Mercosur leaders agreed on Friday to call home for consultation their ambassadors to Spain, France, Italy and Portugal to protest last week's forced diversion of the Bolivian president's aircraft. They also strongly defended their right to offer asylum Friday, venting anger at claims of US spying in the region while intelligence leaker Edward Snowden's fate hangs in the balance.
The United States wants Snowden, currently in limbo in Moscow, arrested for disclosing details of Washington's massive electronic intelligence operations around the world.
Venezuela, along with Bolivia and Nicaragua, have offered Snowden asylum but the 30-year-old US fugitive told rights activists in Moscow on Friday that he would seek interim refuge in Russia.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro also called for stronger regional cyber-security after reports that Washington has engaged in a mass of electronic spying in several Latin American countries. Those allegations are based on documents leaked by Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor.
Mercosur leaders issued a statement reaffirming the inalienable right of every state to grant asylum, a right which, they said, must not be restricted or curbed.
It is fundamental to ensure that the right of asylees to travel safely to the country granting asylum be guaranteed, they added, in a thinly veiled reference to US pressure to block Snowden's possible departure from Russia to Venezuela.
Mercosur leaders rejected any attempt at pressure, harassment or criminalization by a state or third parties in response to a decision to grant asylum. They demanded an immediate end to such practices and explanations as to their motivation and their consequences.
They also plan to push for the adoption of Internet regulatory rules, with an emphasis on cyber-security to guarantee the protection of communications and preserve the sovereignty of states.
Snowden has been stranded at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport since arriving on a flight from Hong Kong on June 23. His US passport has since been revoked.
Mercosur leaders said they would recall their ambassadors from Spain, France, Italy and Portugal for consultation in protest at the four nations' decisions to close their airspace to the plane carrying Morales last week.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, whose country was reportedly a key target for US electronic surveillance, slammed NSA activities disclosed by the O Globo newspaper.
It was time for Mercosur to set a limit...we must adopt pertinent measures to avoid a repetition of such situations, she said.
And Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman told the summit that more than 100 of his country's officials were under electronic surveillance from a nation he did not name.
”I received less than an hour ago from a country present in this room the names (of the targeted officials) with their emails and passwords, he said.
The decision was taken by Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, and Uruguay's President Jose Mujica, as well as Bolivia's Evo Morales, whose country is in the process of joining the bloc at the Mercosur Summit in Montevideo.
The countries expressed total condemnation for the actions of the governments of France, Portugal, Spain and Italy in barring Morales' plane from their airspace as he was returning to Bolivia after attending a conference in Moscow.
The European countries' conduct was a flagrant violation of the precepts of international law, Mercosur said in a resolution announced by Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro.
Morales' aircraft spent 13 hours on the ground in Vienna as Austrian officials searched the plane for former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. The diversion to Vienna came after several European countries ordered Morales' plane away from their airspace, apparently suspecting that Snowden was on board.
The European governments tried to explain their position by saying it was all a misunderstanding.”