South American leftist leaders rally to Bolivia’s side in Snowden saga

COCHABAMBA, Bolivia, (Reuters) – South America’s most outspoken leftist leaders gathered yesterday to rally behind Bolivian President Evo Morales, whose plane was diverted in Europe this week on suspicions that fugitive U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden was aboard.

The summit in Cochabamba, Bolivia – where Morales began his political career as a leader of coca leaf farmers – is aimed at expressing outrage over his “virtual kidnapping” and the U.S. pressure they believe spurred it.

“Europe broke all the rules of the game,” Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said shortly after arriving at the Cochabamba airport. “We’re here to tell President Evo Morales that he can count on us. Whoever picks a fight with Bolivia, picks a fight with Venezuela.”

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said earlier that if any country had denied airspace to a U.S. or European president, it “probably would’ve been grounds for war.”

Despite the rhetoric, no Latin American country has offered asylum yet to Snowden, who is wanted by Washington for disclosure of intelligence secrets. Two radical leftist governments – Venezuela and Cuba – are in a cautious rapprochement with the United States that would be jeopardized if they gave him sanctuary. Russia is growing impatient over Snowden’s stay in a Moscow airport and officials have urged him to leave.

Bolivia said Morales was returning from Moscow on Tuesday when France and Portugal abruptly banned his plane from entering their airspace, and it was forced to land in Vienna. Austrian officials said they inspected his plane there, but Bolivia’s defense minister denied this.

This unusual treatment of a presidential plane upset leaders in Latin America, which has a history of U.S.-backed coups.

Still, only the presidents of Ecuador, Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay and Suriname agreed to join Morales at the meeting late on Thursday, reflecting a split in the region.

Noticeably absent was the president of regional heavyweight Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, who sent her international affairs adviser and a deputy foreign minister to the meeting.

The presidents and foreign ministers of Chile, Peru and Colombia, which have good relations with the United States, also stayed away. In a written statement, Colombia’s foreign ministry called on Bolivia and the European governments involved to find a diplomatic solution.

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