Latin American Leaders Respond To Bolivia's 'Humiliation'

South America's leftist leaders rallied on Thursday to support Bolivian President Evo Morales. Earlier in the week, his presidential plane was rerouted amid suspicions that NSA leaker Edward Snowden was on board.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

Latin American leaders met in Bolivia yesterday to coordinate a response to what they have called a humiliation for the region. Earlier this week, the plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales was diverted over European airspace. Morales was returning from a visit to Moscow, where Edward Snowden is holed up in an airport, and there was a belief that Snowden may have been on the presidential plane. That turned out not to be true.

We turn now to South America correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro for more. Good Morning.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: What have those leaders been saying?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, let me start by saying this is a pretty serious diplomatic incident. You have the leader of a sovereign country flying back home on his presidential plane, being apparently stopped from allowing to proceed because of an unfounded suspicion that he had someone the U.S. wanted on board. The leaders of Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay joined Evo Morales in Bolivia to address that issue.

Now, this is a group that isn't favorable to the U.S. These are leftist leaders, so they really don't like U.S. policy at the best of times, and they are furious at what's happened. They've called it a violation of national sovereignty, an act of imperialism. Perhaps the harshest words came from Eduardo Correa, the president of Ecuador, who said they think they can attack, crush and destroy international law, and that the people of Latin America will not accept this humiliation.

MONTAGNE: OK. A lot of outrage there, but what action are they threatening to take?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, the Bolivians have already launched a complaint at the United Nations, and they are threatening to close the U.S. Embassy now in La Paz. It's certainly created a chill in relations with Europe. But practically speaking, there isn't really much they can do. Many of these countries already have very cold relations with the U.S.

MONTAGNE: But also, is this indignation from Latin American leaders being shared by people in the street who might have other problems?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's absolutely right. They do have other problems, but this is a region with a long history of U.S. intervention, much of it bloody. So when people in the region speak about U.S. imperialism, it's not really an abstract phrase. And something like this is really seen as an attempt at bullying. So we saw in the eastern city of Bolivia, protesters painting slogans on the U.S. Embassy door. But it really hasn't gotten a lot of traction on the streets. We haven't seen mass protests in any of these cities. Countries in the region with closer U.S. ties - like Brazil, Chile, Colombia - issued statements condemning what happened, but they've also called for calm.

MONTAGNE: Well, ultimately, this had to do with whether Edward Snowden was going to get asylum somewhere in that region. What's the likelihood of that actually happening?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, he asked. And certainly, what is thought to have raised the suspicion that Evo Morales could have had Snowden on his plane was that Evo Morales said in an interview he'd consider granting Edward Snowden asylum. But over the past few days, it's appeared less likely he will end up in the region. Ecuador already has WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to contend with, and they have a lucrative preferential trade deal with the U.S. that could be jeopardized. Bolivia, too, it seems, doesn't want to further embroil themselves in the issue of Snowden's asylum. So, for now, barring any surprises, it seems he's not headed here.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, speaking from Sao Paulo, Brazil. Thanks very much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.

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