Ever since several European countries closed their air space to Bolivia’s presidential jet on July 2 over reports that NSA fugitive Edward Snowden was on board, hardly a day has passed in which President Evo Morales doesn’t attack U.S. “imperialism” and its European “lackeys” for “conspiring” against him
Morales has backed anti-American rhetoric with action during his seven-year presidency by expelling the U.S. ambassador and two key U.S. government agencies, the DEA and USAID. Since Europe’s air blockade forced his emergency landing in Vienna and a leading European Union diplomat asked to inspect the plane, the stuff of May Day rallies has assumed a more ominous note, propelling the president of one of Latin America’s poorest nations into a position of regional leadership.
Resolutions by the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the OAS demanding apologies and explanations for the perceived affront to Bolivia’s sovereignty have been pushed through by the leftist ALBA alliance, whose main members — Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Cuba and Nicaragua — precipitated the crisis with public offers of asylum for Snowden.
Morales made his on Russian TV before departing Moscow, where he had been attending a conference of gas producing countries, for his return flight to Bolivia during which the air blockade was imposed.
Presidents Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela and Rafael Correa of Ecuador, as well as Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner, immediately rallied to his support at an emergency summit of UNASUR last July 4, demanding an OAS session.
At the OAS meeting in Washington some days later, Bolivian Security Minister Carlos Romero presented a U.S. extradition request for Snowden issued while Morales was grounded in Vienna, as “proof” that the United States “ordered” Europe’s air blockade.
Official apologies by Spain and France were initially dismissed as insufficient by Morales, who demanded that they expose U.S. collusion while recalling Bolivia’s ambassadors from several European capitals, a move followed by Ecuador.
However harsh the actions taken by America’s NATO allies may seem, they are hardly unprecedented. Under U.N. conventions, governments reserve the right to close their airspace to foreign official flights. In 2011, Iran closed its airspace to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s plane while she was traveling to Pakistan. No public explanation was ever given.
Last year, Bolivian police inspected the jet of Brazil’s defense minister on suspicion of harboring a Bolivian opposition senator and asylum-seeker threatening to expose official involvement in drug trafficking. Brazil never issued a protest until the incident was reported in the press last week.
A recent article in Venezuela’s Universal newspaper speculates that reports of Snowden’s presence on Morales’ Falcon jet may have been disinformation leaked through an operation by Russian and Cuban intelligence agencies to test U.S. responses. Snowden has since decided to accept temporary asylum in Russia.
But the rogue intelligence analyst claiming to possess information that could blow open U.S. espionage networks around the world may yet try to make another run for Latin America. He would be following the footsteps of CIA turncoat Philip Agee, who took refuge in Cuba durng the 1970s, from where he exposed identities of American intelligence agents that led to the assassination of a CIA station chief in Athens.
ALBA’s success in garnering regional support will only embolden its brinksmanship in a renewed showdown with the United States.
“My hand would not tremble at expelling the U.S. Embassy from Bolivia,” Morales told fellow presidents before a massive peasant rally on July 5 in Cochabamba. Police failed to turn up during a protest march before the U.S. mission in La Paz the next day.
Military chiefs from ALBA countries held a meeting in Bolivia last week in which they decided to “activate” a defense college that was built with Venezuelan funding in Santa Cruz. Perhaps Snowden will eventually turn up as their intelligence dean.
Martin Arostegui has been covering Latin America for American and British newspapers over several years. He has also worked as a correspondent in Afghanistan and has written a book on Special Forces called “Twilight Warriors.”