Asylum for Snowden? Why are Venezuela, Nicaragua, others in Latin America doing this?

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What is, is your opinion, a primary motivation behind Venezuela and Nicaragua’s decision? President Maduro said that Snowden deserves the world’s protection. Is Snowden some kind of hero for Venezuela and Nicaragua or they want to challenge the US or would you say that they are other reason why both countries are willing to grant an asylum to Snowden?

2. In theory, if Snowden gets an asylum either in Venezuela or Nicaragua or somewhere in Latin America what kind of reaction would you expect from the US?


Susan Purcell, Director of the Center for Hemispheric Policy, University of Miami

1. The primary motivation is to stand up to the United States for two main reasons:

1) to show that they do not need to do Washington’s bidding and

2) to express their anti-American sentiments in order to strengthen their nationalist credentials and to mobilize and strengthen their political support among their leftist domestic supporters. This is particularly necessary for President Maduro of Venezuela, who has been losing support very rapidly among the Venezuelan poor, mainly because of Venezuela’s deteriorating economy, which is greatly hurting the poor.

When Chavez was president, his charisma, combined with his luck at being president mainly when oil prices were rising, made it relatively easy for him to satisfy his supporters. Maduro, in contrast, has absolutely no charisma, oil production continues to decrease and bad economic policy has produced a shortage of dollars in a country that needs to import almost everything.

The irony of Venezuela’s offering asylum to Snowden is that within Venezuela, first Chavez, and now Maduro, have been no friend of freedom of speech or of the press. All independent media are now closed. Therefore, Venezeula’s announcement that it’s willing to grant asylum to Snowden has nothing to do with the country’s support for freedom of the press or of speech and everything to do with Venezuela’s economic and poliical decline and the need to challenge the US in order to mobilize support among Maduro’s base and perhaps, to keep other members of the government’s inner circle from removing him from power.

The Nicaraguan announcement was somewhat ambiguous and many analysts aren’t sure that Nicaragua will really agree to give Snowden asylum.

2. If Snowden is given asylum by Venezuela or Nicaragua, the US could reduce whatever aid there is that could be reduced. I don’t think that Venezuela is receivinh any government aid. Most of its dollars come from the US private sector. It is important to note, however, that purchases of Venezuelan oil by US companies are declining because of the rapidly- increasing US production of shale oil. Many US Gulf Coast refineries are now buying US shale oil or oil from Canada’s oil sands instead of importing Venezuelan oil.

W. Alex SanchezResearch Fellow, Council on Hemispheric Affairs

1. I think this is the key question analysts are asking ourselves, what do countries like Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador or even Bolivia (as President Morales’ plane was recently searched as the U.S. thought he was hiding Snowden) have to gain from granting Snowden asylum? In real politik terms, there is not much that any of these governments would gain. No new treaties are going to be passed between, say, Venezuela and some major power that is not too friendly with the U.S., i.e. Russia, just because Caracas accepted Snowden. I think this is more of a PR move, for governments like Caracas or Quito or Managua to further show to the world that they are not under Washington’s influence. The move certainly worked when Ecuador accepted Assange into its embassy in London. But really, there is not much there. I supposed, if we are stretching things, Snowden could go on Venezuelan TV and denounce how the U.S. is an imperial power, declare himself on camera as a political refugee.. all of which would help local governments gain approval by their local population. It certainly helped Morales who, because of the ordeal he suffered in Austria, was received as a hero when he returned to Bolivia. This will certainly help him in the upcoming 2014 presidential elections in his country when he runs for a new term.

2. It wouldn’t be outrageous to assume that if Venezuela or Nicaragua accept Snowden, Washington may want to apply soft power/soft pressure as some kind of “punishment,” this may mean calling back ambassadors and diplomatic staff (though at this point I’m amazed there are any U.S. diplomats in Venezuela after the Chavez era), expelling diplomatic staff from these nations from the U.S., or maybe Washington could cancel some trade deals or impose some kind of trade embargo. For example Ecuador withdrew from the ATPDEA treaty at the same time that it was considering to accept Snowden. But that treaty was going to expire soon anyways and it seemed unlikely that the U.S. would want to renew it (especially if the Quito had accepted Snowden). When it comes to Venezuela, it seems clear that Maduro has little interest in strengthening trade or diplomatic relations with the U.S., so any kind of “punishment” from Washington. With that said, I am slightly surprised about Nicaragua. Certainly, Ortega was no friend of the U.S. during the Cold War, but modern-day Nicaragua-U.S. relations are not particularly bad, or as bad as U.S.-Venezuela relations at least. Recently, SOUTHCOM donated parachutes and some other military equipment to Nicaragua’s special forces (this happened in late June), so some military cooperation between the two governments does exist. I think Nicaragua potentially stands to lose a lot if Snowden does touch Nicaraguan soil, as compared if the American ends up in Venezuela.

Patricio  NaviaAdjunct Assistant Professor, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, New York University

Venezuela and Nicaragua want to embarrass the US. They are not doing this out of a commitment to press freedom or because of an interest in promoting freedom of information or defense of personal privacy. Neither of those two countries has a good track record on freedom of the press. In fact, both governments have been criticized by freedom of the press advocacy organizations.

The two countries have tense relations with the US. This will probably add additional tensions. But those governments want to increase tensions because they will use it to deviate attention from their own problems and to rally domestic support. Because their governments are not doing well, presidents Maduro and Ortega want to create tensions to use the nationalist card to deviate attention from their own mistakes and mismanagement.

Victor Bulmer-ThomasProfessor, Associate Fellow, Chatham House

For Venezuela, whose offer is serious, it is both a chance to regain the initiative in international relations after a disastrous few months and also an opportunity to respond to the fury in all Latin America at the impounding of Evo Morales’ plane. As a whistleblower who has revealed the depth and scale of illegal practices in the US, Snowden is seen as deserving asylum.

The Nicaraguan offer is not serious. It was made knowing that he will probably go to Venezuela. The US can exert too much pressure on Nicaragua if it wanted and the economic costs would exceed the political benefits.

The US has much less leverage over Venezuela, but there will be a reaction if Snowden goes there. Of course, he has to get there first!

Matthew BrownReader in Latin American Studies, University of Bristol

To my mind this whole issue around Snowden involves a lot of bluffing and double-bluffing. He has become a symbol who can be manipulated by each and every government for their own ends. Were Snowden to reach a country in Latin America, and be awarded asylum there (neither of which seems particularly straight-forward) then yes, one would imagine the U.S. would act as though it was cross. Nevertheless, I would also not be surprised if this story ran and ran, and Mr Snowden spends a lot of time in the airport.


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