After being held up in the airport of Vienna for more than 13 hours, the presidential airplane of Evo Morales was finally able to resume its flight to Bolivia on Wednesday, after a stopover in the Canary Islands, in an episode whose grotesque aspects should not obscure the political ones: a diplomatic crisis based on a gratuitous humiliation inflicted upon a head of state.
The plane carrying the Bolivian president, who had been in Moscow to attend a meeting of gas-producing countries, had to land in the Austrian capital because several countries had refused permission to utilize their airspace on the flight back to Bolivia. The reason? The mere suspicion that the former US National Security Agency analyst, Edward Snowden, wanted in his country for having blown the whistle on its massive espionage practices, might be traveling aboard.
The delay was rightly considered an intolerable affront, and Morales received immediate expressions of support from other Latin American countries — Argentina, Ecuador, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Chile, Uruguay and others. Though the Bolivian vice president, Álvaro García Linera, exaggerated when he declared that Evo was being “held hostage” in Europe and that his life had been put in danger, it is true that there is no precedent for this sort of treatment, which contravenes all the treaties and rules of international diplomacy that accord immunity to the planes in which heads of state are traveling.
The delay was rightly considered an intolerable affront, and Morales received immediate support
The fact is that the pursuit of a person wanted by the American justice system has led various governments to trample all over these rules and treaties. And behind this behavior stands the huge pressure exerted by the United States on its European friends and allies to secure Snowden’s detention, and the shameful ease with which many of them have bowed to these pressures, in contrast with the caution and timidity these same states have shown when it comes to defending their own citizens against the US secret services’ massive interference in their communications — both those of private individuals and public organizations and news media.
While no one can argue with the Obama administration’s right to pursue those who have violated American statutes, the prosecution of crime must always be carried out with scrupulous respect for national and international law, and without resorting to pressures that force other governments into entirely unjustifiable behavior. President Obama now runs the risk that the hunt for Snowden will damage his reputation still further after the blow arising from the cyberespionage episode itself.