Evo Morales' Plane Grounding Causes Uproar Throughout Latin America

Demonstrators burn a coffin and a replica of Uncle Sam outside the U.S. embassy in La Paz, Bolivia, Monday, July 8, 2013.

Demonstrators burn a coffin and a replica of Uncle Sam outside the U.S. embassy in La Paz, Bolivia, Monday, July 8, 2013.  (AP2013)

The grounding of Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane last week in Vienna continues to cause an uproar throughout the international community and has created a backlash over allegations that the United States ordered the move amid suspicions that National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden was on board.

The Organization of American States adopted a resolution Tuesday that condemned the incident and declared solidarity with Morales, who blamed Washington for pressuring European countries to refuse to allow his plane to fly through their airspace. Bolivia asked the OAS for the measure along with both Venezuela and Nicaragua, two nations that have offered Snowden asylum.

"It is very clear that this is an event that goes beyond the explanations that have been given here," said OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza in a press release. "With all due respect to my European Observer friends, with all the affection that we have for them, there is a serious matter here that has not been clarified."

Spain, France, Portugal and Italy all closed their airspace to Morales’ plane, which was on its way back from Moscow where the Bolivian leader was meeting with Russian officials.

While Spain said it gave Morales’ plane the go-ahead to fly over the Iberian peninsula after receiving assurance that the NSA leaker was not on board, the European nation’s foreign minister did admit that a U.S. request had led it to delay approving the over flight. Spain also issued a curt apology to Bolivia for the international gaff.

“If any misunderstanding has taken place, I don't have any objection to saying sorry to President Morales," said Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo, according to Al Jazeera.

The OAS resolution came on the same day that the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke out against the incident, saying it was important to prevent them in the future and that a head of state should enjoy immunity and inviolability in such instances.

The UN and OAS statements are only the latest in a series of angry comments against the rerouting of the flight, which has soured relations between the United States and many Latin American nations. Along with the UN and OAS declarations, leaders from Ecuador, Uruguay, Bolivia, Venezuela and Suriname held a special meeting of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) last week in Cochabamba, Bolivia to discuss the situation.

“The international community is justifiably outraged,” said Eric Hershberg, the director of Latin American studies at American University. “Time and time again the United States has bullied the region with the attitude that ‘it’s my way or the highway.’”

Some experts, however, argue that Latin America’s irritation over the grounding is absurd, given that Morales openly stated while in Russia that he would grant asylum to the NSA whistle-blower.

Morales told Russian television last week that Bolivia “is ready to give political asylum to the people who expose spying activities” and was willing to “enter into discussions” with Snowden.

“It’s unfortunate what happened to Morales, but he very flippantly said he would give Snowden asylum,” said Chris Sabatini, the senior policy director at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. “A more polished leader or delegation wouldn’t do something like that.”

Sabatini called the whole incident “a huge waste of time” as there are a number of other issues more important to Latin American nations, such as the peace negotiations in Colombia and the NSA spying scandal that erupted over the weekend in Brazil.

Brazilian newspaper O Globo reported that information released by Snowden showed Brazil and Colombia are top targets in Latin America for the NSA's massive intelligence-gathering effort aimed at monitoring communications around the world.

“Brazil and Colombia are responding to this situation in a much better way than other countries by approaching a much more serious problem,” Sabatini added.

Both Morales’ grounding and the NSA spying revelations have worsened relations between the U.S. and Latin America, which despite promises of improvement under the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has remained stagnant.

“While the protests against the grounding are largely for domestic opinion, there will be no long term problems between these countries and the U.S. over the issue,” Hershberg said. “The big question is, Does the region see the U.S. as a partner who wants to work with Latin America on equal terms? From what is going on now, the evidence seems to indicate otherwise.”

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