Bolivian President Evo Morales has been given clearance by Spain, France and Italy to fly over their territories today after his plane was inspected by Austrian authorities and whistleblower Edward Snowden was not found on board.
The three countries and Portugal abruptly cancelled air transit permits for the president’s plane amid rumours that the ex-US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden might be on board. The flight was detained at Vienna airport on Tuesday night and was not allowed to take off until Wednesday morning after a layover of 13 hours.
Bolivian officials claimed Snowden was not on the plane and Morales denied a request by Spanish officials to inspect the aircraft, declaring that it was not within their rights to enter a presidencial plane. Austrian officials were eventually able to inspect the plane and concluded everyone on board was of Bolivian citizenship.
The Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger explained that before the Bolivian president left Vienna, the airport police carried out a “voluntary search” of the airplane and confirmed Snowden was not present: “It is an important information for everyone that you don’t have a stowaway on the presidential plane. It has been such a tenacious rumour that it caused worlwide problems,” Spindelegger said.
The Bolivian president defined the incident as an “agression against Latin America” and an “historic mistake” by European countries and the United States that straened relations between the continents. He said the layover in Vienna was a way for the American government to threaten and intimidate him while continuing to economically dominate his country: “I would like to say to some European countries that they need to free themselves from the North American empire, we are not in colonial times,” Morales said.
Siim Kallas, the European ccommissioner for transport, however, said France and Portugal’s refusal to grant access to their airspace is their sovereign responsibility and the EU has no power in this area. He added that no further comments will be issued on the countries’ actions.
Leaks by Snowden have revealed the NSA’s sweeping data collection of US phone records and some Internet traffic. The former NSA system analyst has sent asylum requests to 20 countries, including Bolivia, and is now believed to be in Moscow airport’s transit area. Five countries have rejected his asylum request, seven have said they would consider it if made on their soil, and eight stated that they had either not made a decision or received a request.