Commentary: The Indonesia-Brazil row; how long can it last?

Commentary: The Indonesia-Brazil row; how long can it last?
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

What happened last week to the Indonesian ambassador-designate Toto Riyanto at the presidential palace in Brazil is simply unbelievable. It is unprecedented in the annals of modern diplomacy.

Last Friday, Toto was about to present his credentials to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who is facing a pile of domestic problems. The palace protocol officer briefed him on the procedure. He was told he would be the first of five ambassadors-designate to present his credentials.

At the last minute, the palace protocol officer told him, softly, to follow him to an adjacent room. There, he was informed that his turn to present his credential papers was to be postponed until further notice.

Clearly, it was President Rouseff's last-minute, emotional decision to avenge Indonesia's execution of a Brazilian citizen. Perhaps, she thought, by being rude to President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's ambassador-delegate - representing an important nation in Southeast Asia of 237 million, according to the 2010 census - her sliding popularity rating might rise a few points.

The important question becomes: What will Jakarta do now?

The steps taken by Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi are correct and logical. Firstly, to deliver a strong protest by calling in the Brazilian ambassador in Jakarta. Secondly, to instruct ambassador-designate Toto Riyanto to return to Jakarta. And thirdly, to persuade President Jokowi to meet the press to express his and Indonesia's feeling of being deeply insulted.

"No other country can intervene in the implementation of Indonesia's domestic law," the President said, referring to the execution before a firing squad of Brazilian Marco Archer Cardoso Moreira, whom an Indonesian court found guilty of smuggling narcotics.

In the meantime, according to Retno, ambassador-designate Toto will have an office at the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Pejambon, Central Jakarta. In other words, to be frank, Toto will have plenty of time to enjoy the excellent golf courses in and around Jakarta, and use the time to improve his swing.

Does this mean, then, that Toto will be kept in Jakarta until a new notification is issued by President Rouseff's palace-secretariat concerning a new date for presenting his credentials? That will take quite a long time, since usually palace protocol is to set a date when at least five ambassadors-designate are in town. Toto had to wait three months before his turn came on Feb. 20.

Retno apparently appealed to her senior colleagues to remain calm about this insulting affair. She also distanced the Foreign Ministry from issuing emotional remarks.

Of course, we agree. But we also expect the Foreign Ministry to think harder after the necessary steps have been taken.

We simply cannot believe that the current scenario is to wait for a new notification on a new date for Toto to present his credentials. Such a scenario belittles the graveness of the case. In essence, President Rouseff has rejected President Jokowi's letter of credentials.

For those who have not read these letters of credentials, they are written in solemn language and express deep wishes that bilateral relations between the two countries and nations will flourish. The letter also gives strong assurances that the new ambassador is a competent person who will work diligently to achieve that lofty goal. President Rouseff rejected President Jokowi's sincere intentions.

That is why I would like to suggest that as long as Rouseff is president of Brazil, I consider it adequate that Indonesia's representative in Brazil is of the charge d'affaires level, while as soon possible - the sooner the better - Jokowi finds an important posting for Toto, a former deputy governor of the National Resilience Institute (Lemhannas).

Toto is one of the finest senior officers the Indonesian Air Force has produced. The Air Force has delivered a number of fine ambassadors to the Indonesian Foreign Service, including Vice Air Marshall Suyitno Sukirno (ambassador to Australia in the 1970s) and Air Marshal Rusmin Nuryadin (ambassador to the US in the 1980s).

Toto, a retired Vice Air Marshal and the best graduate of Air Force Academy in the 1973 class, deserves to be posted in an important capital.

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