A month ago I was invited to a lunch in La Paz, the highest capital in the world and the capital of my country Bolivia. It was at the stylish residence of the French ambassador. We were a group of filmmakers, invited to wine and dine at the embassy. Two of us were indigenous and the rest belonged to the traditional ruling class of Bolivia. Sitting around a fancy table with diplomats, a butler served us quiche and wine.
During lunch, the French Ambassador made a comment about Bolivia, saying, it had taken France hundreds of years to become a Republic and that we need to forget in Bolivia about this business of being Indigenous or European. Then he said, "Bolivia is just being born."
I felt like my head was about to explode and I can tell you, it wasn't the wine or the altitude!
"Excuse me dear Ambassador, who has just been born? My people have lived on this land for thousands of years. We built an empire that you helped to destroy, but today we have an indigenous President of Aymaran origin, Evo Morales who was elected democratically in 2005. The idea of a Republic might have worked in France, but not in The Plurinational State of Bolivia, a multi-ethnic country with 38 official languages!"
This little incident made me think about how much respect European countries actually have for my people.
Last night, when I was in Paris of all places, I heard the news and I felt the fuzzy feeling of another head explosion. I'd just seen on Twitter that Bolivia's presidential jet carrying Evo Morales was denied permission to fly through French, Portuguese and Italian airspace on route to Bolivia on the grounds of a rumor. It was suspected Edward Snowden was hiding on board winging his way to safety in Bolivia.
President Morales had been visiting Moscow, as one of the 13 members of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF). An overlooked fact, however, is that while he was in Moscow, President Morales' jet was never at Sheremetyevo airport where Edward Snowden is supposed to be waiting in transit. It seems like a bad joke that with all the access the NSA has to everyone's email and phone calls that they couldn't figure out if one guy was on a plane.
So, where did the rumor start?
Was it the U.S. government's intention to stop Evo's plane? Or was it to scare Bolivia, because Evo Morales had said he would consider an asylum request from Snowden? Or to scare any country who might consider helping Snowden? Or was it to scare Snowden himself so he stays put in Russia and has no other option but to accept Putin's condition to stop releasing more documents?
The intentions are anyone's guess, but what would the U.S. response have been if Obama's jet, Air Force One, had received the same treatment as Bolivia's president and been forced down while on route to Washington?
As for the rumors about Snowden being on Evo's jet... Beyond ridiculous. How do you think Russia would react if Snowden disappeared from under the watchful eye of Russian security? I have no doubt President Putin is happy to have Snowden in transit waiting to play him as a pawn at the right time. The U.S. Government can't be that naïve to think a good-hearted Putin would let Snowden go so easily? Would the U.S. allow a Russian whistleblower to slip through their fingers at the airport in Washington?
I think we can say for certain that all the countries involved in this little saga knew Snowden wasn't on or anywhere near the Bolivian presidential jet. But what if, hypothetically Snowden was able to sneak past the FSB, Russian police, airport security and get on that plane? The Bolivian government has the right to grant asylum to whomever they decide is facing persecution.
I would like people to know that today the U.S. hosts some of Bolivia's largest criminals. One such person is the former president, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, and two of his ministers who are wanted in Bolivia, not for information leaks, but to face charges for the killing of 60 people who were protesting against his government's policies to sell Bolivia's resources to U.S. corporations. Sanchez de Lozada escaped Bolivia in a jet in 2003 and to this day the U.S. refuses to accept Bolivia's extradition request for him.
I can only wonder looking out my hotel window in Paris why the French government started this nonsense that could have put the life of Bolivia's president at risk?
Remember, it wasn't the U.S. refusing air space to a presidential jet; it was the Republic of France, an independent country founded on the principles of Liberte, Egalite and Fraternite, refusing air space to a jet carrying the first indigenous president of Bolivia.
And now, the French government has said they didn't know Bolivia's president Evo Morales was on the presidential jet, the Spanish government say they didn't do it, and the Portuguese say it was a technical problem.
Today is the 4th of July and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) is holding an emergency meeting in my hometown of Cochabamba to formulate their response to what was done to Bolivia's presidential plane. Evo Morales has threatened to close the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia and the "Poncho Rojos" -- Aymara Warriors have burned French flags outside the French Embassy in La Paz as a symbolic declaration of war.
As for me I celebrated the constitution of freedom of the founding fathers of the United States of America, with a glass of champagne next to a canal in the very country that gave the Statue of Liberty to the USA.