“Latin America neither wants, nor has any reason, to be a pawn without a will of its own,” declared Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, upon receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982. True to their independent spirit, the underdogs of the international community have once again stepped up to the plate, this time in el caso Snowden. While powerful nations, including India, fell over themselves to please or aid the United States in its pursuit of Edward Snowden the fugitive, three Latin American nations chose courageously to offer asylum to Edward Snowden the whistleblower. Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela, who have opened their arms to him, were no doubt spurred by the shocking mistreatment of Bolivian President Evo Morales in Europe last week. His plane, returning to La Paz from Moscow, was forced to land in Austria after France, Italy, Portugal and Spain closed their airspace to it on the unfounded claim that Mr. Snowden was on board. Mr. Morales was left stranded for several hours in Vienna. During this time, Austrian officials, who say they did not formally search the plane, established, nevertheless, that the former National Security Agency contractor was not a passenger. Europe’s actions were not only insensitive to Mr. Snowden’s right to seek asylum under international law, but also a flagrant violation of the immunity Mr. Morales enjoys as a head of state.
The countries that closed their airspace to the Bolivian President were purportedly acting on the basis of ‘information’ — read: instructions — from the U.S. on the whereabouts of Mr. Snowden. If the whole episode smacks of both craven behaviour and high-handedness on the part of the Europeans, the offers of asylum emanating from Latin America remind us that Washington’s writ no longer runs large on the global stage. Those dismissive of the three countries as ‘leftist regimes’ out to settle scores with the U.S. forget they have been joined in solidarity by other governments in the region. The Union of South American Nations, broadly representative of the entire continent, has unequivocally condemned Europe’s action against President Morales. This is not the first time Latin America’s sovereign rights have been regarded as inconsequential by European powers. Last year, the United Kingdom had threatened to raid Ecuador’s embassy in London to arrest WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who had sought refuge there. Far from giving in to such threats, Quito granted asylum to Mr. Assange. In Mr. Snowden’s case, history has merely repeated itself; and it will continue to do so, until the West realises it cannot sway international politics through the brash display of power.