Published August 27, 2013
BRASILIA, Brazil – The smuggling of a Bolivian dissident into Brazil by a Brazilian diplomat may have prompted Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota's ouster, but analysts said Tuesday it was just the last straw for his strained relationship with the president.
Patriota's forced resignation late Monday was a firing foretold. It was no secret in Brasilia that President Dilma Rousseff was looking to replace him after recent diplomatic incidents in which Patriota looked weak.
Rousseff and Patriota "had very different personalities that clashed; the president had already decided that she would replace him at some point," said Marcelo Rech, the Brasilia-based editor of Info-Rel, a website specializing in foreign relations.
That point came over the weekend with the news that a Brazilian diplomat working in the Bolivian capital of La Paz had helped spirit Bolivian dissident Sen. Roger Pinto into Brazil. Pinto, a fierce critic of Bolivian President Evo Morales, had spent 452 days in the Brazilian Embassy pending permission from Bolivia to go to Brazil, where he was granted asylum last year.
The Brazilian diplomat, Eduardo Saboia, said he felt he had to act because Pinto's health was failing and he worried the senator might die if left to languish in the embassy any longer. Saboia said he acted on his own initiative.
Still, some questioned how he could have organized without the knowledge of superiors the nearly 1,000-mile car trip from La Paz to the Brazilian border, with two Brazilian marines accompanying him and Pinto.
Either way, Patriota was in trouble, with "nowhere to run," political columnist Eliane Cantanhede wrote in the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo. In the Pinto case, she wrote, either he didn't know about the plan and appeared to have no control over his corps of diplomats, or he knew of the plan and hid it from Rousseff.
"The insubordination of Saboia, however, was just the straw that broke the camel's back, as Patriota was the classic case of somebody uncomfortable in his own home," Cantanhede added. "He never was able to gain the confidence or respect of Dilma as foreign minister."
In addition to the Bolivia situation, Rousseff was said to have been increasingly frustrated with Patriota's muted responses, most notably amid revelations that Brazil was the prime target in Latin America of the U.S. National Security Agency's intelligence gathering programs.
There's a better chance that Patriota's replacement, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, who until Tuesday was the head of Brazil's mission to the United Nations, will be closer to Rousseff, if only because of a similarity in style. Figueiredo is known for tough but behind-the-doors negotiation, avoidance of the spotlight and a demeanor in line with Rousseff's stern, all-business outlook.
Figueiredo served as Brazil's undersecretary for environment, energy, science and technology at the foreign ministry before taking over Brazil's U.N. mission. He led Brazil's negotiators at Rio+20, a high-level environmental summit in Rio de Janeiro that produced a weak concluding statement but was not seen as such a dismal failure as similar meetings in recent years.
Rech said Figueiredo's leadership at the conference boosted his prestige within the Brazilian government and highlighted his skills as a quiet negotiator who could get results with backroom arm twisting.
Lawmaker Nelson Pellegrino, head of the foreign relations committee in Brazil's lower house, said the more assertive evolution of Brazil's foreign policy since the first administration of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is not going to change track.
"Figueiredo is a skilled and talented diplomat who will know how to steer the foreign ministry according to Brazil's global interests," Pellegrino said.