The Bolivian President Evo Morales said on Saturday he would match his fellow Latin American leaders by granting asylum, if requested, to NSA whistleblower and US fugitive Edward Snowden.
The Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro offered asylum to Mr Snowden on Friday, saying his country would protect the former US National Security Agency contractor from being persecuted by “the world’s most powerful empire.”
Mr Snowden is wanted by American authorities for leaking information about classified US surveillance programs and is believed to be hiding in the transit area of a Russian airport.
“He is a young man who has told the truth, in the spirit of rebellion, about the United States spying on the whole world,” Mr Maduro said during his country’s independence day celebrations on Friday.
Meanwhile, in Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega signalled his willingness to give shelter to the former intelligence contractor. “It is clear that if circumstances permit it, we would receive Snowden with pleasure and give him asylum here,” he said in a speech in Managua, without clarifying what those circumstances might be.
“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,” President Ortega added. He said Nicaragua’s embassy in Moscow was studying an asylum application from Mr Snowden.
On Friday the WikiLeaks website said Mr Snowden had applied to six new countries in his quest for asylum, bringing the total approached worldwide up to 27.
Mr Maduro spoke a day after he joined other South American leaders in Bolivia to condemn the diversion in Europe of a jet carrying the Bolivian President Evo Morales amid suspicions that Mr Snowden might be aboard. He said he had decided “to offer humanitarian asylum” to the 30 year old American.
Despite the statements of support, it wasn’t clear how Mr Snowden, whose passport has been cancelled by the US, might travel to either country. He is believed to be hiding in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport after arriving from Hong Kong, where he fled in May as he prepared to leak secret information about the activities of America’s vast intelligence corps.
There was no immediate reaction from the Obama administration to the statements from Venezuela and Nicaragua - however, the Wall Street Journal quoted a senior US official as saying that President Maduro’s offer appeared to be nothing more than a symbolic gesture. “It’s not clear as a practical matter that will have any effect, because Snowden would still have to get to Venezuelan territory,” the unnamed official told the paper.
On Thursday, Mr Maduro, who succeeded Hugo Chavez as Venezuela’s President, joined the leaders of Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay and Suriname in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba for a meeting with the Bolivian President Evo Morales after the latter’s jet was diverted in Europe earlier in the week. Mr Morales was returning from meetings in Russia when his aircraft was forced to land in Vienna, Austria, amid suspicions that Mr Snowden might have been brought aboard in Moscow. The Bolivian leader has blamed the US government for pressuring European authorities to block his passage.