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Yesterday the Bolivian presidential plane was forced to land due, in the New York Times’ words, 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, whiterosereader.org He can be reached at Reader246@gmail.com