Washington has blundered in Latin America with its handling of the Edward Snowden affair.
Snowden, who leaked information to the Guardian and the Washington Post about the National Security Agency’s domestic spying, is seeking asylum in Venezuela.
But the United States doesn’t want him to get there.
Privately, Washington has been pressing Latin American countries to deny Snowden asylum and extradite him. Publicly, members of Congress and the Senate have been threatening economic and political sanctions against any country that provides Snowden asylum.
Here Latin Americans see a double standard.
For more than five years, Venezuela has sought the extradition of Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban-born US intelligence operative accused of terrorism for planting a bomb that destroyed a civilian Cuban jetliner in 1976, killing 73 people.
Unlike Snowden, Posada is not a whistleblower; he is wanted for perpetrating acts of terror. Washington continues to protect Posada Carriles and has rejected all efforts to extradite him and have him stand trial in Venezuela. Washington displayed another double standard in its egregious treatment of President Evo Morales of Bolivia.
On July 2, he was returning from a meeting of gas-producing nations held in Moscow. As his plane flew over Eastern Europe, pilots received information that access to French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese airspace had been revoked, forcing the plane to land in Austria.
With information presumably supplied by Washington that Snowden was accompanying Morales, the four European countries took the unprecedented move to close their airspace.
In Austria, the Spanish ambassador conditioned permission to fly over Spain with a search of the plane, which Morales refused. He remained on the ground in Vienna for more than 12 hours until the matter was resolved.
Prohibiting a democratically-elected president from crossing airspace is a blatant violation of international protocol. The outcry and punitive action would have been swift if any country had prohibited President Obama or any European head of state from crossing their air space.
In fact, it simply would not happen. Imagine if Bolivia had tried to ground Air Force One.
Yet, Latin American leaders are still treated with disdain by Europe and the United States.
Within hours, every government of Latin America, including US allies Mexico and Colombia, condemned the treatment of Morales. An emergency meeting of the Union of South American Nations denounced the rogue behaviour of the Europeans. The Organisation of American States, usually reluctant to criticise the United States or Europe, voted to “condemn actions that violated basic rules and principles of international law”.
Today, because of its heavy-handed tactics in the Snowden affair, the United States is more isolated than ever in Latin America.
Washington can no longer bully its way in this hemisphere. It needs to adopt a more mature policy toward its neighbours, one that treats them with respect - not arrogance.
♦ Miguel Tinker Salas is a professor of history and Latin American studies at Pomona College in Claremont, California.