By DEB RIECHMANN, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Bolivian Interior Minister Carlos Romero on Tuesday denounced what he called an "act of aggression" when Bolivian President Evo Morales' plane was rerouted to Austria amid suspicions that National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden was on board.
Bolivia, backed by Nicaragua, Ecuador and Venezuela, called on the Organization of American States' permanent council to approve a declaration demanding that such an incident never be repeated. He also called for apologies from European nations and an explanation of the July 2 incident.
The issue has strained U.S. relations with Latin American nations, especially those like Venezuela, which already have harshly criticized what it has viewed as heavy-handed U.S. policy and actions.
Morales, traveling from a meeting in Russia, arrived back in Bolivia following an unplanned 14-hour layover in Vienna. His government said France, Spain and Portugal all refused to let it through their airspace, forcing the plane to land in Austria.
"It was quite a rude awakening for him — for us, our country and the international community — when after completing an official visit, on his way back to his country, the president was subject to what one might call a joint action perpetrated by the governments of some countries, who prevented at first, and then encumbered later on his safe passage back to his country," Romero said.
Morales has blamed Washington for pressuring European countries to refuse to allow his plane to fly through their airspace. U.S. officials say they only expressed their desire for Snowden to return to the U.S.
At the OAS meeting, Denis Ronaldo Moncada Colindres, a representative from Nicaragua, alleged the "governments of France, Spain, Italy and Portugal came together at the behest of an imperial power," an apparent reference to the United States.
Representatives from Italy and Spain denied they closed their airspace and France called it a "technical" error based on false information and denied that it was a "political decision."
Sebastiano Fulci, a representative from Italy, said accusations against his country were unfair and false. He said the authorization to fly over Italian territory was canceled automatically — under normal procedures — after, not before, the president's plane was on the ground in Vienna.
"Italy had absolutely nothing to do with hindering the flight of President Evo Morales," Fulci said. "It never withdrew any authorization to fly over its territory."
Jorge Hevia, a representative from Spain, said his country did not delay, deny or cancel any authorization for Morales to fly over its territory on his way home from Moscow.
"Quite the opposite. At the request of Bolivia, the authorization was broadened and included authority for a stop at the Canary Islands," Hevia said in a reference to the Spanish archipelago. "At no time did we hinder the president's travel."
Morales, a leftist, has long been a fierce critic of U.S. policy toward Latin America and had suggested while in Russia that he would be willing to consider giving Snowden asylum in Bolivia.
Romero said that Bolivian officials thought it was "odd" that the U.S. issued an extradition request to Bolivia.
"Snowden was not in Bolivia," Romero said. "He was not there then nor has he ever been there, so we were being asked to extradite a ghost."
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has offered asylum to Snowden and says his country received a request from the former NSA systems analyst.
But Snowden, who is believed to be in a Moscow airport's transit zone, has applied for asylum in a number of other countries as well, and it is not clear how easy it would be for him to travel to the Latin American country.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.