Venezuela and Nicaragua offer safe haven to Snowden

Snowden: has asked 20 nations. Picture: Getty
Snowden: has asked 20 nations. Picture: Getty
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THE quest by NSA leaker Edward Snowden for a safe haven has taken a turn toward Latin America, with offers of asylum coming from the left wing presidents of Nicaragua and Venezuela.

There were no immediate signs, however, that efforts were under way to bring him to either nation, 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 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 other nations 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.

Maduro said several other Latin American governments have also expressed their intention to take a similar stance by offering asylum for the cause of “dignity.”

Chavez, who hand-picked Maduro as his successor, often engaged in similar defiance, criticizing US-style capitalism and policies. In a 2006 speech to the UN General Assembly of world leaders, Chavez called President George W. Bush the devil, saying the podium reeked of sulfur after the US president’s address. He also accused Washington of plotting against him, expelled several diplomats and drug-enforcement agents and threatened to stop sending oil to the US

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

But his critics said Maduro’s decision is nothing but an attempt to veil the current undignified conditions of 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 Twitter. Maduro beat Capriles in April’s presidential election, but Capriles has not recognized defeat and has called it an electoral fraud.

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

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

But the drama surrounding the flight of Morales, whose plane was abruptly rerouted to Vienna after apparently being denied permission to fly over France, suggests that pressure is being applied behind the scenes.

Meanwhile, the website WikiLeaks said that Snowden, who is still believed to be stuck in a Moscow airport’s 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 be identifying the countries involved “due to attempted US interference.”

Icelandic politicians introduced a proposal in parliament on Thursday to grant immediate citizenship to Snowden, but the idea received minimal support.