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South American leaders close ranks with Evo Morales following airspace episode

Bolivian president threatens to shut US Embassy in La Paz

Cochabamba -
Nicolás Maduro, Cristina Fernández, Evo Morales and Rafael Correa pictured in Bolivia on Thursday.
Nicolás Maduro, Cristina Fernández, Evo Morales and Rafael Correa pictured in Bolivia on Thursday. EFE

The presidents of Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay and Suriname gave their support on Thursday night to Bolivian President Evo Morales, who became embroiled in a diplomatic incident earlier this week when four European nations prohibited him from entering their airspace.

Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, José Mujica of Uruguay and Desiré Bouterse of Suriname all attended a massive rally of agriculture workers, including coca leaf growers, which was held in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba, and then held an emergency meeting of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).

In a speech, Morales attacked the United States, Spain, Italy, France and Portugal for Tuesday’s episode, in which his plane was diverted to and grounded in Vienna for nearly 14 hours because it was thought that he was carrying wanted US former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden onboard. The European nations closed their airspace as Morales was trying to return home from an official visit to Moscow.

The presidential jet’s airspace privileges were suspended by French aviation authorities in mid-flight as it was entering France. Morales said that the pilots, who had to turn back, indicated that they were running low on fuel and made an emergency landing at Vienna International Airport.

“I have always believed that the European nations are defenders of democracy, defenders of human rights and respectful for international treaties. But what they did was everything to the contrary, because those peons do what the United States tells them,” he said. “What an embarrassment for Europe.”

Morales said that if he deemed it necessary, his “hand would not quaver” when it came to shutting down the US Embassy in La Paz.

“We don’t need an embassy under the pretext of cooperation and diplomatic relations. We would be better off without it. We have other allies,” he said.

The Bolivian leader, who arrived home on Wednesday night following his diplomatic ordeal, said that he held discussions with agriculture leaders and officials from social movements who have warned him about a conspiracy to destabilize his government and suggested ordering the Americans out of Bolivia.

Fernández de Kirchner, who came to Bolivia a bit later than her counterparts, said: “It is curious that those who speak of human rights committed this violation.”

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