Snowden Odyssey Venezuela Offers Refuge as Germany Dithers
President Nicolás Maduro has become the latest Latin American leader to offer safe haven to Edward Snowden. But shouldn't Germany also offer to take in the whistleblower on humanitarian grounds? Many believe it should, but politicians fear the consequences.
Is an end in sight to the asylum odyssey undergone by former US intelligence officer Edward Snowden? On Monday, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro confirmed the whistleblower had officially applied for asylum in the country.
Maduro had indicated several times in recent days that Snowden, who has been stuck in the transit zone at a Moscow airport for the past two weeks, could count on a positive response to any application for humanitarian reasons.
"Latin America is telling this young man that you are being persecuted by the empire, come here," Maduro said. Asked whether Snowden had tried to contact him by phone, the Venezuelen president said he had not, but said he would welcome a call.
Venezuela must still make an official decision on the application. Washington has warned against such a step and has demanded that the government in Caracas extradite Snowden to the United States if he arrives in the country. Otherwise, already tense relations between the countries could further deteriorate.
'Axis of Evo'
In what some newspapers are dubbing the "Axis of Evo," a reference to the leftist Bolivian leader Evo Morales, Nicaragua and Bolivia are also countries where Snowden could potentially be granted asylum. Nicaragua's embassy in Moscow also confirmed receipt of an asylum application from Snowden. But there had still been no direct contact with the whistleblower.
It also remains unclear how Snowden can leave Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport without valid identification, given that the United States has revoked his passport. Snowden has been holed up at the airport since he fled Hong Kong two weeks ago and the US is continuing to pursue him. White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that the US is in contact with all countries to which he might flee or over which he might fly on his way to seek asylum. Carney also reiterated calls for Russia to extradite Snowden.
The former intelligence service employee is wanted on charges relating to his revelations of the National Security Agency's Prism spying program, which monitors communication over the Internet and by telephone to an almost unimaginable degree. The United States has filed espionage charges against Snowden, accusing him of theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and wilful communication of classified intelligence information to an unauthorized person. Citing the possibility that Snowden could face the death penalty, Moscow has refused to extradite him.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday Britain's Guardian newspaper posted what appeared to be the second part of an interview with Snowden in which he described his transformation from loyal government employee to whistleblower. In it, he says he chose to release the highly classified information because freedoms were being undermined by what he described as intelligence agency "excesses."
"I think they are going to say I have committed grave crimes, I have violated the Espionage Act," he said. "They are going to say I have aided our enemies in making them aware of these systems. But this argument can be made against anyone who reveals information that points out mass surveillance systems."
In Cuba, President Raúl Castro welcomed the offers of asylum given to Snowden by Latin American countries. The trio of countries involved are all extremely critical of the United States' dominance over the continent.
In Nicaragua, however, business leaders criticized President Daniel Ortega's offer of asylum to Snowden. Venezuela and Bolivia could "afford this luxury" because their economies aren't as reliant on the United States as Nicaragua, José Aguerri, the head of private industry association Cosep told a national news portal. But the importance of the US to Nicaragua's economic and social development is "enormous, we're talking about exports, foreign investment and aid deliveries," he warned.
'There Is a Way to Bring Snowden to Germany '
Meanwhile, in Germany, where Snowden exposed cooperation between US and German intelligence agencies whom he said were "in bed together," the debate over whether Berlin should find a way to offer Snowden asylum continues to simmer.
In a strongly worded text in its current issue, SPIEGEL asks, "Would it not be an act of humanity to liberate him from his current state by, for example, offering him asylum in Germany?" SPIEGEL writes that Snowden could get to Germany from Moscow within a day -- a stamp and a signature would suffice for Snowden to board the next plane to Germany and apply for asylum here.
The magazine notes that German border guards could reject him, but they aren't required to. More likely is that Snowden would immediately be taken into custody because the US has filed a formal request for extradition. The federal government, however, could intervene. Either way, a court would step in to review whether the American request could be fulfilled.
Experienced judges who deal with such situations on a regular basis are almost certain, SPIEGEL reports, that the request for extradition would be rejected as invalid because the extradition treaty between Germany and the United States forbids the transfer of people who are wanted for political crimes. According to Nikolaos Gazeas, an expert on international law at the University of Cologne, the German interpretation of treason is that it is a political offense.
Still, as SPIEGEL points out, "there is a way to bring Edward Snowden to Germany and to let him stay here. One just has to be willing to do it and to accept the subsequent fury of the Americans."
But there's a not a willingeness to do so. "At the moment," the magazine writes, "realpolitik means knuckling under to the Americans because Germany is politically and economically dependent on the US and economically on the Chinese, which is why there is little objection from Berlin on the issue of human rights. Germany is a country that doesn't dare anything. The Snowden case also shows that Germany is a dwarf when it comes to world affairs."
dsl/SPIEGEL -- with wires