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Grounding of Morales Plane Could Push Bolivia to Give Snowden Asylum

Suspicions of carrying NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden grounded Bolivia’s President Evo Morales in Russia Tuesday night.

Bolivia's President Evo Morales is now on his way home from an official trip to Russia following a night stranded in Vienna after France, Spain, Portugal and Italy denied his plane access to their airspace amidst suspicion National Security Agency whistle blower Edward Snowden was on board. (Related story: Could Edward Snowden Seek Asylum with an American Indian Tribe?)

"We were informed there were unfounded suspicions that Mr. Snowden would be on the plane," said foreign minister David Choquehuanca in comments made at a press conference in La Paz on Tuesday night. "We don't know who invented this lie."

The incident drew widespread condemnation from the Bolivian government and its allies across the region including Argentina and Ecuador, with Bolivia's defense minister Rubén Saavedra calling it an act of "threat and intimidation" by the United States after President Morales said Tuesday on Russian television that if his country receives an asylum request from Snowden it will be considered. It's the latest development in the tense relationship between the United States and the Morales government.

According to Kathryn Ledebur of the Andean Information Network, in the event that Snowden seeks asylum in Bolivia, U.S. power to influence the Andean nation is low. "Since Morales's election in 2005, the country has taken unprecedented measures to resist U.S. policy impositions, with the expulsion of the ambassador, the DEA and USAID," she says via e-mail. "As a result, Bolivia has lost the great bulk of U.S. funding, leaving the Obama Administration little leverage to press for Snowden's arrest in Bolivia.

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Bolivia's ambassador to the United Nations, Sacha Llorenti, said that the country will file a complaint with the United Nations over the "kidnapping" of the president, according to Bolivian state media, and Peruvian President Ollanta Humala may call an emergency meeting of the Union of South American Nations. Meanwhile, Snowden likely remains stranded in a Moscow airport after the U.S. revoked his passport.