Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Bolivian Plane (and Sovereignty) Grounded by US


Yesterday the Bolivian presidential plane was forced to land due, in the New York Timeswords, to “suspicions that Mr. Snowden was aboard.” As the Bolivian Defense Minister has pointed out, this “is a violation of the conventions and agreements of international air transportation.”

The plane originally intended to land in Lisbon, Portugal for refueling; however, it was denied permission to land, forcing it to instead refuel in Vienna, Austria. Austrian officials have since confirmed that Snowden was not on board. The U.S. was almost certainly behind this maneuver, unless you believe that Portugal acted independently—unlikely given that Snowden is leaking only U.S. data, some of which showed that the U.S. has been spying on Europe extensively.

Obama, assuming the annoyingly unflappable, measured persona he always does when addressing embarrassments to his administration, said that he’s “not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year old hacker.” Not scramble them—just force them to land. His earlier claim that he’s “following all the appropriate legal channels…to make sure that rule of law is observed” in apprehending Snowden is a statement that now reads like sarcasm. John Kerry’s lecturing admonition that “it’s important to uphold the rule of law and respect the relationship between two nations”, directed at Russia for its refusal to extradite Snowden, is similarly laughable.

Somewhat more surprising is the cowardice of European officials, namely those of Portugal and France (France also disallowed the Bolivian presidential plane from flying through their airspace). Just days after Snowden’s revelation that the U.S. had bugged European Union diplomatic missions in both Washington, D.C. and the United Nations, EU leaders seemed furious. French President Francois Hollande asserted, “We cannot accept this kind of behavior between partners and allies.” This kind of indignation is limited, of course, to words and not actions: the French Finance Minister yesterday said that Snowden’s asylum request to France is “not an issue”; and now, of course, Hollande’s administration denies a plane passage based on the possibility that it was carrying the very whistleblower who informed them of the “kind of behavior” to which Hollande expressed dismay.

The German Chancellor’s Spokesman said of the spying scandal, “we are no longer in the Cold War”. Her remarks can be assumed to be no more sincere than those of Obama, Hollande, et al. Yet the sentiment she’s expressing is held quite seriously by the German people. During the Cold War, Germany was split between two superpowers: the U.S. and U.S.S.R. East Germany belonged to the Soviets, whereas West Germany was allied with NATO. During this time, Germans were heavily surveilled by both sides. Regarding empires, the currency on which their political economies function is control. Whether or not a particular state is an ally of an empire is irrelevant; control will still be exercised over them. What empires will not under any circumstance tolerate is independence, which brings us to Bolivia.

The Bolivian Vice President put it well when he characterized the grounding of the Bolivian presidential plane as an “act of imperial arrogance.” Once again, imperial empires derive their power from control—economic, military and otherwise—over other countries. As Snowden’s list of countries that have not yet rejected his asylum bid dwindles, we see which countries are not truly satellites to U.S. power. One of these is Bolivia.

Whether or not Snowden was on the plane may not have even been relevant to U.S. officials. The grounding of the Bolivian presidential plane signifies a power even more awesome than the ability to capture whistleblowers: the ability to capture even potentially wayward heads of state—of which Bolivian President Morales is one, for merely considering Snowden’s asylum request. The same dynamic is at work when Latinos in Arizona are systematically stopped, searched and asked for their passports. The authorities don’t particularly care about illegal immigration (it offers cheap, non-union labor and is therefore favorable to big business); what they care about is that Latinos know who’s in charge.

This concept may seem nebulous to the privileged, but those inhabiting the less privileged levels of society are thoroughly familiar with the dynamic to which I’m referring. Totalitarian states like the U.S. depend, as the root word suggests, on total control. When someone like Morales even intimates that he’ll consider Snowden’s request for asylum, this diminishes the totality of U.S. power. And so he, like a Black man being racially profiled and searched for possession, will be grounded and searched for possession of a certain whistleblower.

Ken Klippenstein lives in Madison, Wisconsin, USA, where he co-edits the left issues journal, He can be reached at




Ken Klippenstein is an American journalist who can be reached on Twitter @kenklippenstein or by email:

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 28, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Inside the Invisible Government; War, Propaganda, Clinton & Trump
Andrew Levine
The Hillary Era is Coming: Worry!
Gary Leupp
Seven World-Historical Achievements of the Iraq Invasion of 2003
Paul Street
Standing Rock Water-Protectors Waterboarded While the Cleveland Indians Romped
Stanley L. Cohen
Israel: 1984 Everlasting
Michael Brenner
American Foreign Policy in the Post-Trump Era
Luciana Bohne
Crossing the Acheron: Back to Vietnam
Robert Hunziker
The Political Era of Climate Refugees
Stephen Cooper
Alabama’s Last Execution was an Atrocity
Pete Dolack
Work Harder So Speculators Can Get More
Joyce Nelson
Canadians Launch Constitutional Challenge Against CETA
John Laforge
US Uranium Weapons Have Been Used in Syria
Paul Edwards
The Vision Thing ’16
Arshad Khan
Hillary, Trump and Sartre: How Existentialism Disrobes the Major Presidential Candidates
Peter Lee
It’s ON! Between Duterte and America
Joseph Grosso
Starchitects in the City: Vanity Fair and Gentrification
Patrick Carr
Economic Racial Disparity in North Carolina
David Swanson
Public vs. Media on War
Chris Gilbert
Demo Derby in Venezuela: The Left’s New Freewheeling Politics
Binoy Kampmark
Nobel Confusion: Ramos-Horta, Trump and World Disorder
Stephen Cooper
Alabama’s Last Execution Was an Atrocity
Binoy Kampmark
Nobel Confusion: Ramos-Horta, Trump and World Disorder
Russell Mokhiber
Lucifer’s Banker: Bradley Birkenfeld on Corporate Crime in America
Ron Jacobs
Death to the Fascist Insect! The SLA and the Cops
Cesar Chelala
Embargo on Cuba is an Embarrassment for the United States
Jack Smith
And the Winner Is….
Ken Knabb
Beyond Voting: the Limits of Electoral Politics
Matt Peppe
An Alternate Narrative on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump
James Rothenberg
Water Under the Bridge
Louis Yako
Remembering Rasul Gamzatov: The Poet of the People
Brian Cloughley
The US, NATO and the Pope
Louis Proyect
The Outsider-Insider: Isaac Babel’s Big Mistake
Martin Billheimer
Now and Then, Ancient Sorceries
October 27, 2016
Paul Street
An Identity-Politicized Election and World Series Lakefront Liberals Can Love
Matthew Stevenson
Sex and the Presidential City
Jim Kavanagh
Tom Hayden’s Haunting
CJ Hopkins
The Pathologization of Dissent
Mike Merryman-Lotze
The Inherent Violence of Israel’s Gaza Blockade
Robert Fisk
Is Yemen Too Much for the World to Take?
Shamus Cooke
Stopping Hillary’s Coming War on Syria
Jan Oberg
Security Politics and the Closing of the Open Society
Ramzy Baroud
The War on UNESCO: Al-Aqsa Mosque is Palestinian and East Jerusalem is Illegally Occupied
Colin Todhunter
Lower Yields and Agropoisons: What is the Point of GM Mustard in India?
Norman Pollack
The Election: Does It Matter Who Wins?
Nyla Ali Khan
The Political and Cultural Richness of Kashmiriyat