Bolivian ex-president Evo Morales jetted off to exile in Mexico Tuesday in a bizarre flight lasting more than 15 hours. The trip was full of detours that traced the shifting political map of a Latin America racked by crises,
Morales, who resigned Sunday amid increasingly violent protests against his fraud-stained re-election to a fourth term, accepted Mexico's offer of political asylum after angry mobs torched his house and those of his friends and top officials, he said on arrival at Mexico City's international airport.
However, last-minute changes on behalf of countries in the path between Mexico and Bolivia caused a delay of over eight hours while en route. A Mexican Air Force plane was tasked with transporting Morales.
The former president, who had left Bolivia on Monday night, finally landed in the Benito Juárez International Airport in the Mexican capital a little after 5.00pm GMT.
Dressed in a blue polo and jeans, Morales, smiling, shook Mexico Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard’s hand.
“Thank you to Mexico, their authorities, but also I want to tell you that as long as I’m alive I’ll continue to be involved in politics; as long as I’m on the train of life I’ll continue fighting,” he said in a first declaration in the Army’s hangar at the airport.
“I won’t ideologically change because of this coup,” he added.
Mexico’s president, a leftist like Morales, Andrés Manuel López Obrador had previously declared himself to be “very proud of leading a government that guarantees the right to asylum.”
Morales has led Bolivia since 2006 as its first indigenous president.
“The most important thing is to be alive,” continued Morales, who said that his integrity was at risk of being compromised.
Complications started when the Mexican plane landed in Lima on Monday, where it waited hours for official authorisation to continue its path to Bolivia before picking up Morales.
When the plane was given the green light, “they left Lima and when they reached Bolivian air space they told [the crew] that no, the permit was no longer valid (...) so they had to return to Lima,” recounted Ebrard.
Later, Bolivian authorities penned a new permit for the plane’s arrival, which arrived in Chimoré, Cochabamba).
The planned return route was supposed to be the same, explained Ebrard. “I mean, returning to Lima to refuel the plane” and then fly back to Mexico. Yet Peru decided that “due to political assessments, the permit to land in Lima was suspended,” he continued.
This “was very, very tense because in the airport where Evo Morales [already onboard] was located, there already was a difficult situation (...) his supporters surrounded the airport, and inside there were elements of the Bolivian Armed Forces, so it was a period of major tension for us,” described Ebrard.
The “Plan B,” was then to resort to Paraguay. It asked Argentina's President-elect Alberto Fernández to call President Mario Abdo of Paraguay, which gave its permission for the plane to refuel there.
Once that permit was received, Bolivian authorities threatened to not let the plane leave.
“The plane was able to leave by a millimetric space,” said the minister.
The plane already in Asunción, México finally received the permit from Peru allowing them to fly over their airspace, alongside Ecuador’s in case the plane needed to refuel in their territory. Before leaving, however, Bolivia prohibited the aeroplane from flying through their airspace once again.
Then the Mexican and Brazilian diplomatic missions “were able to acquire the permit to fly in the border between Bolivia and Brazil.”
That wasn’t all. “We had to fly around Ecuador because already on air, they told them that the plane wasn’t allowed to fly over Ecuadorian airspace and that they were going to revise plans. So the plane had to go around the country and enter international waters,” concluded Ebrard.
This isn’t the first trip with obstacles for Morales.
In 2013, when he returned to La Paz from Moscow after attending an official event, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain denied the right to fly over their airspace.
According to Bolivia, the United States had alerted the countries that he travelled with Edward Snowden, the whistle-blower that revealed massive espionage on part by the United States’ government.
At not being able to continue, Morales’ plane had to return and execute an emergency landing in Vienna, where he remained for over 24 hours. Morales was able to return once the four governments apologised and allowed the use of their airspace.
by AFP/Jennifer Gonzalez Covarrubias