Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Evo Morales Stranded in Vienna on False Suspicion of Harboring Snowden

In the latest chapter in the Edward Snowden saga, Bolivian President Evo Morales found himself temporarily stranded in Vienna last night on his return flight from a conference in Moscow after stating he would consider granting asylum to the former NSA contractor.

The debacle began yesterday when, in an interview with Russia Today, Morales said he would be “willing to debate and consider the idea” of granting asylum if Snowden requested it. Morales was in Moscow, along with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and other heads of state, to participate in the second leaders' summit of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum.

He was flying home from the conference yesterday evening when his flight was diverted. Low on fuel, the plane was forced to land in Vienna. In a statement made to reporters in the Vienna airport, Morales accused the governments of France and Portugal of refusing to allow his plane to cross their airspace due to suspicions that he was harboring Snowden. A search of the plane revealed he was not on board, Reuters reports. 

“I have nothing to do with him,” Morales said, according to EFE. "I didn’t even know this person’s full name until today. I only knew there was some problem in the United States.”

Other countries soon joined in. La Razon reported that Defense Minister Ruben Saavedra, who was traveling with the president, said Spain and Italy had also denied their airspace to the presidential jet. Meanwhile in La Paz, Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera gave an address from the presidential palace late last night in which he said that Morales had been “kidnapped” by European powers.

The New York Times reports that France and Portugal allegedly reversed course last night, signaling they would allow the Bolivian president to pass through. Spain followed after several hours, and Morales’ plane left Vienna earlier this morning after 14 hours, according to El Pais.

The incident sparked indignation among other Latin American leaders. Late last night, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa announced via Twitter that he would appeal to Peru’s Ollanta Humala, President Pro Tempore of UNASUR, to hold an emergency meeting of the body to address the matter. In a follow-up, Correa wrote: “These are decisive hours for UNASUR: either we graduate from being colonies or claim our independence, sovereignty and dignity. We are all Bolivia!”

His ire was shared by Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who also took to Twitter to respond. The Argentine President said she spoke with her Uruguayan counterpart, Jose Mujica, who was “outraged” over the incident. La Republica notes that after midnight, Fernandez announced she had been informed that Humala would call the meeting, and that today would be “long and difficult.” So far there has been no official word from Humala on the emergency summit, however.

News Briefs
  • El Mostrador reports that OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza has released a statement expressing “profound concern” over the decision by the European countries to deny passage to Morales’ plane, and accusing them of placing his life in danger.
  • The Washington Post’s Juan Forero examines the apparent reversal of Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa on granting asylum to Snowden, which became clear in a Guardian interview published yesterday in which the president said his Foreign Ministry had made a “mistake” in helping the former NSA contractor leave Hong Kong. Forero notes that Correa said the switch came after a Friday telephone conversation with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who allegedly told him relations would “strongly deteriorate” if he granted asylum. Forero also points out that while Correa has withdrawn Ecuador from ATPDEA, he may be aiming to renew another set of trade preferences with the United States under the “Generalized System of Preferences,” which has provided an important boost to the country’s agricultural sector.
  • Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño told reporters that officials in the country’s embassy in London found a hidden microphone in the office of Ambassador Ana Alban, ahead of a planned meeting between Patiño and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. According to BBC Mundo, the foreign minister said the find wasn’t previously announced because he didn’t want his visit to London to be complicated by the matter.
  • Upside Down World features an interview with the president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), Manuel Humberto Cholango. CONAIE is the largest indigenous group in the country, and while it has clashed with the government in the past, it supported a controversial media law recently passed in the country. In the interview, Humberto details the group’s unsteady relationship with the Correa government, claiming that CONIE supports the law mainly because of its promise to set aside 34 percent of broadcast licenses to independent indigenous media groups.
  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff delivered to Congress a list of political reforms she has requested be put to a non-binding national referendum next month. The New York Times reports that the themes of the referendum include campaign finance reform, shifting from proportional representation to district-by-district voting and an end to anonymous voting in Congress. According to the Wall Street Journal, changing to district representation will likely be opposed by the country’s smaller political parties, which may not be able to keep up a presence in multiple districts.
  • Cuban President Raul Castro announced a shakeup of the Central Committee of the Communist Party yesterday via state television. Those dismissed included former parliament head Ricardo Alarcon -- who for many years was the point person for relations with the U.S. -- as well as other aging party loyalists who had been on the powerful committee for years. In his address, Castro took care to stress that they had done nothing wrong and were not being punished.
  • After yesterday’s joint statement by the FARC and ELN calling on the government to widen peace talks to include both guerrilla groups, La Silla Vacia looks at how the dynamic of the talks would change if the smaller rebel group were allowed a seat at the negotiating table. According to the Colombian news site, it would raise pressure on the government to widen the talks to include more socioeconomic issues, as well as concede to the guerrillas’ proposal to hold a constituent assembly to amend the Constitution.  
  • The director of Insyde -- Mexico-City based research center on security policy -- Ernesto Lopez Portill, has denounced Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s recently-announced plan to incorporate a 5,000-member Gendarmerie into the Federal Police. Lopez told La Jornada that his and other civil society organizations are concerned about the proposal, as they would rather see the police improve its civil character rather than becoming more militarized.
  • Mexican authorities say they have discovered the body of one of the main suspects in the high-profile abduction of 12 young people from a popular bar in Mexico City a month ago, a case which many observers say reflects poorly on the administration of Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera. The AP and El Universal report that police found the badly burned body of Dax Rodriguez Ledezma’s in the central state of Morelos, and identified him with a DNA test.  

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