bolivia refused safe passage across its borders, saying Pinto had to face accusations of corruption and 13 other criminal charges.

But Pinto escaped this weekend in a 22-hour dash to the border in the car of a sympathetic Brazilian official, who used his diplomatic immunity to protect him.

That diplomat, Eduardo Saboia, said he was moved to take action because Pinto had grown dangerously depressed as a result of his near-15-month confinement in a small room in the embassy.

"I took the decision to conduct this operation, because there was an imminent risk to life and dignity of senator," he told local media.

The intervention has prompted an angry response by Bolivian officials, who accused Brazil of violating international agreements. The Brazilian government claims it had no prior knowledge of the escape, which it described to local media as a "disaster". An inquiry has been launched and heads have started to roll.



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