Evo Morales grounding incident

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Spain, France, and Italy (red) denied Bolivian president Evo Morales permission to cross their airspace. Morales's plane landed in Austria (yellow).
President of Bolivia Evo Morales in 2011

On 1 July 2013, president Evo Morales of Bolivia, who had been attending a conference of gas-exporting countries in Russia, gave an interview to the RT television network in which he appeared predisposed to offer asylum to Edward Snowden.[1] The day after his TV interview, Morales' Dassault Falcon 900 FAB-001, carrying him back to Bolivia from Russia, took off from Vnukovo Airport in Moscow, flew uninterrupted over Poland and the Czech Republic, but unexpectedly landed in Vienna, Austria.

According to Bolivia, the flight was rerouted to Austria when France, Spain and Italy[2] denied access to their airspace, allegedly due to suspicions that Snowden was on board.[3]

Forced landing[edit]

According to Austrian statements, the pilots requested emergency landing due to issues with fuel level indicators and thus inability to confirm sufficient amount of fuel to continue flight.[4] Austria's deputy chancellor, Michael Spindelegger, said that the plane was searched, although the Bolivian Defense Minister denied a search took place, saying Morales had denied entry to his plane.[5][6] The refusals for entry into French, Spanish, and Italian airspace ostensibly for "technical reasons", strongly denounced by Bolivia, Ecuador, and other South American nations, were attributed to rumors disseminated allegedly by the US that Snowden was on board.[7][8] Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, José García-Margallo, publicly stated that they were told he was on board but did not specify as to who had informed them.[3]

The President of Austria, Heinz Fischer, later clarified that an airport officer did board the aircraft to find out why it had landed in Vienna reporting technical problems, but "there was no formal inspection."[9]. The following morning, President Fischer went to greet President Morales in his plane and shared breakfast with him.[10]

Fourteen hours later, after officials worked to resolve the dispute, the aircraft took off again for the Canary Islands passing over France, Spain, Portugal and Italy.[11][12]

Aftermath[edit]

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asserted that "a head of state and his or her aircraft enjoy immunity and inviolability"

France apologized for the incident immediately.[13] The Spanish ambassador to Bolivia apologized two weeks later, citing inappropriate procedures.[14] The Italians and Portuguese sent official explanations to the Bolivian Government.[15]

On 3 July, Jen Psaki, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, acknowledged that the U.S. had been "in contact with a range of countries across the world who had any chance of having Mr. Snowden land or even transit through their countries".[16][17]

On 20 September, Evo Morales announced a lawsuit against the U.S. government for "crimes against humanity" for repeatedly blocking presidential flights, after an incident in which authorization for an overflight of Puerto Rico by President Maduro of Venezuela was delayed. U.S. authorities said that they were entitled to three days' advance notice. Maduro had been en route to arrive in Beijing for bilateral talks with the People's Republic of China.[18]

In the aftermath of the incident, seven Latin American countries – Bolivia, Argentina, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Uruguay, and Venezuela – voiced their concerns to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who stated that "a Head of State and his or her aircraft enjoy immunity and inviolability".[19] Ban also emphasized that it is important to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future.[19]

Julian Assange's statement[edit]

In April 2015, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange claimed to having deliberately leaked the false information about Snowden being on the plane to the U.S., as part of "special measures" to distract secret services. In response, the Bolivian ambassador to Russia demanded that Assange apologize for putting their president's life at risk. Interviewed in August 2015 by the Bolivian newspaper El Deber, Assange stated that Wikileaks and the government of Venezuela discussed smuggling Snowden out of Russia aboard the presidential plane of either Venezuela or Bolivia. Assange did not know whether or not the Bolivian government was aware of these negotiations, and did not himself communicate with the Bolivians, but said that Venezuela should have warned Bolivia.[20] He also stated that he regretted what happened but that "[w]e can’t predict that other countries engage in some ... unprecedented criminal operation".[21][22]

Assange said the grounding of Morales' plane "reveals the true nature of the relationship between Western Europe and the United States" as "a phone call from U.S. intelligence was enough to close the airspace to a booked presidential flight, which has immunity".[21][23]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ El Mercurio On-Line (1 July 2013). "Evo Morales se abre a ceder asilo a Edward Snowden si lo solicita". El Mercurio On-Line (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 6 July 2013. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
  2. ^ Sol-Autor Lusa (9 July 2013). "Portas: Portugal autorizou o sobrevoo de Morales". Sol (in Portuguese). Archived from the original on 27 March 2014. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
  3. ^ a b British Broadcasting Corporation (5 July 2013). "Spain 'told Edward Snowden was on Bolivia president's plane'". British Broadcasting Corporation. Archived from the original on 16 March 2014. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
  4. ^ "Evo Morales's controversial flight over Europe, minute by heavily disputed minute". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 24 May 2021.
  5. ^ Max Fisher (3 July 2013). "Evo Morales's controversial flight over Europe, minute by heavily disputed minute". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 16 March 2014. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
  6. ^ Angelika Gruber; Emma Farge (2 July 2013). "Snowden still in Moscow despite Bolivian plane drama". Reuters. Archived from the original on 20 February 2019. Retrieved 16 March 2014. Austrian Deputy Chancellor Michael Spindelegger said Morales personally denied that Snowden was aboard his jet and agreed to a voluntary inspection. "Based on this invitation from Bolivia, a colleague boarded the plane, looked at everything and there was no one else on board," Spindelegger told reporters. But Bolivian Defence Minister Ruben Saavedra said Morales's plane was not searched because Morales had refused Austrian authorities entry.
  7. ^ Philipp-Moritz Jenne; Carlos Valdez (3 July 2013). "Bolivian leader's plane rerouted on Snowden fear". The Big Story. Associated Press. Archived from the original on 16 March 2014. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
  8. ^ Catherine E. Shoichet (3 July 2013). "Bolivia: Presidential plane forced to land after Snowden rumors". Cable News Network. Archived from the original on 16 March 2014. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
  9. ^ "Austria did not search Morales jet in Vienna: president". Reuters. Reuters. 7 July 2013. Retrieved 25 May 2021.
  10. ^ Thomson, Iain (12 September 2016). "Edward Snowden's 40 days in a Russian airport – by the woman who helped him escape". The Register. Retrieved 24 May 2021.
  11. ^ "Here's a map showing the very strange flight path of Bolivian President Evo Morales". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 25 May 2021.
  12. ^ Sara Shahriari; Jonathan Watts; Dan Roberts (3 July 2013). "Bolivia complains to UN after Evo Morales' plane 'kidnapped'". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 16 March 2014. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
  13. ^ Al Jazeera (4 July 2013). "France apologises to Bolivia over jet row". Al Jazeera. Archived from the original on 16 March 2014. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
  14. ^ Daniel Ramos; Caroline Stauffer; Paul Simao (15 July 2013). "Spain apologizes to Bolivia for presidential plane delay". Reuters. Archived from the original on 16 March 2014. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
  15. ^ "Caso Snowden-Morales, le "note esplicative" di Italia e Portogallo". Atlas.
  16. ^ Jen Psaki (3 July 2013). "Daily Press Briefing - July 3, 2013". state.gov. US Department of State. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
  17. ^ Oliver Laughland; Helen Davidson; Haroon Siddique; Paul Owen (3 July 2013). "US admits contact with other countries over potential Snowden flights – as it happened". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 16 March 2014. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
  18. ^ Huffington Post (20 September 2013). "Bolivian President to sue U.S. Government for Crimes against Humanity" (Video 2:25 Min). Huffington Post. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
  19. ^ a b United Nations (9 July 2013). "Latin American nations voice concerns to Ban over rerouting of Bolivian leader's plane". United Nations. Archived from the original on 16 March 2014. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
  20. ^ "Julian Assange: Wikileaks negoció con Maduro para que Snowden viaje con Evo". El Deber. 30 August 2015. Archived from the original on 2 September 2015. Retrieved 14 November 2017.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  21. ^ a b "Assange on the Untold Story of the Grounding of Evo Morales' Plane During Edward Snowden Manhunt". Democracy Now!. 28 May 2015. Retrieved 10 September 2020. In 2013, Julian Assange of WikiLeaks played a pivotal role in helping National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden leave Hong Kong for Russia. During the U.S. hunt for Snowden, Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane was forced to land in Austria for 14 hours after Spain, France, Portugal and Italy closed their airspace under pressure from the United States over false rumors Snowden was on board.
  22. ^ Silva, Cristina (14 April 2015). "Julian Assange WikiLeaks Update: Edward Snowden Rumor Put Bolivian President's Life In Danger, Bolivia Claims". International Business Times. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  23. ^ CNN, Catherine E. Shoichet (2 July 2013). "Bolivia: Presidential plane forced to land after false rumors of Snowden onboard". CNN.