July 05, 2013

The Reasons Why Morales Was Stranded in Vienna


In the mean time, Morales is already back in Bolivia (arrived Wednesday night) and even the Cochabamba Summit of the UNASUR (Thursday) already took place. While Morales was received as a hero coming back from war, although many of the people who went to wait for him at the El Alto airport were forced to go by the government apparatus, the UNASUR published the Cochabamba Resolution, which basically repudiates what happened to Morales and demands an official apology from the European countries involved.

However, few days later, the facts are starting to surface and some clarity is starting to set in the whole incident. As to what happened, according to Morales' own account during the summit (see Telesur), the plane had a set itinerary even before Morales spoke at the meeting of natural gas-exporting countries in Moscow. Shortly thereafter, Morales was told that Portugal (which was going to be the first stop) had cancelled the permission to land due to "technical issues". Morales instructed his pilot to find another route. This alternative route involved a stop in Spanish soil. According to Morales, as they were approaching French air space, the French government refused to allow the Bolivian presidential plane to enter their air space. Without alternative route, because as you know if you are flying to Spain you have to pass through France, unless you want to circumvent it flying through North Africa, Morales and his pilots decided to look for a place to land because they needed to refuel. They asked Italy, which refused and they lied to Vienna to allow them to land, alleging a technical difficulty. So Morales landed in Vienna and waited 13 or 14 hours to continue his trip home.

In Vienna, Morales said he was visited by the Spanish diplomat who asked him to have a talk with him and a cup of coffee, but inside his plane. Morales said, he replied he was not a "criminal" and denied this privilege to the diplomat (that was not very diplomatic, or not?). The, the Austrian Prime Minister visited him and asked him if he could take a look at Morales' plane. Morales said yes. This is how the world knows now that Snowden was not there.

But, Latin Americans want to know why did France and the other European countries did not allow Morales to land. And, as I see it, is a legitimate question. Well the answer has began to see the light, albeit it is still not entirely clear.

If you take a look at the Spanish and the French press, you'll find there the real reason. The Spanish explanation, I think, is very illustrative. The Spanish Minister of Foreign Relations and Cooperation, Garcia Margallo, said: "We were told Snowden was in the plane". He continued: "if he had set foot in Spanish soil, the government would have had to process his petition for asylum. Once rejected, the government would have had to deal with the extradition to the US". That is short, clear and to the point, is it not? France has a similar reason.

These countries, that is Portugal, Spain, France and Italy (for sure other countries including Austria), were told with great certainty that Snowden was inside the Bolivian Presidential airplane. What that meant, was, if the plane landed in any of those countries, as it was scheduled to do, Snowden had the opportunity to jump out and give himself up to the authorities and ask for asylum. The country in question and its administration would have to process his request, DENY IT, and be the one who EXTRADITED Snowden to the US. Think of that, for a moment! What a nightmare situation for the governments in question. This, on the back of what the US government had told every one before, namely that the US would consider a grave affront from any one country that gave asylum to Snowden. Such an action would lead to serious consequences for the bilateral relations of such country with the US. Now that is a threat to take seriously. Especially, for countries such as the European ones, which have a close relationship with the US.

But, the problems are not over. While the Europeans might have escaped a diplomatic row with their most important partner, the US, now they have to face diplomatic rows with the Latin Americans. However, if you were in their place, what would you prefer: a) a row with the US (need I say more?) of b) a row with some Latin American countries, what is more, the ones that are considered in the world to be a bit, lets say, flamboyant. Of course you will choose "b". These rows are a bit more easy to deal with. You can base your tactics on your vast experience in such rows (as Europeans do), you can always appeal to the well known European pragmatism (my idea) and you can expect these rows to be over soon because, after all, you are the donor in the cooperation equation, are you not?

In the experience side, Europeans do have significantly more experience than the, comparatively, younger nations in the Latin American continent. The Europeans have gone and come back many times this road. They have thousands of years of experience. I don't think I need to go back into history now in order to provide validity to this argument. I only refer you to the history books. Now, in reference to the European pragmatism. This is the way in which Europeans deal with things that are uncomfortable. For example, in this case, many Europeans will say, yes, Morales was inconvened a little, and now what? Many people all over Europe get stranded over night for less reasonable reasons. Some might even say, why should be President of any nation should be treated with such privileges. France apologized for the "inconvenience" they caused the Bolivian President. The most important thing, said Hollande, is that "nothing happened to the Bolivian President". Spain's Rajoy said that this row was artificially created because Spain never denied entrance to Morales. Portugal alleged "technical reasons". The European pragmatism means to, in such uncomfortable situations, to give primacy to the practicality of the whole thing and not get caught up in such none sense as inviolability of a head of state or presumed innocence or such inconveniences as internationally accorded codes of conduct when it comes to heads of states. That pragmatism only confounds the real important issues such as the safety of the President. Added to that, is the certainty that you are only dealing with Bolivia and not with ... say the Netherlands, Brazil or India. You know the issue will go away soon.

The final question is, will this affect or in any way change the relationship between Europe and Latin America? My take is, it will not. First of all, not all Latin American nations are as affected by what happened to Morales as most of the nations which follow a center-left approach to politics and are such critics of neoliberalism and American imperialism. If you noticed, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Peru did not attend the UNASUR meeting with their higher echelons. So, in this question, Latin Americans are not speaking with one voice. This is of course perfect for Europe. On the European side, it is to the utmost interest of Europe to leave this row behind. That is why, now, these governments are concentrating on a bilateral talk with the US. First, because most West European governments are also having to confront allegations of their own spying activities (such as France) and collaboration (such as Germany). So the faster this "incident" goes away, the better for Europeans. The only country which I see will have to deal with this a bit more is Spain. But, that is because it is the one country with the most ties with Latin America.