Bolivian President Evo Morales on Thursday threatened to close the US embassy as leftist Latin American leaders joined him in blasting Europe and the US after his plane was rerouted over suspicions US fugitive Edward Snowden was aboard.
Morales, who has accused Washington of pressuring European nations to deny him their airspace, warned he would “study, if necessary, closing the US embassy in Bolivia.”
“We don’t need a US embassy in Bolivia,” he said. “My hand would not shake to close the US embassy. We have dignity, sovereignty. Without the US, we are better politically, democratically.”
Morales arrived home late on Wednesday after a long layover in Vienna.
He said his plane was forced to land there because it was barred from flying over four European nations over groundless rumors that Snowden was aboard, sparking outrage among Latin American leaders.
The Bolivian president’s air odyssey began hours after Morales declared in Moscow he would consider an asylum application from Snowden, who is holed up at a Moscow airport as he seeks to evade US espionage charges for revealing a vast Internet and telephone surveillance program.
In a show of support, the presidents of Venezuela, Argentina, Ecuador, Uruguay and Suriname met with Morales in the central Bolivian city of Cochabamba to discuss the incident.
They demanded that the four European countries — Spain, France, Italy and Portugal — explain their actions and apologize, saying that the treatment of Morales was an insult to Latin America as a whole.
The slight to Morales “offends not just the people of Bolivia, but all of our nations,” they said in a statement after the emergency meeting.
“The worst thing is that they are treating us like children rather than show humility and say ‘we made a mistake,’” Uruguayan President Jose Mugica said.
At a rally before the meeting, Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro claimed that the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had ordered the four European nations to deny access to Morales’ plane.
“A minister of one of these European governments personally told us by telephone that they were going to apologize because they were surprised, and that those who gave the order to aviation authorities in this country ... were the CIA,” he said.
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said the leaders would “take decisions and show that we won’t accept this sort of humiliation against any country of [Latin] America.”
“Imagine if this happened to a European head of state, if this had happened to the president of the US. It probably would have been a casus belli, a case for war,” he said. “They think they can attack, crush, destroy international law.”
Correa had called for a larger summit gathering leaders of the Union of South American Nations, but the leaders of Brazil, Colombia, Chile and Peru did not attend, although they too condemned the incident.
In an implicit criticism of his absent peers, Correa said: “If what happened doesn’t justify a meeting of heads of state of our South America, what justifies one?”
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos voiced support for Morales, but warned on Twitter against “converting this into a diplomatic crisis between Latin America and the EU.”
Morales earlier urged Europeans to “free themselves from the US empire.”
The US consulate’s walls in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz were sprayed with red graffiti, one reading “Gringos Obama out,” while about 100 protesters burned flags and threw rocks at the French embassy in La Paz on Wednesday.
France has since apologized for temporarily refusing entry to Morales’ jet, with French President Francois Hollande saying there was “conflicting information” about the passengers.
The Bolivian government has lodged a complaint with the UN and said it planned another to the UN Human Rights Commission.
Russia has joined Latin American leaders in condemning European nations over the incident.
Whistle-blower Snowden, a former contractor with the secretive National Security Agency, is meanwhile thought to remain in legal limbo in an airport transit zone.
The 30-year-old has filed asylum requests in 21 countries, including several European and Latin American nations.