One of the most complicated diplomatic scenes of recent years occurred when the airplane of Bolivia's president, Evo Morales, had to make an emergency landing in Vienna, Austria due to the alleged air transit denial [es] by Spain, France, Portugal and Italy under the suspicion that he was helping whistleblower Edward Snowden exit Russia.
The head of state was on his way back from Moscow, where he was participating in the Gas Exporting Countries Forum.
It is still uncertain what caused the plane in-route to the Atlantic on Tuesday, June 2, to make a U turn and land in Vienna's airport. On one side, Bolivian officers declared that France, Portugal, Spain and Italy revoked the permit for the airplane to cross their airspace and denied its petition to refuel; all because said countries thought Snowden could be on board.
Meanwhile, French and Spanish authorities said that the plane was free to cross their sky borders. Also, adding to the controversy, there's an audio recording allegedly taken from a conversation between the airplane and air control where you can hear the pilot asking for permission to land thinking he hadn't enough fuel.
Heads of State from several Latin American nations reacted immediately, many of them expressing their opinion of the unfolding events on Twitter.
@CFKArgentina: ”Qué? Evo? Evo Morales detenido?” Inmediatamente me viene a la mente su última fotografía, en Rusia…
@CFKArgentina: “What? Evo? Evo Morales detained?” His last picture, in Russia, immediately came to mind…
@CFKArgentina: Definitivamente están todos locos. Jefe de Estado y su avión tiene inmunidad total. No puede ser este grado de impunidad.
@CFKArgentina: They are definitely all crazy. A Head of State and his plane have complete immunity. I can't believe this level of impunity.
In this tweet she refers to the reaction of Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa:
@CFKArgentina: Rafael me dice que va a llamar urgente a Ollanta Humala para reunión urgente UNASUR.
Also, Rafael Correa tweeted [es]:
@MashiRafael: ¡Increíble! ¡Niegan ingreso a espacio europeo de avión de Evo Morales! ¿Y despuės nos hablan de cumbres EU-AL? ¡A reaccionar Patria Grande!
@MashiRafael: Incredible! They deny Evo Morales’ plane access to European airspace! And then they talk about EU-AL [Latin America] summits? Wake up Great Nation!
Afterwards, Cristina Fernández shared the opinion of Uruguay's president:
@CFKArgentina: Hablo con Pepe (Mujica). Está indignado. Tiene razón. Es todo muy humillante. Me vuelve a hablar Rafa.
@CFKArgentina: I spoke with Pepe (Mujica). He's outraged. He's right. This is all very humiliating. Rafa [Rafael Correa] is calling again.
Finally, the dignitary reported that Peru's president, Ollanta Humala, was going to call for an extraordinary UNASUR meeting:
@CFKArgentina: Me avisa que Ollanta va a convocar a reunión de UNASUR. Son las 00:25 AM. Mañana va a ser un día largo y difícil. Calma. No van a poder.
@CFKArgentina: Ollanta told me he'll call a UNASUR meeting. It is 00:25 AM. Tomorrow will be a long tough day. Be calm. They won't succeed.
And President Rafael Correa declared:
@MashiRafael: Horas decisivas para UNASUR: o nos graduamos de colonias o reivindicamos nuestra independencia, soberanía y dignidad. ¡Todos somos Bolivia!
@MashiRafael: Decisive hours for UNASUR: either we graduate as colonies or we revindicate our independence, sovereignty and dignity. We are all Bolivia!
Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro, also reported he was in contact with Evo Morales:
@NicolasMaduro: Estoy en contacto con Evo, se han violado todas las inmunidades internacionales que protegen a los jefes de Estado por la obsesión Imperial.
@NicolasMaduro: I am in touch with Evo, all international immunities that protect Heads of State have been violated due to the Imperial obsession.
Then he added:
@NicolasMaduro: Ratifico toda la solidaridad con Evo y desde Venezuela con dignidad responderemos esta agresión peligrosa, desproporcionada e inaceptable.
@NicolasMaduro: I ratify my complete solidarity with Evo and from Venezuela, with dignity, we will respond to this dangerous, disproportionate and unacceptable aggression.
According to a statement by the Interior Ministry of Austria that referred to the incident as a “routine inspection”, once on the ground, Austrian authorities entered the plane searching for Snowden and checked the passengers’ passports. All this, in spite of what president Morales had told his Argentinean peer:
@CFKArgentina: ”Y no voy a permitir que revisen mi avión. No soy un ladrón”. Simplemente perfecto. Fuerza Evo.
@CFKArgentina: “I am not going to allow them to check my plane. I am not a thief”. Simply perfect. Be strong Evo.
After thirteen hours detained in Austria, local officials allowed Evo Morales to leave, just after the Austrian government informed that Snowden was not found on the Bolivian dignitary’s plane. It was only then that Spain opened its airspace so that the Bolivian president could make a stop at the Canary Islands and then proceed to Bolivia.
No hemos permitido que se hiciese registro al avión presidencial 001 y que ningún tipo de fuerza hiciese revisión al avión presidencial porque no corresponde. Ese avión tiene inmunidad y por derecho internacional no puede ser sometido a requisa.
We haven't allowed a search inside the presidential plane 001 and no special force went into the plane because it is not right. This plane has immunity and by international law, it can't be submitted to a search.
Morales [es] concluded:
Tengo la obligación de defender la dignidad y la soberanía de mi puesto. No es una ofensa al presidente sino a todo un pueblo, a toda un región como Latinoamérica.
I have the obligation to defend the dignity and sovereignty of my office. It is not an offense to the president but to a whole country, to a whole region like Latin America.
Finally, the Bolivian government announced it will call in the French and Italy ambassadors and the Portuguese consul in La Paz to explain the reasons why they denied the crossing and landing of President Evo Morales’ airplane.