Tag Archives: Bolivia

The Limits of Diplomatic Immunity

Bolivian President Evo Morales re-boards his plane in Austria.

Bolivian President Evo Morales re-boards his plane in Austria.

A plane carrying Bolivia’s President, Evo Morales, was forced to land in Austria after being denied access to French, Italian, and Portuguese airspace. Once on the ground, the plane was searched by Austrian officials to verify it was not carrying Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor accused of leaking the existence of a secret US surveillance program known as Prism. After it was determined that Snowden was not aboard, the plane was allowed to continue along its original route, ferrying the Bolivian President home from a conference in Moscow.

The move, which Spain hinted was the result of US pressure, was been widely condemned by other Latin American governments. Ecuador’s President, Rafael Correa, called the move “an affront to all America,” and Argentina’s President, Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, condiment the move as “a relic of colonialism that we thought was completely overcome.” A special conference attended by the Presidents of Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Venezuela, and with representatives from several other countries in attendance, was convened in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to address the diplomatic row. And Bolivia announced that they may seek to close the US embassy in his country to protest the violation of international law.

While the conference attendees avoided any specific mention of the United States, their statement included a harsh condemnation and a demand for answers from France, Portugal, and Italy (who denied access to their airspace) as well as from Spain (who issued the original warning that Snowden could be aboard the plane). France subsequently sent an apology to Bolivia, but that apology was rejected by President Morales, who concluded that “apologies are not enough because the stance is that international treaties must be respected.”

There is a longstanding tradition of diplomatic immunity—that diplomats are given legal immunity and safe passage, and that they are not susceptible to lawsuit or prosecution under a host country’s law. These rights traditionally extend not just to credentialed diplomats, but also to heads of state. Such rights are recognized to ensure they can carry out the official duties of their office without intimidation or interference.

So was last week’s forced landing and search of President Evo Morales’ plane a violation of international law? The answer is not entirely clear, and arguments could be made on both sides. But at least one commentator, John Pilger of The Guardian newspaper, called the situation as an “act of air piracy and state terrorism” and described the situation as follows:

Imagine the aircraft of the president of France being forced down in Latin America on “suspicion” that it was carrying a political refugee to safety – and not just any refugee but someone who has provided the people of the world with proof of criminal activity on an epic scale.

Imagine the response from Paris, let alone the “international community”, as the governments of the west call themselves. To a chorus of baying indignation from Whitehall to Washington, Brussels to Madrid, heroic special forces would be dispatched to rescue their leader and, as sport, smash up the source of such flagrant international gangsterism. Editorials would cheer them on, perhaps reminding readers that this kind of piracy was exhibited by the German Reich in the 1930s.

The forcing down of Bolivian President Evo Morales’s plane – denied airspace by France, Spain and Portugal, followed by his 14-hour confinement while Austrian officials demanded to “inspect” his aircraft for the “fugitive” Edward Snowden – was an act of air piracy and state terrorism. It was a metaphor for the gangsterism that now rules the world and the cowardice and hypocrisy of bystanders who dare not speak its name.

But even if that were not the case, the move would certainly spark a sharp rise in anti-Americanism in Latin America, which has traditionally viewed the motivations of the United States with deep suspicion. Also writing at The Guardian, Stephen Kinzer concluded  that “In its eagerness to capture the fugitive leaker Edward Snowden, the Obama administration has taken a step that will resound through Latin American history” and observing that,

If it becomes clear that the United States was behind this action – it has not yet admitted responsibility – this incident will go down in history as the defining episode of US-Latin America relations during the Obama administration. It suggests that the United States still considers Latin American countries less than fully sovereign. Nothing angers people in those countries more.

What do you think? Was the decision to search Bolivian President Evo Morales’s plane a violation of international law? Will the decision have longer-term negative impact on US influence in the region? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The big story of the week has to be the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States on Tuesday.  Since then, President Obama has been moving quickly to make sweeping changes to U.S. foreign and domestic policy, including announcements that he was suspending the military tribunal system established to try terrorism suspects, closing the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay and other secret detention facilities, mandating that all U.S. interrogators comply with the Army Field Manual, and issuing orders to national security team that they should develop a plan outlining a “responsible military drawdown in Iraq.”  And that was his first day in office.

Here’s five important stories from the past week you might have missed if you were only focused on the Obama transition.

1. Seeking to improve deteriorating relations with India, Pakistan announced on Friday that it would prosecute militants with links to the November Mumbai terror attacks.  The government of Pakistan is hoping to amend its constitution to permit trials for acts of terror committed outside its borders.  In the meantime, it has announced its intention to try several militants with links to the Mumbai attacks for cyber crimes.  Last week, the Pakistani government arrested 124 alleged militantsThe United Kingdom, the United States, and other western powers have made an effort to improve relations between India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers, which have been particularly tense since the November, and Yousuf Raza Gilani, the new prime minister of Pakistan, is facing considerable domestic and international pressure

2.  The temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza seems to be holding, but tensions continue to rise.  On Sunday, Hamas announced that it would terminate the ceasefire if Israel continued to maintain its blockade on Gaza.  Israel maintains that the blockade is intended to prevent the shipment of weapons into Gaza, but the blockade also prevents the shipment of food, energy, and reconstruction materials into the territory.  Both U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. President Barack Obama have called on Israel to reopen its borders with Gaza.

3.  Congolese rebel leader Laurent Nkunda was arrested last week.  A central player in the ongoing civil war in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nkunda was believed responsible for the destabilization of the region which has resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people and an estimated 5.4 million deaths—half of whom were children—during the past ten years.  Nkunda’s arrest presents an opportunity for peace in the eastern DRC.  It also represents a fundamental shift in relations between the Congo and its eastern neighbor, Rwanda.  The two countries have had tense relations since the mid-1990s, but Nkudna’s arrest was part of a joint operation and Rwandan troops are currently cooperating with the Congolese military to track down remnants of guerilla forces operating in the region.

4.  A national referendum on a new constitution in Bolivia is currently underway.  The constitution, promoted by Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, is widely expected to pass given Morales’ popularity.  However, several groups are campaigning against the constitution, including the Christian groups and the country’s relatively wealthy.  If passed, the new constitution would introduce “community justice,” provide for the election of judges, remove Catholicism as the official state religion, and cap landholdings at 5,000 hectares.

5.  Europe continues to struggle with the fallout from the global economic crisis.  On Friday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy unveiled a new €600 million stimulus package targeting the French newspaper industry.  The Spanish government has called on its citizens to engage in “patriotic” shopping, buying Spanish products as a way to address the economic downturn in that country.  Meanwhile, Iceland became the first county to witness a government collapse as a result of the crisis.  The prime minister of Iceland, Geir Haarde, resigned on Friday, paving the way for early elections and a potentially dramatic shift to the left after nearly twenty years of liberalization in the country.   In November, Iceland became the first developed country to have to turn to the International Monetary Fund since 1976.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

Events this week have been dominated by the continuing crisis in the financial sector and the chaotic week in world markets

1.  In an effort to address the ongoing financial crisis, the Securities and Exchange Commission took the unusual step of banning short sales of some companies’ stock.  Announced on Friday and confirmed by similar bans in the United Kingdom, France, Portugal, Ireland, Australia, and other major markets, the move was intended to prevent future downward pressure on financial stocks.  According to an FT analysis, many hedge funds may be hurt by the move.  In an even more dramatic move, the Bush administration has proposed a $700 billion relief package for Wall Street.  The package, which will require the ceiling on the national debt be increased from $10.6 trillion to $11.3 trillion, would be the largest rescue package in the history of the country.  

2. On Saturday, South African President Thabo Mbeki agreed to step down from office after his ruling party, the African National Congress, called for his resignation.  It is widely expected that Jacob Zuma will replace Mbeki as the new President of South Africa.  There are considerable questions about what will happen to South Africa’s economic policy under a Zuma Presidency.  Mbeki moved the ANC’s economic policy towards a more open, free-market system at odds with the party’s strong union and activist base.  It remains to be seen in what direction Zuma will steer Africa’s largest economy.

3. Relations between the United States and its South American neighbors took a hit last week, as Bolivia and Venezuela expelled the U.S. ambassadors.  The United States responded by expelling the Bolivian and Venezuelan ambassadors.

4. On Thursday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appeared to making an overture towards Israel, confirming his close ally and vice president Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei’s assertion that Iran was “a friend of [the] Israeli people.”  The FT speculates that the move may be part of a broader strategy of improving relations with the West.  However, Ahmadinejad’s history of calling for the destruction of Israel and denial of the holocaust suggests that he may have a great deal more work to do if that is indeed his intention.  Further, Ahmadinejad’s move was countered on Friday by a statement from Iran’s supreme spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who said it was “wrong” to claim that Iran could be a friend of Israel.

5. On Sunday, militants in Nigeria called an end to a week-long series of attacks against oil facilities in the Niger River Delta region.  The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) had claimed responsibility for the attacks, which it claims are part of its effort to establish local control over the region’s oil resources.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

Headlines this week have been dominated by two stories: Michael Phelps’ success at the Olympic Games and the Russia-Georgia War.  With all the attention paid to these two stories, here are five other developments you might have missed.

1.  Russia’s Poland Threat:  After Russia’s move into Georgia last week, Poland decided to permit U.S. interceptor missile bases to be housed there.  The bases, part of the Bush Administration’s strategic defense initiative program, had been frozen due to American resistance to Polish demands that a Patriot missiles battery be stationed in the country as part of the deal.  After the Georgian conflict, the United States appeared willing to give in to the Polish demand.  In response, Russia warned Poland that it was now a target for their nuclear arsenal.

2.  Musharraf’s (Possible) Resignation:  Facing possible impeachment, Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf indicated on Thursday that he will be stepping down.  Impeachment proceedings had been set to start early next week.  Musharraf’s resignation was likely intended to avoid that spectacle.  As part of the agreement, Musharraf will avoid prosecution and will be permitted to remain in Pakistan.  His departure, however, signals an important shift in Pakistani politics, a key country in the war on terror.

3.  No Diplomatic Solution in Zimbabwe:  Negotiations intended to resolve Zimbabwe’s longstanding crisis have so far failed to reach a peaceful settlement.  At issue is who will lead Zimbabwe.  Robert Mugabe, the current president, has been in office since 1980 and has increasingly relied on force to maintain his rule.  Morgan Tsvangarai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party, won the first round of presidential elections last March before being forced to cancel his campaign in the second round of voting due to political violence.  Despite extensive pressure being placed on the country by South Africa, Mugabe appears so far to be unwilling to share power.  Negations continue, but few are hopeful that a settlement will be reached.

4.  Lugo Wins Paraguay Election:  Continuing a leftward shift in many Latin American countries, Fernando Lugo won the election in Paraguay, marking the end of 61 years of one-party rule by the Colorado Party.  One of Lugo’s first acts as President was to decline his monthly salary of approximately $4000, declaring that “the money belongs to the poorest.”  Evo Morales, the leftist President of Bolivia, said that Lugo’s victory would “deepen democracy” in the region.

5.  Syrian-Lebanese Meeting:  In the face of a declining security situation in Lebanon, the country’s President, Michel Suleiman, agreed to re-establish full diplomatic relations with neighboring Syria.  The agreement, part of a package that seeks to normalize relations between the two countries, marks the first time the countries would exchange ambassadors since both achieved independence in the 1940s.