Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Latin American Anger Over Bolivian Plane Diversion (Updated)

A diplomatic crisis is apparently developing between several Latin American and European states after a plane carrying Bolivian president Evo Morales made an unexpected layover in Austria.

Morales was returning to his homeland yesterday after attending a conference in Russia but according to Bolivian officials Spain, Italy, Portugal and France prohibited the presidential plane from flying through their respective airspaces. 

"We are told that there were some unfounded suspicions that (U.S. intelligence whistleblower Edward) Snowden was on the plane," Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said.

The aircraft was then forced to make an emergency landing in Vienna where it was refueled but also inspected by Austrian authorities.  After approximately thirteen hours the plane was permitted to depart and it’s currently en route back to Bolivia. 

“I feel that this was an excuse to frighten and intimidate me,” said Morales to the press before leaving Austria.

Bolivian Defense Minister Ruben Saavedra Soto claimed that the U.S. State Department spread the rumor that the former contractor was smuggled onto the Bolivian aircraft.  “It’s a rumor completely based on a lie,” said Saavedra before he and the rest of the Bolivian contingent left Austria. 

Sacha Llorenti, Bolivia’s Ambassador to the U.N., said that his country while a file a complaint with the organization’s human rights body regarding what he deemed as a “diplomatic kidnapping”.

“We have no doubt that it was an order from the White House... For no reason whatsoever should a diplomatic plane with a president [inside] be diverted from its route and forced to land in another country,” he said earlier today.

Austrian Deputy Chancellor Michael Spindelegger tried to downplay the Bolivian government’s claims by alleging that a “voluntary inspection” of the aircraft took place with consent by Morales.

"Our colleagues from the airport had a look and can give assurances that no one is on board who is not a Bolivian citizen," said Spindelegger.

French president Francois Hollande denied the accusations and said that he “immediately gave permission” for the Morales plane to fly over France when he knew the Bolivian leader was on board. Meanwhile, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy mentioned that the brouhaha is “artificial” since Snowden was not on the aircraft.

Several of Bolivia’s South American allies have denounced the incident involving the Bolivian presidential plane.  Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro tweeted his “solidarity with Evo” and alluded to the “obsessive imperialism” by the U.S.  Meanwhile, the Cuban foreign ministry noted that the incident “constitutes an unacceptable, unfounded and arbitrary act which offends all of Latin America and the Caribbean.”

A communiqué from the Organization of American States said that the regional organization’s chief, Jose Miguel Insulza, noted “in his opinion nothing justifies an act of such lack of respect for the highest authority of a country.”  Furthermore, a statement from the UNASUR expressed the bloc’s “indignation and deep rejection of the unfriendly and unjustifiable” actions against Morales.  (The UNASUR will reportedly hold an emergency meeting tomorrow to discuss the Morales affair).

The incident has not sat well with several dozen Bolivian protesters who demonstrated in front of the French, Italian and Portuguese embassies in La Paz.

Snowden, who has admitted leaking classified documents about U.S. surveillance programs and faces espionage charges in his native country, has applied for asylum in 21 states including several in Latin America.  While in Russia, Morales reportedly said that he would consider Snowden’s bid for asylum though Bolivian officials have yet to make an outright decision.

Update: Morales' plane landed in Brazil on Wednesday afternoon for refueling.  That country's president, Dilma Rousseff, joined in the chorus of Latin American leaders that condemned the forced layover of the Bolivian presidential plane in Austria.  She referred to the incident as an "embarrassment to President Morales hits not only Bolivia, but all of Latin America.

Meanwhile the French foreign ministry issued a statement on the incident, which it deemed as caused by "the late confirmation of permission for President Morales' plane to fly over [French] territory."

Video Source– YouTube via NTDTV

Online Sources including Updates- Organization of American States; UNASUR; Expatica France; El Nacional; El Universal;; CNN; Reuters; Bloomberg; Reuters; La Razon;; NPR; BBC News

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