Tensions mount over Spain’s role in Morales airspace fracas

“Apology is not enough,” says Bolivian president Spanish envoy in Austria accused of trying to search presidential plane

Latin American outrage against Spain continued to pour in on Thursday after the Madrid government joined a group of European countries in deciding to close off its airspace to Bolivian President Evo Morales. Some regional leaders said they will reevaluate their relations with Madrid and file complaints against Spain, Italy, France and Portugal in global forums.

Ecuador accused Spain of instructing its ambassador in Austria to board Morales’ plane as it was grounded in Vienna to see if the Bolivian leader was trying to spirit away wanted former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

“Who does that prime minister, Rajoy, think he is? He thinks South Americans are still his slaves?” asked Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who said he would reconsider his country’s relations with the “vile” Popular Party government, but “not with the people of Spain.”

Morales was held up for close to 14 hours at Vienna International Airport on Tuesday and early Wednesday after the governments of France, Italy, and Portugal closed off their airspace to the Bolivian presidential plane when rumors surfaced that it may have been carrying Snowden, a former CIA contractor wanted by the United States for leaking intelligence.

The ambassador asked Morales if he could have coffee on the plane”

Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo said that because the presidential jet had missed its window for authorization to fly over Spain because of the “difficulties” presented by the other countries, the plane wasn’t allowed in. But he denied that Spain also closed off its airspace.

Morales was returning from a meeting in Moscow when his plane was diverted to Austria after French aviation officials canceled airspace authorization. After the diplomatic incident was sorted out, he made a technical stopover in the Canary Islands before returning to La Paz.

“An apology from those countries isn’t enough,” the Bolivian leader said after he arrived home. “It is unfortunate that there are still countries in Europe that are still servile to US policy.”

Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño accused Spain's ambassador to Austria, Alberto Carnero, of trying to confirm if Snowden was on the plane. “The Spanish ambassador asked Morales if he could have coffee with him on the plane,” Patiño said.

In Lima, Peruvian President Humala Ollanta said that the four nations need “to give some hard explanations” as to why they decided to revoke Morales’ airspace privileges.

The presidents of Bolivia; Argentina, Cristina Fernández; Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro; Uruguay, José Mujica; and Surinam, Desiré Bouterse, were scheduled to meet later on Thursday in Cochabamba to discuss the controversy.

David Choquehuanca, the Bolivian foreign minister, said his country had rejected a request from the United States to prohibit Snowden, who reportedly remains in Moscow, from entering the country.

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS