The Ottumwa Courier

AP National

July 5, 2013

South American leaders back Morales in plane row

COCHABAMBA, Bolivia (AP) — President Evo Morales warned on Thursday that he could close the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia, as South America's leftist leaders rallied to support him after his presidential plane was rerouted amid suspicions that NSA leaker Edward Snowden was on board.

Morales again blamed Washington for pressuring European countries to refuse to allow his plane to fly through their airspace on Tuesday, forcing it to land in Vienna, Austria, in what he called a violation of international law. He had been returning from a summit in Russia during which he had suggested he would be willing to consider a request from Snowden for asylum.

Morales made his announcement as the leaders of Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay and Suriname joined him in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba on Thursday for a special meeting to address the diplomatic row.

In a joint statement read after the summit, the presidents demanded an explanation and an apology from France, Italy, Portugal and Spain. They also said they would back Bolivia's official complaint with the U.N. Human Rights Commission.

Latin American leaders were outraged by the incident, calling it a violation of national sovereignty and a slap in the face for a region that has suffered through humiliations by Europe and several U.S.-backed military coups.

"United we will defeat American imperialism. We met with the leaders of my party and they asked us for several measures and if necessary, we will close the embassy of the United States," Morales said in the city where he started his political career as a leader of coca leaf farmers. "We do not need the embassy of the United States."

Morales' government has had a conflictive relationship with Washington.

It expelled the U.S. ambassador and agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in 2008 for allegedly inciting the opposition. The Andean nation restored full diplomatic ties with the U.S. in 2011. But relations soured again amid mutual distrust on drug war politics and hit an especially low point after Secretary of State John Kerry referred to Latin America as Washington's "backyard" in April 2013.

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