Bolivia's President Evo Morales said on July 4 that he will consider closing the United States Embassy based in the Andean city of La Paz. His comments follow a week that saw the already difficult relationship between Bolivia and the U.S. further strained when President Morales' plane was grounded in Vienna on July 2 for 14 hours amid rumors that National Security Agency whistle blower Edward Snowden was on board. The President was returning from an official visit to Russia.
(Related story: Grounding of Morales Plane Could Push Bolivia to Give Snowden Asylum)
"We don't need the United States embassy," President Morales said Thursday. "We don't need them to come under the pretext of cooperation and diplomatic relations to conspire against."
Hours before his flight was grounded President Morales commented on Russian television that he would consider an asylum request from Snowden, who is believed to be in limbo in a Moscow airport after his passport was revoked, if Bolivia receives one. The same day Bolivian officials said that Spain, France, Italy and Portugal had denied the President's plane access to their airspace, effectively stranding him overnight in Vienna, and laid blame for the incident squarely on the U.S.
President Morales has steadily tried to distance Bolivia from U.S. influence during more than seven years in office, first expelling the U.S. ambassador and the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2008, and then the U.S. Agency for International Development in May, saying it used projects to wield influence against his government. The U.S. has denied those claims.
On Thursday the Presidents of Bolivia's allies Venezuela, Argentina, Ecuador and Uruguay met in the city of Cochabamba to discuss the grounding of Morales' plane, while leaders of other major South American powers, including Chile, Brazil and Peru, did not attend. The summit issued a statement criticizing the incident as "neocolonial" and calling for explanations from France, Spain, Italy and Portugal, but did not mention the U.S.
Today The Guardian reported that Spain's foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, said his country had received information that Snowden was on board Morales' plane, but did not say where the information came from. García-Margallo also said that Spain did not ban Morales' plane from landing in its territory, according to The Guardian.
The United States Embassy in La Paz has not commented on President Morales' remarks, but did suspend planned Fourth of July activities amid public outcry against the incident. Meanwhile, Snowden remains in limbo as observers wonder whether Bolivia will now be more inclined than ever to shelter him.
(Related story: Could Edward Snowden Seek Asylum with an American Indian Tribe?)