Evo Morales grounding incident
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. Snowden had fled the United States a month earlier after his disclosure of secret, widespread surveillance by the NSA, for which he faced criminal charges in the U.S..
The day after his TV interview, Morales' Dassault Falcon 900, carrying him back to Bolivia from Russia, took off from Vnukovo Airport, but was rerouted to Austria when France, Spain, and Italy reportedly denied access to their airspace, allegedly due to suspicions that Snowden was on board. Snowden was in fact still in Sheremetyevo Airport, where he had been staying since arriving in Russia a week earlier. An audio tape was subsequently released which appeared to be a recording of the flight crew requesting to land in Austria on the grounds they "could not get a correct indication" of their remaining fuel levels.
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. 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. 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.
Austrian media later reported that when the plane landed in Vienna to refuel, US Ambassador to Austria, William Eacho, “claimed with great certainty that Edward Snowden was onboard” and mentioned a “diplomatic note requesting Snowden’s extradition.”
The President of Austria, Heinz Fischer, went to greet President Morales in his plane and shared breakfast with him.
France apologized for the incident immediately. The Spanish ambassador to Bolivia apologized two weeks later, citing inappropriate procedures. The Italians and Portuguese sent official explanations to the Bolivian Government.
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".
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, although U.S. authorities said that they were entitled to three days' advance notice. Maduro had been en route to arrive in Beijing for bilaterial talks with the People's Republic of China.
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 asserted that "a Head of State and his or her aircraft enjoy immunity and inviolability". Ban also emphasized that it is important to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future.
Claim of responsibility
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.
- Bolivia–Spain relations
- Bolivia–United States relations
- Edward Snowden
- Foreign policy of Evo Morales
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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' plane was not searched because Morales had refused Austrian authorities entry.
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- "Caso Snowden-Morales, le "note esplicative" di Italia e Portogallo". Atlas.
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- Huffington Post (2013-09-20). "Bolivian President to sue U.S. Government for Crimes against Humanity" (Video 2:25 Min). Huffington Post. Retrieved 2014-03-16.
- United Nations (2013-07-09). "Latin American nations voice concerns to Ban over rerouting of Bolivian leader's plane". United Nations. Archived from the original on 2014-03-16. Retrieved 2014-03-16.
- teleSUR / OA-gp (2015-04-13). "The Bolivian ambassador to Russia asked Julian Assange to apologize to the president for having put his life at risk in July 2013". teleSUR / OA-gp. Retrieved 2015-04-13.
- "Julian Assange: Wikileaks negoció con Maduro para que Snowden viaje con Evo". El Deber. 2015-08-30. Archived from the original on 2015-09-02. Retrieved 2017-11-14.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)