Plane diversion causes uproar

Bolivia denies Snowden was on president’s flight

Supporters of Bolivian President Evo Morales protested in front of the French Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia, on Wednesday.
Martin Alipaz/EPA
Supporters of Bolivian President Evo Morales protested in front of the French Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia, on Wednesday.

CARACAS, Venezuela — The geopolitical storm churned up by Edward J. Snowden, the fugitive US intelligence contractor, continued to spread Wednesday as Latin American leaders roundly condemned the refusal to let Bolivia’s president fly over several European nations, rallying to his side after Bolivian officials said the president’s plane had been thwarted because of suspicions that Snowden was on board.

Calling it a grave offense to their entire region, Latin American officials said they would hold an emergency meeting of the Union of South American Nations on Thursday.

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina said the episode had “vestiges of a colonialism that we thought was completely overcome,” describing it as a humiliating act that affected all of South America.


President Rafael Correa of Ecuador said in a post on Twitter that the situation was “EXTREMELY serious” and called it an “affront to all America,” referring to Latin America.

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

The diplomatic and political tempest over Snowden and his revelations of far-reaching US espionage programs has swept up adversaries and allies from across the globe.

Tensions emerged between the United States and the two major powers to which Snowden has fled, China and Russia, over their refusal to detain him and turn him over to the U.S. authorities.

The discord soon spread to some of America’s closest allies in Europe. After reports based on documents Showden compiled as a contractor for the National Security Agency showed that the United States had been spying on an array of embassies and diplomatic missions, including the European Union’s offices in Washington and New York, the outrage rattled prospects for a trans-Atlantic free-trade agreement.

The United States and Europe have emphasized the importance of the trade talks, saying they would create the world’s largest free trade zone and stimulate growth. On Wednesday, however, France said it would be “wise” for the talks to be suspended for two weeks to give Washington time to supply information about its spying program, while a German government spokesman, Steffen Seibert, told reporters, “We want a free-trade deal, and we will start the negotiations.’’


Hours later, José Manuel Barroso, head of the union’s governing commission, announced a compromise in which trade talks could start as planned, but only if the United States opened talks at the same time on its intelligence operations.

Now the uproar has encompassed Latin America as well.

Snowden and his disclosures have touched different chords in each region.

The latest burst of outrage came in response to the diversion of a plane carrying Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, as he was flying home from Moscow on Tuesday. He had attended a meeting of natural-gas exporting nations and had told Russian television that he was open to giving asylum to Snowden.

Snowden has been holed up at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow for more than a week, hoping to receive a positive response to the asylum requests he has made to several countries, and Morales’s remark may have set off suspicion that the fugitive was aboard.


After taking off from Moscow, Morales’s plane sought permission to land in France to refuel, according to Carlos Romero, the minister of government in La Paz. But France refused and denied the plane permission to enter French airspace, Bolivian officials said. Portugal had previously refused to let the plane land for refueling in Lisbon.

Morales was given permission to land in Vienna, where he spent the night. Officials said that, as a new flight plan was being drawn up, Italy also denied permission for Morales’s plane to use its air space. Bolivia’s foreign minister, David Choquehuanca, said the refusals stemmed from “unfounded suspicions that Mr. Snowden was on the plane.”

After the plane touched down in Vienna, the foreign minister of Bolivia, David Choquehuanca, said of the refusal by some European countries to allow the president’s plane in their airspace: “They say it was due to technical issues, but after getting explanations from some authorities we found that there appeared to be some unfounded suspicions that Mr. Snowden was on the plane.

“We don’t know who invented this big lie,” Choquehuanca said at a news conference in La Paz. “We want to express our displeasure.”