Bolivian ex-president Evo Morales jetted off to exile in Mexico Tuesday in a bizarre flight 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.
Exiting the plane with a grin, a wave and then a raised fist, he called himself the victim of a "coup," and told Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador he "saved my life."
But in a Latin America rocked by political change and upheaval -- not only in Bolivia, but in Chile, Venezuela, Nicaragua and elsewhere -- getting there was no easy matter.
"It was a journey through Latin American politics and the risks the region is facing," said Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, whose boss, Lopez Obrador -- a leftist elected last year -- has stood by the embattled holdouts from the "pink tide" of left-wing leaders who dominated the region in the 2000s, including Morales and Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro.
Mexico dispatched an air force plane to fetch Morales Monday afternoon, after he called Ebrard to accept asylum.
The plane first headed to Lima, Peru, where it stopped to await authorization to enter Bolivian airspace.
It took off in the evening when Bolivian authorities granted permission -- then had to turn back when they revoked it.
According to Ebrard, "nobody knows who decides what" in Bolivia, where the resignation of Morales, his vice president and other top officials has left a power vacuum.
After returning to Lima, the plane finally got a green light from Bolivia and collected Morales at the Chimore airport, in his central stronghold, Cochabamba.
The plan was to fly back via the same route, with a refueling stop in Lima, said Ebrard.
- Snowden incident -
But Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra's center-right government "suspended its permission to stop in Lima out of political considerations," added Ebrard.
"That was very difficult and very tense, because there was a complicated situation at the airport where Evo Morales was waiting.... Inside, there was the army. Outside, his supporters had surrounded the building," he said.
"That was the most stressful point."
So Mexico hatched a Plan B. It asked Argentina's leftist President-elect Alberto Fernandez to call President Mario Abdo of Paraguay, which gave its permission for the plane to refuel there.
Taking off in what Ebrard called a "millimeter-thin space" before Bolivia again denied use of its airspace, the plane managed to get to Asuncion, Paraguay.
When the Ecuadoran government, too, denied use of its airspace, the plane crossed into Brazilian territory, then traced its way around the borders of Bolivia and Ecuador before flying out to the Pacific, over international waters.
In all, Morales's flight took 16 hours, more than twice as long as planned. Round-trip, the Mexican crew worked more than 24 hours on the mission.
It is not the first time Morales has taken a topsy turvy trip for political reasons.
In 2013, as he returned from a trip to Moscow, European authorities diverted his plane to Austria and searched it after rumors he was transporting fugitive former US intelligence analyst Edward Snowden.
The countries involved -- France, Spain, Italy and Portugal -- later apologized.
Bolivian ex-President Evo Morales waves upon landing in Mexico City, on November 12, 2019, where he was granted exile after his resignation