Category Archives: Countries ‘n Regions

US Embassy Ukraine Now on Authorized Departure For Family Members

– Domani Spero

According to news reports, as many as a hundred people may have been killed and hundreds wounded in Ukraine’s latest clashes.  On February 20, the State Department replaced its Travel Alert for Ukraine with a new Travel Warning for U.S. citizens to defer travel to the country in light of escalating violence.  It also announced the authorized departure of all family members of U.S. government personnel from Ukraine. Excerpt below:

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to defer all non-essential travel to Ukraine due to the ongoing political unrest and violent clashes between police and protestors.  U.S. citizens in Ukraine, and those considering travel to Ukraine, should evaluate their personal security situation in light of the escalating violence, particularly in Kyiv.  This replaces the Travel Alert for Ukraine dated February 18, 2014.  On February 20, 2014, the Department of State authorized the departure of all family members of U.S. government personnel from Ukraine.  While the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv’s Consular Section is open for public services, the Embassy’s ability to respond to emergencies involving U.S. citizens throughout Ukraine is limited.

The Department of State urges U.S. citizens who travel to Ukraine to evaluate carefully the risks posed to their personal safety, particularly in the capital city of Kyiv.  Since February 18, there has been a sharp escalation in violence between protestors and police, resulting in multiple deaths and hundreds of injuries.  The Ukrainian Security Services announced that they may use “extraordinary measures” to remove protestors from occupied areas.  Protestors remain in Kyiv’s Independence Square and have occupied several government buildings in Kyiv and other cities throughout Ukraine.  Groups of young men, popularly called “titushky,” have attacked journalists and protestors and committed other random acts of violence in Kyiv and other cities.  Since February 19, the use of gunfire against protestors and journalists has been reported.

Ground transportation is currently disrupted in Kyiv and some other parts of the country.  Since February 18, local authorities have shut down the Kyiv Metro (subway) for extended periods and cancelled inter-city trains on some routes with little or no notice.  Ukrainian authorities have set up roadblocks that restrict access on certain roads entering Kyiv and adjacent to protest areas.  Commercial flights to and from Ukraine are currently operating normally.

Read in full here.

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US Embassy El Salvador: Critical Crime Threat – Stay Off the Streets

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– Domani Spero

On January 14, 2014, the US Embassy in San Salvador sent an emergency message to U.S. citizens in the country with a reminder of the critical crime threat in El Salvador. At approximately 21,041 square kilometers, El Salvador is the smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America.

This message is to remind U.S. citizens residing and traveling in El Salvador of the critical crime threat in El Salvador.  Most travelers to El Salvador experience no safety or security problems, but as noted in our August 9, 2013, Travel Warning for El Salvador, both random and organized violent crime is endemic throughout El Salvador. U.S. citizens are not normally singled out based on their nationality, but are subject to the same threats as all other persons in El Salvador.

Over the last several weeks, several joggers and pedestrians were robbed at gunpoint in the immediate area around U.S. Embassy San Salvador.  Blogs associated with local running and cycling groups have also reported on runners being targeted in the Santa Elena area as well as other affluent areas, such as Escalon and San Benito.  Due to these issues, U.S. Embassy security officials advise all U.S. Government personnel not to walk, run or cycle in the unguarded streets and parks of El Salvador, even in groups, and recommend exercising only in gyms and fitness centers.

Stay aware of your surroundings at all times when in public, and avoid carrying any valuables at all, including watches or smart phones/tablets, as these items are often targeted by thieves.  Be especially vigilant when entering or exiting your home or hotel, car, garage, school, and workplace.  Whenever possible, travel in groups of two or more persons.  Walking in many areas of El Salvador can expose you to crime, especially at night, and visitors and residents should not walk alone on or near beaches, historic ruins, or trails.

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The 2013 Crime and Safety Report published by  Diplomatic Security says that “El Salvador is considered one of the most violent countries in the world. The criminal threat in El Salvador is unpredictable, gang-centric, and characterized by violence directed against both known associates and targets of opportunity.”

Crimes of every nature occur 24 hours a day; daylight is not a deterrent. There are no areas that are deemed free of violent crime. Robberies and robbery attempts, home invasions, and extortions occur in the most affluent neighborhoods, and closely guarded officials, independent business persons, and diplomats are not immune from these attacks.
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Most U.S. citizens (close to 90 percent) die of natural causes in El Salvador. The leading cause of non-natural death is homicide. In 2012, U.S. fatalities included 11 non-natural deaths (seven homicides, two vehicle accidents, one suicide, and one drowning). 2011 saw eight non-natural deaths (four homicides, two vehicle accidents, and two drowning). And 2010 saw 13 non-natural deaths (11 homicides, one vehicle accident, and one drowning). Of 32 non-natural deaths from January 2010 to December 2012, 22 were homicides.

The effect and threat of violent crime in San Salvador, including the neighborhoods in which many Americans live and work, leads to isolation and the curtailment of recreational opportunities. Based on current statistics, violent crime remains significantly higher than U.S. and international rates. El Salvador has the second highest per capita murder rate in the world: 69 per 100,000 in 2012 (UNODC statistics) (by comparison the murder rate in Massachusetts, with a similar geographical area and population, was 2.6 per 100,000). Police statistics show there was an average of seven murders and three carjackings reported daily in 2012.

As of January 12, 2014, El Salvador is a 15% hardship and a 10% COLA post.

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US Embassy Colombo Tweets Photo, Protesters Show Up

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– Domani Spero

On January 12, The US Embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka released a statement about US Ambassador at-Large for War Crimes Stephan J. Rapp’s visit to the country:

Ambassador Stephen J. Rapp visited Sri Lanka from January 6-11 to meet with government and political leaders, civil society, and to tour former conflict zones.  He heard about the progress made since the conflict, but also the Sri Lankan people’s continuing desire for reconciliation, justice and accountability.

During Ambassador Rapp’s discussions, he listened to eyewitness accounts about serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, including those that occurred at the end of the war. In that context the government of the United States encourages the government of Sri Lanka to seek the truth through independent and credible investigations, and where relevant, have prosecutions.

Below is the photo that the Embassy Colombo tweeted of  Ambassador Rapp  with US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Michele Sison visiting St. Anthony’s ground near Putumatalan last week.  We hope we won’t hear this week that this is a “rogue” tweet.

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Ambassador Sisson and Stephan J. Rapp, US Ambassador at-Large for War Crimes, at St. Anthony’s ground near Putumatalan in Puthukkudiyirippu, northern Sri Lanka

The photo above is reportedly the site where the Sri Lankan army killed hundreds of families towards the end of the civil war in 2009. Last Thursday, protesters in Colombo marched to the U.S. Embassy. Sri Lankan External Affairs Minister Prof.G.L.Peiris had also protested over the “unconventional news leads.”

Read more Fury in Sri Lanka at US Embassy Tweet on Killing of Tamils via NYT. From 2009, via CSM – How will Sri Lanka reconcile after a bitter war?

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Snapshot: U.S. Government Humanitarian Assistance to the Philippines

Via USAID – @theOFDA as of November 18, 2013:

Screen Shot 2013-11-20

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Philippine Super Typhoon Disaster – USG Assistance, Welfare/Whereabouts, Donation Information

– Domani Spero

Via the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA):  “Typhoon Haiyan (locally known as Yolanda) made its first landfall in the early morning of 8 November in Guiuan, Eastern Samar province with maximum sustained winds of 235 km/h and wind gusts at 275 km/h. Haiyan made subsequent landfalls in Tolosa south of Tacloban City, Leyte province, Daanbantayan and Bantayan Island, Cebu province, Conception, Iloilo province and Busuanga, Palawan province. Communication and power lines are down in the most affected areas. Access has been limited due to damaged roads, fallen trees and debris which continue to hamper the humanitarian relief operations. On 9 November, the Government accepted the UN offer of international assistance. The Humanitarian Country Team and the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination team were deployed to Tacloban City and Iloilo City to support rapid needs assessment, support coordination and re-establish communication networks.”

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Image from OCHA

The Philippines is a country with over 7,000 islands, and a population of over 98 million. The fear that the number of casualties will grow as affected areas are able to re-establish communication with the mainland is justified.

According to the State Department there are an estimated four million Americans of Philippine ancestry in the United States, and more than 300,000 U.S. citizens residing in the Philippines.  An estimated 600,000 Americans also visit the Philippines each year. As of FY2012, our bilateral trade with the Philippines fast-growing economy was $17 billion.  Until early 1990s, the Philippines hosted U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay and Clark Air Base in the Luzon island.

On November 11, Secretary Kerry released the following statement (excerpt):

As we commemorate Veterans Day here at home, the State Department is working with Team Rubicon to deploy a team of incredible, courageous American veterans to the Philippines and all the areas damaged by Typhoon Haiyan. Just as they did after Hurricane Sandy, these veterans will be using the skills they learned in uniform to help others recover from this terrible storm.

The State Department also is cooperating with the Philippines Typhoon Disaster Relief Fund established by The mGive Foundation, a U.S. nonprofit organization, to coordinate donations via mobile phones to benefit victims of the typhoon.

I want to assure the people of the Philippines and the many Americans of Filipino heritage that we are working as hard as possible to provide essential assistance to help the Philippine people and their government recover from this tragedy.

On the same day, the Pentagon announced that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has ordered the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) and other U.S. Navy ships to make best speed for the Republic of the Philippines. They are expected to be on station within 48-72 hours. These ships and aircraft will be able to provide humanitarian assistance, supplies, and medical care in support of the ongoing efforts in the Philippines.

The aircraft carrier, which carries 5,000 Sailors and more than 80 aircraft, is currently in Hong Kong for a port visit. The crew is being recalled early from shore leave and the ship is expected to be underway later this evening.

In company with the carrier will be the cruisers USS Antietam (CG 54) and USS Cowpens (CG 63), and the destroyer USS Mustin (DDG 89). The supply ship USNS Charles Drew (T-AKE-10) is already underway and will rendezvous with the group as they get closer. USS Lassen (DDG 82) got underway yesterday for the region. Embarked on board USS George Washington, is Carrier Air Wing Five (CVW-5).

CVW-5 is a collection of aircraft designed to perform various functions including disaster relief and includes the “Golden Falcons” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 12 flying the MH-60S Seahawk; and the “Saberhawks” of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 77 flying the MH-60R Seahawk.

Active links added above.  Also on November 11, USAID announced a $20 million humanitarian assistance to the Philippines:

In response to the storm, the United States Government announced today $20 million in humanitarian assistance, including emergency food aid and critical relief supplies–like shelter materials and hygiene kits–for disaster-affected areas. These supplies will not only provide life-saving care in the immediate aftermath of the storm, but will also help prevent illness and death from waterborne and communicable diseases. A shipment is already on its way with enough plastic sheeting, soap, toothbrushes, toilet paper, and sanitary supplies to help 10,000 families. Another shipment of the same size will follow closely behind. We are also sending 55 metric tons of food, including highly nutritious bars and paste–containing a day’s worth of calories–to nourish approximately 20,000 children and 15,000 adults for roughly 4 to 5 days.

To read more about the USG assistance, click here.

Welfare and Whereabouts of U.S. Citizens in the Philippines

If you are concerned about the welfare or whereabouts of an American citizen in the Philippines, here are some useful contact numbers:

If you are in the United States, you may call the Department of State’s Overseas Citizens Services (OCS) toll-free hotline at (888) 407-4747 during the hours 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (EST) Monday through Friday.  The Department of State has activated the Typhoon Haiyan Response Call Center to handle inquiries about US citizens who may be present in the Philippines. You may contact the Call Center at 888-407-4747 if calling from within the U.S. or 202-501-4444 if calling from any other location.

At all other times, call the duty officer twenty-four hours a day at 202-647-4000.

Google has also put together a Google Crisis Response Yolanda  including a Person Finder and mapping urgent needs by category via MicroMappers:

Screen Shot 2013-11-12

Donation Information (per state.gov)

U.S. wireless subscribers can text AID to 80108 to give a $10 donation to the mGive Philippines Typhoon Disaster Relief Fund.

Donations will be collected from the U.S. wireless carriers by the mGive Foundation, a 501c3 public charity that empowers text donation campaigns across 60 U.S. wireless carriers–providing access to 99 percent of all mobile phone users. Donations made to mGive will be distributed to relief organizations supporting Philippine Typhoon response and recovery. For more information visit, www.mgive.org.

The $10 donation will go to The mGive Foundation’s Philippines Typhoon Disaster Relief Fund. Charges will appear on the donor’s wireless bill or be deducted from the prepaid balance. All purchases must be authorized by account holder. Donors must be 18 years of age or have parental permission to participate.

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Senate Confirms Ambassador Robert O. Blake, Jr. for Indonesia

– Domani Spero

 

On November 5, 2013, the U.S. Senate confirmed by unanimous vote Ambassador Robert O. Blake, Jr. as the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Indonesia.

President Obama announced Ambassador Blake’s nomination on July 30, 2013. At that time, the WH released the following brief bio:

Ambassador Robert Blake, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career-Minister, is Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs.  Previously, he served as Ambassador to the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the Republic of Maldives from 2006 to 2009.  Prior to that, Ambassador Blake served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India from 2003 to 2006.  Previous domestic assignments include: Executive Assistant to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs from 2001 to 2003, Deputy Executive Secretary from 2000 to 2001, and the Turkey Desk Officer from 1998 to 2000.  Overseas assignments include:  Head of the Political Section at the U.S. Embassy Tunis, Tunisia from 1995 to 1998 and Economic Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Algiers, Algeria from 1993 to 1994.  He received a B.A. from Harvard College and an M.A. from John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake, the Fourth King of Bhutan Jigme Singye Wangchuk, and three of his wives pose for a photo in front of Dechencholing Palace, in Thimphu, Bhutan, on April 29, 2010. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake, the Fourth King of Bhutan Jigme Singye Wangchuk, and three of his wives pose for a photo in front of Dechencholing Palace, in Thimphu, Bhutan, on April 29, 2010. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

 

 

Ambassador Blake is the son of retired Ambassador Robert O. Blake.  Indonesia will be his second ambassadorial posting.  He succeeds Scot Marciel who became Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary at the EAP Bureau in August 2013, after serving for three years as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Indonesia.

Indonesia is one of those posts in the Foreign Service where very few political appointees dare to go.  In fact, since the 1960, the WH has made 17 ambassadorial appointments to Jakarta. Of those appointments, only one was a political appointee, Paul D. Wolfowitz who served as ambassador there from 1986-1989.

 

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Dear Congress: You Are Not Allowed to Make Fun of Secretary Kerry’s Asia Pivot Shirts

– By Domani Spero

The cancellation of President Obama’s trip to Asia lent to hyperventilating descriptions about the president’s “Asia Pivot” — “falters,” “in shambles,” “goes pffft,” “in jeopardy” and such.

Well, frankly, not sure where that is going. But we could certainly imagine the political hay that would have been expended over POTUS trip to Asia during a government shutdown.

In any case, Secretary Kerry took the trip instead.

Dear Congress, this is what happened to America in Bali, Indonesia.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses for a photo before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders' Official Dinner in Bali, Indonesia, on October 7, 2013. [State Department photo by William Ng/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses for a photo before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Official Dinner in Bali, Indonesia, on October 7, 2013. [State Department photo by William Ng/ Public Domain]

 

So you’re not allowed to make fun of that shirt or any other shirts, kapish?

We actually think that purple batik suits him well.  Had they asked him to put on a gray one, he would have worn it too, even if he would have looked wash out in it.  Because he’s our top diplomat. Yes, diplomats are known to wear (and eat) things that their compatriots often find strange or weird. (See Round-Up: Headgears in the Foreign Service).

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, dressed in a traditional batik shirt, speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin before the two join other heads of delegation for a family photo before the APEC Leaders Dinner on October 7, 2013. in Bali, Indonesia. [State Department photo / Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, dressed in a traditional batik shirt, speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin before the two join other heads of delegation for a family photo before the APEC Leaders Dinner on October 7, 2013. in Bali, Indonesia. [State Department photo / Public Domain]

 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and fellow foreign ministers, all clad in batik shirts favored in Brunei, enter a gala dinner at the ASEAN ministerial meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan on July 1, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and fellow foreign ministers, all clad in batik shirts favored in Brunei, enter a gala dinner at the ASEAN ministerial meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan on July 1, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses with other regional heads of state and leaders of delegation before the start of a dinner and cultural program at the ASEAN Summit meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, on October 9, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses with other regional heads of state and leaders of delegation before the start of a dinner and cultural program at the ASEAN Summit meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, on October 9, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

 

These are way tamer in comparison to what President Bush had to wear during his tenure.

Unfortunately, Tropical Storm Nari caused the cancellation of Secretary Kerry’s trip to the Philippines, so we are missing Secretary Kerry wearing the country’s famous Barong Tagalog.

Anyhow, we understand that Australia continues to host annual six-month training deployments of US Marines to its base in the Northern Territory. Australia’s Courier News reports today that Prime Minister Tony Abbott has promised the necessary infrastructure will be put in place to accommodate the expected presence of a 1000 U.S. Marines set to train there next year. The government is preparing to construct additional accommodations at two bases in Darwin.

So there’s that.

Then we heard that we are helping the Philippines develop Oyster Bay, a postcard-perfect cove on Palawan Island into a port for naval frigates and eventually for American warships?  All, of course, overlooking the disputed South China Sea.  But given all that’s happening in Washington, D.C….

No wonder Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated the later’s 61st birthday “quaffing vodka and wolfing down cake”:

“It was 11:00 pm. I offered our Chinese friends to raise a shot of vodka,” Mr Putin said, according to Russian state news agency ITAR-TASS.

“They did not refuse, so we did just that.” As for the cake: “We wolfed it down successfully”. Needless to say, Mr Putin described his meeting with Mr Xi as “very warm” and “friendly”.

We can’t say if Secretary Kerry was in attendance for that “quaffing” and “wolfing” event.

Meanwhile, back in Foggy Bottom:  The East Asia Pacific bureau has six deputy assistant secretaries, twice as many as in 2004, and a deputy assistant secretary-level U.S. senior official for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. State/OIG reports that “the bureau needs to streamline front office staffing” — top heavy structure for the second smallest regional bureau in the house needs fixing.  Why? Because as in other bureaus, “the proliferation of DASes has diminished the role of office directors and reduced responsibility at every level.” Also this:

The administration’s rebalance toward Asia has not been matched by additional financial or human resources. A Congressional Research Service memorandum notes that “[new] initiatives have not, however, been accompanied by a significant increase in the State Department or USAID’s programmatic resources devoted to East Asia.” Foreign assistance to the region in FY 2013 is 19 percent below the FY 2010 peak. U.S. military resources for the region have increased, but sequestration may impact future plans.

Folks, somewhere, some heads of state are laughing their heads off.

👀

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Snapshot: Afghan Opium Produced and Seized (2008-2012)

Via SIGAR

Screen Shot 2013-09-19

 

 

 

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Photo of the Day: US Embassy Manila Hosts First “Eco-Fashion” Show

Via US Embassy Manila

Photo via US Embassy Manila/FB

Photo via US Embassy Manila/FB

“U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas Jr. hosted “Forward Fashion,” U.S. Embassy’s first eco-fashion show on September 17, 2013 at his residence. The event was a celebration of U.S.-Filipino collaboration in eco-fashion and design, corporate social responsibility, and sustainable development under the creative direction of Aristeo Tengco and showcasing eco-fashion designs of Dita Sandico-Ong and Paul Cabral. Some of the celebrities who donned the designs for the runway were Anne Curtis, Dennis Trillo, Matteo Guidicelli and Venus Raj.”

(O_O)

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Brazilian Diplomat Smuggles Bolivian Opposition Senator Out of La Paz, Big Boss Loses Job

– By Domani Spero

This weekend Brazilian diplomat Eduardo Saboia, the charge d’affaires of the Brazilian Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia reportedly smuggled Roger Pinto, a Bolivian senator and opponent of President Evo Morales out of the country using an embassy car escorted by Brazilian Marines.  According to Al Jazeera, the escorted embassy car traveled from La Paz to the southwestern Brazilian city of Corumba, a drive of some 22 hours.   Today, UK’s Independent newspaper reported  the resignation of Brazil’s Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota.  Apparently, the smuggling of the senator from La Paz to Brasilia was not approved by either country.  It also reported that Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff has accepted Mr Patriota’s resignation but immediately appointed him as head of Brazil’s UN delegation.  The head of Brazil’s UN delegation Luiz Alberto Figueiredo has now been appointed the new foreign minister.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota share a toast before a working lunch in Brasilia, Brazil, on August 13, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota share a toast before a working lunch in Brasilia, Brazil, on August 13, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

 Via Al Jazeera:

Eduardo Saboia, the Brazilian charge d’affaires in La Paz, revealed earlier on Monday that he helped Roger Pinto, a Bolivian senator, escape to Brazil after he was holed up for 15 months in Brasilia’s embassy in the Bolivian capital despite having been granted asylum.

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, 1,600km from La Paz.

“I chose life. I chose to protect a person, a persecuted politician, like [Brazilian] President Dilma [Rousseff] was persecuted,” Saboia told Globo television on his arrival in Brasilia, where he was recalled for consultations.

He said he made the personal decision to help Pinto escape “because there was an imminent threat to the life and dignity of the senator.”

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

The Bolivian government views Pinto as a fugitive from justice after he was accused of corruption, 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”.

In La Paz, David Choquehuanca, Bolivian foreign minister, expressed “deep concern over the transgression of the principle of reciprocity and international courtesy”.

Read in full:   Brazil’s top diplomat quits over Bolivia row.

Also this:  Diplomatic war erupts after Bolivian senator flees to Brazil.

We’re waiting for Bolivian President Morales to announce soon that he will close the Brazilian embassy in La Paz. Because of the yanquis. Wait, wait — still trying to connect the dots; it’s there somewhere.  It looks like diplomat Eduardo Saboia shared a toast with Secretary Kerry. Oh, my lord, what were they whispering about?

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