News Column

Why Latin America Is Not (So) Keen to Receive Snowden

July 3, 2013

Silvia Ayuso, dpa

Granting asylum to U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden would allow countries such as Venezuela or Ecuador to make headlines to back their "anti-imperialist" rhetoric - but leftist Latin American countries do not want to go too far in antagonizing the United States.

Latin American nations "have contradictory feelings" about the former intelligence contractor believed to be trapped at Moscow's airport who has requested asylum from 21 countries, according to Michael Shifter from the Washington think tank Inter-American Dialogue.

On the one hand, the Snowden case creates "an enormous temptation to do something to defy the US, to send a message and to expose the double standards and hypocrisy" in Washington, Shifter told dpa.

But on the other hand, there is also a "pragmatic tendency" in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia or Cuba, he said.

Despite their rhetoric, "they are trying to get closer to the US. There are several important things at stake and they generally do not want to run the risk of really colliding with the US."

Washington has been very clear that any country taking in Snowden would face "very negative repercussions," as State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell has reiterated over the past few days.

During a visit to Moscow, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro proposed that Snowden be placed under "international protection."

That is a long way from Caracas granting him asylum.

Despite Maduro's verbal attacks on the US during the recent presidential election campaign following the death of anti-US predecessor Hugo Chavez, Caracas and Washington are now taking discreet steps to improve relations and to find a way to restore their respective ambassadors.

The two countries have not had ambassadors in each other's capitals since 2010.

The return of the ambassadors would be of interest especially for Caracas, according to sources knowledgeable about the talks between Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua and his US counterpart John Kerry during the general assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Guatemala in June.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, who said a week ago that Quito was "considering" Snowden's asylum request, has also toned down his statements after having a "friendly and polite" telephone conversation with US Vice President Joe Biden over the weekend.

Ecuador is already set to lose tariff preferences that the US Congress would have had to renew by late July.

The trade decision is believed to have been taken even before Snowden requested asylum from Ecuador. But the case has allowed some US legislators to remind Quito of the magnitude of the economic interests at stake.

The leaders of the Latin American countries which might be tempted to receive Snowden "want to stay in power, and to stay in power they need some economic relief, and in any case, the US, even if it is not the only player ... remains an important partner," Shifter said. "And they are weighing all this."

Cuba, too, is weighing the pros and cons of granting asylum to Snowden - and the result is not favourable to the international fugitive.

"Cuba does not have any national or political interest in receiving Snowden," Cuban-US expert Arturo Lopez Levy from the University of Denver, Colorado, told dpa.

Cuba is preparing to relaunch negotiations about thorny migration-related issues with the US, and it is also trying to persuade Washington to take it off the blacklist of countries protecting terrorists.

Countries that might consider receiving Snowden also face an additional obstacle: the united front against the young whistleblower that spans the entire US political spectrum.

"Over some issues, these countries would find allies in Washington, in Congress, in one party or another, but not in the Snowden case, where the ranks are closed," Shifter said.

"If these governments dare to grant asylum to Snowden, they will not find allies, at least not in the political establishment," he added.

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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