The European rerouting of the Bolivian presidential plane over suspicions that National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden was aboard ignited outrage yesterday among Latin American leaders who called it a stunning violation of national sovereignty and disrespect for the region.
But as President Evo Morales headed home after an unplanned 14-hour layover in Vienna, there was no immediate sign that Latin America anger would translate into a rush to bring Snowden to the region that had been seen as likeliest to defy the United States and give him asylum.
Snowden was still believed to be in the transit area of Moscow's international airport. As his case grinds on, it appears to illustrate the strength of U.S. influence, despite the initial sense that the Obama administration lost control of the situation when China allowed Snowden to flee Hong Kong.
Morales originally planned to fly home from a Moscow summit via Western Europe, stopping in Lisbon, Portugal, and Guyana to refuel. His plane was diverted Tuesday night to Vienna after his government said France, Spain and Portugal all refused to let it through their airspace because they suspected Snowden was on board. Spain's ambassador to Austria even tried to make his way onto the plane on the pretext of having a coffee to check that Snowden wasn't there, Morales said.
Morales had sparked speculation that he might try to help Snowden get out during a visit to Russia after he said that his country would be willing to consider granting him asylum. Austrian officials said Morales' plane was searched early yesterday by Austrian border police after Morales gave permission. Bolivian and Austrian officials said Snowden was not on board.
Bolivia's ambassador to the United Nations, Sacha Llorenti, said, "The orders came from the United States."
"They want to frighten and intimidate me but they won't scare me," Morales said before finally taking off to Spain's Canary Islands and on to Brazil and then home.