Brazil diplomat says he helped dissident flee Bolivia

A Brazilian diplomat revealed Monday that he helped a Bolivian opposition senator escape to Brazil after 15 months asylum in Brasilia's embassy in La Paz.

Senator Roger Pinto, an opponent of Bolivian President Evo Morales, made his escape Friday in an embassy car escorted by Brazilian marines, driving 22 hours to the southwestern Brazilian city of Corumba, 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) from La Paz.

"I chose life. I chose to protect a person, a persecuted politician, like (Brazilian) President Dilma (Rousseff) was persecuted," Eduardo Saboia, the Brazilian charge d'affaires in la Paz, told Globo television on his arrival in Brasilia where he was recalled for consultations.

The diplomat said he took the personal decision to help Pinto escape "because there was an imminent threat to the life and dignity of the senator."

He said Pinto was suffering from depression and was contemplating suicide.

In La Paz, Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca expressed "profound concern over the transgression of the principle of reciprocity and international courtesy."

"Under no condition could Senator Pinto leave the country without a safe conduct pass," Choquehuanca said.

Pinto, who flew from Corumba to Brasilia Sunday, had not been granted safe conduct even though he received political asylum status a year ago.

The Brazilian foreign ministry said Sunday it was investigating how Pinto was able to leave the embassy and would take appropriate measures.

Bolivian Interior Minister Carlos Romero said there was little that could have been done to stop Pinto if he was taken out of the country in an embassy vehicle.

"A diplomatic vehicle cannot be subject to any kind of search at any checkpoint. It's part of the sovereign jurisdiction of the country in question, in this case Brazil," Romero said.

Saboia said the Bolivian dissident "spent 452 days in a cubicle next to my office."

"There was a constant violation of human rights because there was no prospect for an exit, there was no negotiation and (Pinto) was suffering from depression which was worsening," the diplomat added.

"We had to call a doctor and he (Pinto) was beginning to speak of suicide."

Pinto is viewed in Bolivia as a fugitive from justice after he was accused of various corruption crimes, for which he was sentenced to a year in prison.

He sought refuge at the Brazilian embassy last year, claiming to be a victim of political persecution after he denounced alleged cases of corruption and alleged links between authorities and drug traffickers.

His case strained relations between La Paz and Brasilia. Morales last year said Brazil's decision to grant Pinto asylum was "a mistake."

Late Sunday, Bolivian Communications Minister Amanda Davila formally asked Brazil to provide information about the case although she insisted the affair "would not affect" bilateral ties.