Why Latin America (Hearts) Snowden

By Peter Hakim
July 17, 2013

Edward Snowden requested political asylum of 20 or more countries across the globe to avoid facing espionage charges in the United States. Though he is now seeking temporary asylum from Russia, where he has been stranded in the Moscow airport, only a few nations, all in Latin America, have been openly receptive to his pleas.

No one should be surprised that Washington’s Latin neighbors are displaying such sympathy for Snowden. The U.S. history of abuse and insult still weighs heavy across the region. Latin American nations cannot resist the impulse to bring discomfort to their northern neighbor — which has regularly intervened to prop up repressive military regimes or rig elections, even as it touted its own democratic principles. Washington used its power to exploit the wealth of many other countries, while championing free markets. Fortunately, most of this is now history.

But bitterness and mistrust have clearly not disappeared — in part because abuses and insults continue. Every Latin American nation chafes at Washington’s punitive, and counterproductive, Cuba policy. The U.S. immigration debate is deeply offensive to Mexicans and Central Americans,  and reminds them of past offenses. Washington’s drug policies are another source of antagonism.

No, it should not be a surprise that the Western Hemisphere is now home to a cluster of hostile U.S. adversaries, and even capitals friendly to Washington are often sympathetic to their views.

To be sure, only three of the region’s 20 countries – Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua — said they would offer Snowden refuge (and one rather ambiguously). But several others voiced support for efforts to shield him from U.S. prosecution. Snowden, however, still might have been left without a single asylum offer, had Washington not pressed its European allies to close their airspace to Bolivian President Evo Morales’s plane — and thereby force his grounding in Vienna. Morales, on his way home from a meeting in Moscow, was suspected of carrying Snowden to safety.

Morales and other regional leaders were outraged — claiming, probably correctly, that Washington would never have done anything similar to the president of a European country or any large nation. The U.S. should be embarrassed by this episode.

The leaders of all three countries now promising asylum can each cite recent personal experiences of what they consider U.S. harassment. The late President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela was probably mistaken in blaming Washington for the 2002 military coup that temporarily ousted him, but the Bush administration later left no doubt that it welcomed his overthrow. During  Morales’s first run for the presidency, in 2002, the U.S. ambassador warned Bolivian voters that his election would sour relations between the nations. Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega confronted a U.S.-financed guerrilla war against his revolutionary government in the 1980s, though Washington had long maintained ties with the brutal Somoza dictatorship he pushed from power. More recently, Washington backed Ortega’s opponent when voters returned the Sandinista leader to the presidency in 2005.

Yet, even with this history, until Morales’s plane was grounded, Bolivia was not considered a likely destination for the fugitive.

Once Bolivia opened its doors, however, President Nicholas Maduro Moros of Venezuela may have felt some need to assert his own nation’s leadership of Latin America’s anti-U.S. forces. Maduro acted even though Venezuela had, just weeks before, taken the initiative to repair relations with Washington. Secretary of State John Kerry met for more than an hour with Venezuela’s senior diplomat.

It’s not much of a stretch, however, to suspect that Maduro simply could not resist this unexpected opportunity go after Washington. This was a central focus of Chavez’s agenda — which the new president has pledged to pursue without change. Maduro also understood that an anti-U.S. gesture could only improve his precarious standing with Venezuela’s Chavista loyalists and lift his profile across the region as Chavez’s flag bearer.

Since Maduro was also at the meeting in Russia when Snowden landed at the Moscow airport, Russians may also have had some influence on Venezuela’s asylum decision. Moscow, as a strategic ally of Venezuela, supplies most of its heavy armaments. Venezuela offered the perfect solution to what had become  a headache for Russia. Snowden would be out of Russia yet readily accessible and easy to monitor. The Cubans, who exercise considerable clout in Venezuela, may have weighed in as well. They certainly didn’t want to bring Snowden to Havana, which could have halted the promising new U.S.-Cuban talks about opening direct mail service and immigration. This is a top priority for Havana. Nicaragua was also ambivalent about providing asylum for Snowden — saying it would do so but only if “conditions were right.” Like most of the other 17 Latin American nations that ignored or denied Snowden’s request, Nicaragua now has too much at stake in its relations with Washington to put them at risk. Its economy, crucial for the future prospects of the Ortega-led government and its truce with the local business community, depends on U.S. investment and trade, and has benefitted from considerable U.S. foreign assistance.

Ecuador, a member of the international ALBA alliance (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America) was once seen as a natural choice for Snowden, since the nation was already providing refuge for WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange at its London embassy. But its firebrand president Rafael Correa appears not yet ready to give up all hope of restoring the special trade privileges that are so vital to Ecuador’s flower and vegetable industries.

Other potential asylums also have too much to lose here. Argentina’s government, though an increasingly close ally of Venezuela and Bolivia, doesn’t want to add to the many complications that bedevil its relations with Washington, particularly since several potentially costly lawsuits involving the country’s bonds await decisions in U.S. courts.

Brazilian authorities quickly rejected any involvement in the Snowden affair — a position consistent with the country’s long-standing approach of avoiding confrontation in its international relations. Despite the genuine anger at U.S. spying, Brazil has more reasons than ever to maintain cordial ties with its largest foreign investor and second largest trade partner. The Brazilian economy is stalling and its politics remain uncertain after several weeks of massive protests. President Dilma Rousseff, moreover, is scheduled for a long-awaited state visit to Washington in October.

Washington, despite the vivid memories throughout Latin America of its misdeeds, still retains considerable influence across the region. But it is useful to remember that whenever the United States finds itself in a hole — it has probably contributed in some way or another to the digging.

 

 

PHOTO (Top): Demonstrators hold banner during protest rally in support of Edward Snowden in Berlin, July 4, 2013. The sentence reads: Shelter in Germany for Edward Snowden,” REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz

PHOTO (Insert): Bolivian President Evo Morales addresses a news conference at the Vienna International Airport in Schwechat July 3, 2013. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

 

 

 

13 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

And the same three countries embrace Fidel and Cuba, even though Fidel exported his “revolution” across Latin America at the expense of 100,000′s of civilian lives. Go figure.

In this entire Snowden episode, Brazil took the most logical course of action.

Posted by COindependent | Report as abusive

Pay no attention to the disgruntled Cuban counter-revolutionary posting above. He probably longs for the days of Batista, when Cuba was another colonial enclave of Uncle Sam. His history readings are probably skewed as well, hundreds of thousands were slaughtered by Reagan´s dirty wars in the 80s alone in Central America, not to mention all Latin Americans killed by the U.S. since 1898, and even going back to 1840s in the invasions of Mexico. Mental colonialism has a way of making one psychotic.

Posted by ArielFornari | Report as abusive

We always hear so much about how Latin Americans hate our Cuban policies, but they don’t dare to utter a single word about human rights or the Castro dictators(who they support). If you want to complain about past US support for autocratic governments then perhaps they should stop supporting the one in Havana so they don’t look like laughable hypocrites. Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador are all well on their way to Cuban style dictatorship. They said nothing while people like Chavez methodically dismantled his countries democratic institutions, changed his constitution to stay in power, or when he completely shutdown every single opposition media outlet in Venezuela. Those other countries are following Venezuela’s lead to manipulate laws that all but assures they will remain in power even after their original mandates expired. I don’t care if they like us, but they had better respect us. Throwing childish temper tantrums on a daily basis toward the “empire” will get them nothing. When China ends up owning half of South America they will wonder where they went wrong. They learned nothing from Cuba.

Posted by USPatriot3334 | Report as abusive

Respect is a two way street. These populist leaders spend all day lobbing insult after insult to the “yankee empire” and then they cry about a lack of respect from the US. What in the world do they expect? Has an American president ever went to a South American nation and called their leader the devil? Do Americans accuse latin americans of giving our President cancer? Has the US ever said that Latin America caused the horrific earthquake in Haiti? Has the US ever hosted foreign nuclear weapons and then asked that country to use them on their enemy? Does the US establish relationships with the sole purpose of irritating Latin America?

Don’t talk to us about respect when your leaders go out of their way to hurl constant insults toward the US.

Posted by USPatriot3334 | Report as abusive

Why in the world are we still giving these countries aid while they repeatedly try to embarrass the US? If that’s our reward maybe we should halt all aid and give it to friendly countries who actually deserve it. Hopefully if the Keystone pipeline is built we can dramatically reduce trade with Venezuela and other countries who are hostile to the US. Sooner or later these caudillos will face significant blowback. My opinion of Latin America is growing worse by the day. They are going out of their way to turn the US into their enemy among countries who have never been seen as a US enemy. Ask Cuba how that works out.

Posted by USPatriot3334 | Report as abusive

Snowden! Snowden! Snowden! Thus sings the press. Nary a word about Prism lest someone be watching…

Posted by BidnisMan | Report as abusive

> “…Fortunately, most of this is now history.”

— Instead, we have graduated to a far more subtle and insidious form of rigged “FREE MARKET”. The USA is suing UK banks and oil companies, BP, HSBC and Barclays, for billions of dollars every time they do anything wrong; while US investment banks and oil companies enjoy a cosy relationship with legislators, and while US software & data services companies are alleged to be getting secret subsidies from the NSA for their “cooperation”. The European Commission is pursuing a similarly biased agenda of selective prosecution against unfair competition by foreign mega-corporations. The UK government dropped investigations into corruption in military equipment sales deals because it was “against the national interests”; a catch-all excuse that covers all of these activities. France preaches free market economics to the rest of Europe while supporting “national champions” at the expense of their European neighbors. China and Russia have their own strategies, no less biased and no less damaging to the global balance of power between rich and poor!

Look at the business news (regarding corporate litigation by Western governments) for the last ten or twenty years, and you’ll see what I mean: at a corporate level, they’re doing just what Russia does to their citizens: whenever a Russian does anything wrong or irritates the government / the mafia / the oligarchs of the moment (not the same, mind); there is suddenly an investigation into their tax affairs! And since the Russian tax system is so rigged that almost everyone must cheat in order to compete/survive; the tax authorities know before the investigation even begins that they’re going to find something dirty on almost anyone they choose to investigate.

Vince Cable (UK Liberal Democrat politician) had it right when he said we’re experiencing the economic equivalent of war.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14967061

Posted by matthewslyman | Report as abusive

…On the matter of BP wrongdoings in the Gulf of Mexico, it’s interesting to compare the tenor of US congress when chiding BP to their tone when dealing with Cameron (the US-based supplier of the blow-out preventer that didn’t work) or Halliburton (the US-based contractor responsible for the cement in the oil-well, which had a professional duty to refuse work it considered dangerous). I wouldn’t be surprised if Americans, based on the information they’ve been fed by US news channels and politicians; actually believe that BP was the only corporate entity at fault for the Deepwater Horizon/ Macondo oil disaster.

Posted by matthewslyman | Report as abusive

Pathetic regurgitation of bromides from Venas Abiertas. Mr. Hakim, you add nothing original.

Posted by amateurediteur | Report as abusive

The commenter US PAtriotxxxx was apparently born yesterday. I don’t particularly support Raul Castro, but I would rather that style of “dictatorship” to the style that we in the USA forced on many different LAtin American countries. Like El Salvador, where government death squads massacred village after village, totalling over 50000 dead. Where are these death squads in Cuba, again? OR the multi-decade military rule in Brazil, with systematic torture. You people need to wake up and reaad what friendly uncle sam has been up to, even just in the past thirty years, let alone the last century. The USA has not earned trust in Latin America, in fact they still stir up trouble.

For the author, why would you say Chavez was “probably wrong” to blame the US for the coup? In fact he was “probably correct”

Posted by Benny27 | Report as abusive

@BENNY27

Posted by VultureTX | Report as abusive

@BENNY27
The Salvadoran Civil War was fought by the El Salvador government against various left-wing rebels. Cuba supplied the rebels with weapons and advisors.

SO YOU ONLY BLAME AMERICA?

As for torture, how many did you beloved Che’ admit to torturing in his biography again. And how many died in Africa (where Che failed even after torturing) to bring the cuban revolution with Cuban soliders?

Posted by VultureTX | Report as abusive

One almost wishes that the press would give less attention to this character . Like Assange what he wants is publicity and the world press plays along ! Assange is wanted in Sweden to face charges for sexual misconduct .if he is innocent , as he says , then why not face trial . Snowden robbed intelligence information, which is a crime in any society , and not only published part of it but promises to publish more ! This is a crime and has nothing to do with US activities in Latin America . He should be extradited to the US and now . Also note that the countries he praises are all known for showing little respect for human rights ! Russia ,Cuba and more .

Posted by Burn1938 | Report as abusive