South America Sees the Snowden-ized Bolivian Flight as the New Imperialism

Two things have become clear in the aftermath of the Bolivian president's delayed flight from Moscow home, other than that Edward Snowden was not on it. The first is that his plane was blocked from continuing on its original flight path. The second is that South American leaders are very upset about it.

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Two things have become clear in the aftermath of Bolivian president Evo Morales' delayed flight from Moscow back to his home, other than that Edward Snowden was not on it. The first is that his plane was blocked from continuing on its original flight path. The second is that South American leaders are — understandably — very upset about it.

Morales didn't arrive back in Bolivia until late Wednesday evening, after his unexpected and undesired landing in Vienna. He was in Moscow attending a summit on fossil fuel production, and, while there, told Russia Today that his country would consider an asylum request from Snowden.

"If there were a request, of course we would be willing to debate and consider the idea," said Morales. He said that Bolivia was aware of the US spy network which repeatedly targets countries in Latin America and stressed "Bolivia was there to shield the denounced."

It is still not clear how rumors that he was proactively shuttling Snowden out of Moscow began, but it's now clear that they did. According to the Associated Press, during a television broadcast earlier today Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said that "they told us that the information was clear, that he was inside." Who the "they" in Garcia-Margallo's statement was isn't clear. The French government issued an apology for blocking its airspace, according to the Guardian, though at least one report indicates that the country may not initially have realized Morales was on-board.

Morales landed to "a hero's welcome," Reuters reports. As his statement to RT suggests, he — like many of the leaders of his neighboring states — is not averse to goading the United States. Bolivia and the U.S. only restored diplomatic relations in 2011 after a dispute in 2008. The stop in Austria, then, fit neatly into that tradition.

Morales was greeted by his Cabinet and cheering, fist-pumping crowds at La Paz's airport after a dramatic journey from Moscow that ignited a diplomatic furore when his plane had to make an unscheduled stop in Vienna on Tuesday evening.

"This was an open provocation toward a continent, not just a president," said Morales, his hair strewn with flower petals thrown by people in traditional Andean garb. "North American imperialism uses its people to terrify and intimidate us. I just want to say they will never frighten us because we are a people of dignity and sovereignty."

Morales went a step further Thursday, indicating that he was considering ending the American diplomatic presence in his country. The Guardian:

"Being united will defeat American imperialism. We met with the leaders of my party and they asked us for several measures and if necessary, we will close the embassy of the United States," Morales said. "We do not need the embassy of the United States."

Representatives from five other South American countries — Argentina, Uruguay, Ecuador, Surinam, and Venezuela — held a summit in Bolivia today to discuss the diversion. Its final result was a statement calling on four European countries to answer questions about the alleged airspace closures. (Not all of those countries appear to have actually done so.)

At the summit, Venezuela, one of Snowden's possible asylum destinations, jumped into the fray.

"Europe broke all the rules of the game," Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro said shortly after arriving at Cochabamba airport. "We're here to tell president Evo Morales that he can count on us. Whoever picks a fight with Bolivia, picks a fight with Venezuela."

As did Uruguay.

"We are not colonies any more," Uruguayan President Jose Mujica said. "We deserve respect, and when one of our governments is insulted we feel the insult throughout Latin America."

Argentina's Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner expressed her own frustrations. The night of Morales' delay, Fernandez tweeted about her conversations with Morales, as Gawker translated. ("Mother of God! What a world!") Once Morales was home, Fernandez' indignation wasn't tempered, ABC reports.

Fernandez said Latin Americans treasured freedom after fighting for their independence from Europe in the 19th century and then surviving Washington's 20th-century history of backing repressive regimes in the Americas.

She then demanded an apology for the plane ordeal.

The point bears repeating: If and when the United States asked European allies to help stop Snowden — and which countries may have tried to do so this week — is not clear. But from a political standpoint, it's largely irrelevant. The U.S. is seen as having violated the sacrosanct immunity of heads of states (as Fernandez tweeted). If President Obama hopes to convince Venezuela or Bolivia — or, perhaps, any other non-NATO country — not to accept Snowden's bid for asylum, it's just become substantially harder.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.