Two asylum offers for Snowden

CARACAS — The quest by NSA leaker Edward Snowden for a safe haven has taken a turn toward Latin America, with offers for asylum coming from the presidents of Nicaragua and Venezuela.

  • Published: 6/07/2013 at 03:09 PM
  • Newspaper section: news

But there were no immediate signs that efforts were under way to bring him to either country after Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua made their offers during separate speeches in their home countries on Friday.

The offers came one day after leftist South American leaders gathered to denounce the rerouting of Bolivian President Evo Morales' plane over Europe amid reports that the fugitive American was aboard.

Snowden, who is being sought by the United States, has asked for asylum in more than 20 countries, including Nicaragua and Venezuela. Many others have turned him down.

"As head of state, the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela decided to offer humanitarian asylum to the young American Edward Snowden so that he can live in the homeland" of independence leader Simon Bolivar and the late president Hugo Chavez without "persecution from the empire", Maduro said, referring to the United States.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (left) speaks with Defence Minister Adm Diego Molero (right) during an Independence Day parade in Caracas on Friday. (AP Photo)

Maduro said several other Latin American governments had also expressed their intention of taking a similar stance by offering asylum for the cause of "dignity".

Chavez, who hand-picked Maduro as his successor, often engaged in similar defiance, criticising US-style capitalism and policies.

Maduro made the asylum offer during a speech marking the anniversary of Venezuela's independence. It was not immediately clear if there were any conditions to the offer.

But his critics said Maduro's decision was nothing but an attempt to conceal the current troubles in Venezuela, including one of the world's highest inflation rates and a shortage of basic products such as toilet paper.

"The asylum doesn't fix the economic disaster, the record inflation, an upcoming devaluation [of the currency], and the rising crime rate," Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles said on his Twitter account.

Maduro beat Capriles in April's presidential election, but Capriles said electoral fraud was the only reason that Cesar Chavez's hand-picked successor won.

Asked earlier about the possibility that any countries in the region would offer Snowden asylum, Geoff Thale, programme director at the Washington Office on Latin America, said he thought Ortega would be careful not to damage his country's relationship with the US.

"Ortega has been tremendously successful at exploiting both the Alba relationship and the US relationship," Thale said.

Alba is the Spanish acronym for the "Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America", a leftist trade bloc that provides Nicaragua with petroleum subsidies.

Although Ortega is publicly seen as anti-American, "Nicaragua and the US cooperate very closely on drug interdiction and the US and Nicaraguan militaries work very closely too", Thale said before the asylum offer was made.

Ortega said Friday he was willing to make the same asylum offer "if circumstances allow it", although he didn't say what those circumstances would be when he spoke during a speech in Managua.

He said the Nicaraguan embassy in Moscow had received Snowden's application for asylum and was studying the request.

"We have the sovereign right to help a person who felt remorse after finding out how the United States was using technology to spy on the whole world, and especially its European allies," Ortega said.

The offers came one day after Maduro joined other leftist South American presidents Thursday in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to rally behind Morales and denounce the incident involving the plane.

Spain on Friday said it had been warned along with other European countries that Snowden, a former US intelligence worker, was aboard the Bolivian presidential plane, an acknowledgement that the manhunt for the fugitive had something to do with the plane's unexpected diversion to Austria.

It is unclear whether the United States warned Madrid about the Bolivian president's plane. US officials will not detail their conversations with European countries, except to say that they have stated Washington's general position that it wants Snowden back.

Maduro joined other leftist South American presidents Thursday in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to rally behind Morales and denounce the rerouting incident.

President Barack Obama has publicly displayed a relaxed attitude toward Snowden's movements, saying last month that he wouldn't be "scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker".

Meanwhile, WikiLeaks said that Snowden, who is still believed to be stuck in a Moscow airport transit area, had put in asylum applications to six new countries.

Wikileaks said in a message posted to Twitter on Friday that it wouldn't name the countries "due to attempted US interference".

Icelandic lawmakers introduced a proposal in Parliament on Thursday to grant immediate citizenship to Snowden, but it received minimal support.

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Writer: Associated Press

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