snowden affair

Spain had tip-off that whistleblower was on Bolivian leader’s plane

Foreign minister’s version of European airspace closures differs from Morales’ own story

Foreign Minister José Manuel García Margallo talks to the press on Friday from China.
Foreign Minister José Manuel García Margallo talks to the press on Friday from China.Miguel Toran (EFE)

Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo said on Friday that Spain had received information that wanted former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden was on board the presidential jet carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales. The alert prompted other European nations to close their airspace to Morales’ plane on Tuesday night.

Speaking on Spanish television on Friday morning, Margallo declined to say who tipped off the Spanish authorities, saying that it was “classified information.”

“They told us he was inside [the plane],” Margallo said in an interview with state broadcaster TVE.

Nevertheless, he said that Bolivia asked Spain to intervene when France and Italy closed off their airspace on Tuesday, forcing Morales’ presidential jet to land in Vienna as he was trying to return home from an official trip to Moscow.

Snowden, who is wanted by the US Justice Department for leaking information concerning a National Security Agency global spying program, is thought to be holed up in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, where he arrived on June 23. No one has seen him since.

Bolivia and Venezuela have said they would be willing to offer Snowden asylum.

The Spanish foreign minister reiterated that at no time did Spain close its airspace to the Bolivian leader’s plane, but instead the authorization to cross Spanish territory expired when Morales was stopped from flying over France, Portugal and Italy. He said that Spain would not apologize to the Bolivian leader – as Morales and other Latin American leaders have demanded – because “our airspace was never closed.”

A new authorization permit had to be issued for Morales to land in the Canary Islands on Wednesday after the diplomatic ordeal was over.

Both Spain and Bolivia also differ in their versions of what occurred the night that Morales was grounded in Vienna. The Bolivian president said that Spain’s ambassador to Austria, Alberto Carnero, tried to board his plane to search for Snowden by asking Morales if he could have coffee with him.

Margallo, however, explained that Carnero, who is his former chief-of-staff, went to the airport to put himself at Morales’ “disposal” for anything he may have needed.

Spain trusted that the Austrian authorities had the situation under control and ensured that Snowden was not on board before deciding to allow Morales to land in the Canaries, the minister said.

Reacting later to statements made by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who said that in light of the incident, he would be reevaluating his country’s relationship with Spain’s Popular Party (PP) government, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría called his comments “illogical” and “mistaken.” She reminded the Venezuelan leader that Bolivian officials thanked Spain for allowing Morales to land in Canary Islands for refueling.

“There is a big discrepancy between someone who has gone through this experience and someone who says he knows what happened from second-hand reports,” she said.

But opposition politicians blamed the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy for treating Morales and his entourage with disrespect.

Former Socialist Prime Minister Felipe González called the entire episode “a vaudeville show” and said that the way the Spanish government had treated Morales “was unacceptable.”

United Left (IU) Deputy Gaspar Llamazares said Margallo’s own explanations made him “look like a liar.”

“Not even a government in a colony could do worse,” he said.

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