Bolivian President Evo Morales is scheduled to land in his home country late tonight, a day after his return journey from meetings in Moscow was disrupted when several European nations withdrew permission for his plane to fly through their airspace.
The delay of more than 13 hours reportedly stemmed from suspicions that Edward Snowden, the former U.S. intelligence worker who leaked secret data, might have been aboard the plane.
Morales was forced to land at an airport in Vienna, Austria, where his plane landed after France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy reportedly refused permission to fly over their territories, as The Two-Way reported last night.
“Austrian officials said Morales’ plane was searched early Wednesday by Austrian border police after Morales gave permission,” the AP reports. “Bolivian and Austrian officials both say Snowden was not on board.”
“We’re talking about the president on an official trip after an official summit being kidnapped,” Bolivia’s U.N. Ambassador Sacha Llorenti Soliz told reporters in Geneva, according to Britain’s The Independent.
Speaking to reporters at Vienna’s airport last night, Morales used similar language, adding that the governments of France, Italy, Portugal and Spain had made a mistake of historic proportions.
French President Francois Hollande sought to clarify his government’s role in the incident Wednesday, saying at a press conference in Berlin that there had been confusion over the aircraft and its occupants.
“There was contradictory information about the identity of the passengers aboard one or two aircraft, because there was also a doubt about the number of planes that wanted to fly over France,” he said, according to the AP. “As soon as I knew that it was the plane of Bolivia’s president, I immediately gave my authorization for the overflight.”
On his way back to Bolivia, the plane carrying Morales stopped Wednesday afternoon to refuel in the Canary Islands, a territory of Spain. He is currently in Brazil, taking on fuel, reports Bolivia TV.
Many Latin American governments expressed their outrage over the incident Wednesday, calling for a full explanation of why the president of a sovereign nation would be refused passage.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff expressed her government’s “outrage and condemnation” over the incident, reports El Dia.
“(These are) vestiges of a colonialism that we thought were long over,” Reuters quotes Argentine President Cristina Kirchner saying. “We believe this constitutes not only the humiliation of a sister nation but of all South America.”
The 12-nation South American group UNASUR denounced the “unfriendly and unjustifiable acts,” Reuters adds.
South American heads of state including the leaders of Ecuador, Uruguay, Argentina, and Venezuela plan to gather Thursday in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in a show of support for Morales, according to FM Bolivia and other news outlets.
The incident has also raised the ire of the Organization of American States, whose secretary general, José Miguel Insulza, issued a statement demanding an explanation.
Insulza expressed his “deep displeasure with the decision of the aviation authorities of several European countries that denied the use of airspace to the plane carrying the President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Evo Morales, from Moscow to La Paz,” adding that he believes “nothing justifies an act of such lack of respect for the highest authority of a country.
Asked whether the U.S. played a role in the diversion of Morales’ plane, U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki refused to get into the specifics of the question, saying only that “U.S. officials have been in touch with a broad range of countries.”
Psaki said she would not identify those countries, with which U.S. officials have been in touch in the past 10 days.
As reporters persisted in asking if U.S. officials asked European countries to divert the Bolivian president’s plane, Psaki said, “I would point you to those specific countries, to answer that question.”
As the questioning grew a bit more contentious, Psaki said simply, “We’ve broadly asked for Mr. Snowden to be returned.”