Brazil’s foreign policy and a dissident escape. Itamaraty, as Brazil’s foreign ministry is known, prides itself on having Latin America’s most professional diplomats. But nobody in Brazil’s government comes out well from an extraordinary incident involving a Bolivian opposition politician that has cost the foreign minister, Antonio Patriota, his job.
Roger Pinto, an opposition senator, sought refuge in Brazil’s embassy in La Paz in May 2012 after he had accused ministers in Bolivia’s socialist government of involvement in drug-trafficking. He was in turn deluged with corruption charges, and claimed he was being politically persecuted. Brazil swiftly agreed to grant him asylum. But Evo Morales, Bolivia’s president, refused to grant Mr Pinto safe-conduct to leave the country. Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, is reported to have ordered that no attempt be made to extract Mr Pinto without the consent of Mr Morales, an ally of the ruling Workers’ Party (PT).
But on August 23rd Brazil’s chargé d’affaires in La Paz, Eduardo Saboia, took matters into his own hands. Escorted by five Brazilian marines, he and Mr Pinto were driven to Brazil, a 22-hour journey. Mr Saboia said he feared for Mr Pinto’s mental health after 455 days of confinement in the embassy. Brazil’s opposition hailed him as a hero. Some in the PT muttered about extraditing Mr Pinto, even though he was granted asylum.
Ms Rousseff, too, was not amused. She ordered Mr Patriota, who claimed to have had no prior knowledge of Mr Saboia’s escapade, to swap jobs with Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, Brazil’s ambassador to the United Nations. Her lack of chemistry with Mr Patriota is well-known; but she likes Mr Figueiredo, who was in charge of last year’s Rio+20 environmental summit.
The change will have little effect on Brazil’s foreign policy, in which Ms Rousseff is less interested than her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The decisive voice in relations with Latin America was not Mr Patriota’s but that of Marco Aurélio Garcia, a PT official who has acted as presidential foreign-policy adviser to both Lula and Ms Rousseff.
This two-headed command is the nub of the problem. Many of Itamaraty’s diplomats quietly chafe at a foreign policy that under Mr Garcia’s sway has given priority to the PT’s friendships with the likes of Mr Morales and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, rather than to what they see as Brazil’s long-term interest in supporting pluralist democracies in the region. Mr Saboia, who is now under investigation, chafed not so quietly.
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