Bolivia Rejects U.S. Request for Snowden After Flight Detour

Bolivia rejected a U.S. extradition request for the fugitive former security contractor Edward Snowden one day after speculation that President Evo Morales was harboring him disrupted the South American leader’s flight home from a Moscow conference.

Snowden never spoke with Morales while he was in Russia and the former National Security Agency contractor is not on Bolivian territory, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement yesterday. That makes the U.S. request “strange, illegal, unfounded,” it said.

South American leaders rallied to Morales’ side after the incident, with heads of state from countries including Venezuela, Ecuador and Uruguay gathering in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba today in a show of solidarity. Morales’ plane was forced to land in Austria after Spain, France, Portugal and Italy refused to let his presidential jet fly through their airspace.

The detour was a “humiliation” for the region, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner said today in a speech in Cochabamba. The Union of South American Nations, or Unasur, issued a statement yesterday expressing outrage over the incident, saying it put Morales’ life at risk.

Morales, who was greeted by cheering supporters throwing flowers and waving flags when he arrived at the La Paz airport last night, blamed his delay on the U.S. and its “servants” in Europe whom he said are trying to “intimidate the people.”

‘My Sin’

“My crime, my sin is being an indigenous president and above all anti-imperialist,” Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous leader, said today in a speech in Cochabamba broadcast by television station Telesur. “They can’t accept that we know how to govern better than the neoliberals.”

Morales also threatened to close the U.S. embassy in Bolivia which he says the CIA uses to spy on the government.

“We don’t need them, we’ve got other allies,” Morales said, citing China and Russia. “We don’t need the pretext of cooperation and diplomatic relations so that they can come and spy on us.”

Snowden revealed himself last month as the source of leaks on top-secret U.S. National Security Agency programs and remains in limbo at an airport in Moscow. Facing theft and espionage charges, Snowden has sought asylum in 20 countries, according to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks. Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Nicaragua are among countries saying they haven’t ruled out granting him asylum.

President of a People

Morales, who was in Russia to attend an energy conference, was able to fly back to South America after winning a promise that his plane would not be searched in Spain’s Canary Islands while refueling, said Ricardo Martinez, a Bolivian diplomat in Austria.

“I have the duty to protect the rights of my position,” Morales told reporters in Vienna before departing. “I am the president of a people.”

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said yesterday she was “surprised and amazed” that European governments obstructed Morales’ travel after they condemned the U.S. over Snowden’s allegations that it was spying on allies. Such behavior puts at risk dialogue between South America and Europe, she said in a statement.

Rousseff won’t attend today’s summit and is instead sending the No. 2 official from the foreign ministry, her press office said.

French Apology

Failure to allow Morales’ plane to fly through airspace of the European countries threatened the security of the people on board, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said today on its website. The actions of authorities in France, Spain and Portugal were “hardly friendly,” according to the statement.

France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius, apologized to his Bolivia counterpart for the delay in granting Morales’ plane permission to fly over French territory, according to a statement published yesterday on the ministry’s website.

“There had, of course, never been any intention of refusing President Morales’ plane access to our airspace,” the ministry said in the statement. “The authorization to fly over French territory was granted as soon as the French authorities had been informed that the aircraft in question was that of President Morales.”

U.S. officials have contacted countries Snowden might approach for asylum or pass through on the way to a third country to provide “reasons why Mr. Snowden should be returned to the United States and face charges,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said yesterday in Washington.

Moral Authority

Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro said today he had also received a request from the U.S. to extradite Snowden. The South American country rejected the petition, saying the U.S. has “no moral authority” to arrest Snowden after he revealed U.S. “crimes against humanity,” Maduro said.

“They have no moral authority to request the extradition of a young man who exposed the illegality under which the Pentagon, the CIA and the power of the U.S. work,” Maduro said this morning from the Caracas airport. “I reject any request they are making for extradition.”

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa said today’s meeting was a chance to show the world that South America was no longer a European colony.

“We’re not going to allow them to treat a head of state of our America like this,” Correa said today on his arrival in Cochabamba. We are here “to make ourselves respected as nations.”

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