Monday, June 24, 2013

Ecuador Weighs Ex-CIA Contractor's Asylum Request

While no one knows with certainty where fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden is heading after leaving Hong Kong on Sunday, Ecuador appears to be his most likely destination.

Yesterday morning, the South China Morning Post reported that Snowden had left Hong Kong after the United States government requested his extradition on espionage charges. The Hong Kong based newspaper claimed the former CIA contractor had boarded a plane headed to Moscow, although this was not his final destination. Officials in the Chinese territory told the Morning Post that Snowden had left “of his own accord for a third country through a lawful and normal channel.”

Reuters followed up the news by reporting that a source at the Russian airline Aeroflot had said Edward Snowden would fly from Moscow to Cuba on Monday. From there, he allegedly planned to go to Venezuela, according to the source.

Upon his arrival in Moscow, journalists at the scene noted the presence of Ecuadorean diplomatic cars, and there were reports that Snowden received a medical checkup from an Ecuadorean doctor.  

Finally, yesterday afternoon Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo PatiƱo announced that his country had received a request for asylum from Snowden, though it has not yet made a decision on the matter.

From Snowden’s perspective, there are several advantages to this move. The country has already demonstrated a willingness to stand up to world powers by granting asylum to Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks (which reportedly aided his departure from Hong Kong) in its London embassy. And because Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has more international legitimacy than Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro and Cuba’s Raul Castro, holing up in Ecuador is more beneficial to Snowden’s image. Also Correa just won re-election, and is set to remain in office until at least 2017.

At the same time, however, a recently-passed media regulation law and Correa’s history of confrontation with private media leave Ecuador vulnerable to criticism from press freedom groups. Observers have already attacked Assange for his support for Correa, and the decision to grant asylum to the WikiLeaks director was widely framed as an attempt to boost the administration’s credibility.

From Ecuador’s perspective, accepting Snowden’s request would also have significant drawbacks. The AP points out that while Ecuador’s president “embraces his role as a thorn in Washington’s side…nothing Correa has done to rankle the United States is likely to infuriate as much as granting the asylum being sought by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.” The decision comes just as Ecuador is pressuring the U.S. to renew the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA), a trade preference agreement which is set to expire on July 31. While its renewal was already unlikely, granting asylum would likely be the last straw.

Ultimately, however, Snowden’s plans are unknown. The New York Times reports that Snowden’s flight to  Havana departed without him earlier this morning, raising questions about “alternate travel plans.”

News Briefs

  • After Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff held an emergency cabinet meeting on Friday to discuss the massive protests that broke out last week across the country, she announced a series of reforms aimed at satisfying demonstrators’ demands. In a televised address, Rousseff promised to draft a new plan to sort out public transportation costs, and urged lawmakers to support her recent proposal to earmark oil royalties for public education. She also said she would bring in more foreign doctors to support the demand for health care in rural areas. It is unclear how much of these reform proposals were new, however as her government announced in May it was in talks with Cuba to accept some 6,000 doctors. Meanwhile, protests continued over the weekend in the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Fortaleza, though the BBC reports they were far smaller than last week’s demonstrations.
  • A preliminary ballot measure to strike down the law that legalized abortion in Uruguay last year has failed. The proposal needed support from 25 percent of the voting populace to force a mandatory vote on the issue, and El Pais reports that less than 10 percent participated. Among those that turned out was former President Tabare Vazquez, who is widely expected to run for the office next year.  
  • The New York Times profiles recent gains in transparency and accountability in Mexico, spurred by the efforts of watchdog groups, opposition parties, and news media to hold officials accountable for corrupt acts which were once considered the status quo.
  • A new poll shows that support for Peruvian President Ollanta Humala fell five points from May to June, to 39 percent. Among those who expressed criticism for the president, rising crime was the most popular reason, according to RPP Noticias.
  • On Friday Colombian negotiators and their FARC counterparts in Havana released a joint report on their progress so far, which offers more detail about the landmark land reform agreement signed roughly a month earlier. The 12-page report has provisions outlining the specifics land redistribution and formalization of land titles, as well as the promotion of rural development. As Virginia Bouvier notes, the report highlights the parties’ divergent attitudes toward the subject. While the government announced that agrarian reform would “contribute to reversing the damaging effects of the conflict,” the FARC suggested it would “contribute to solving the historic causes of the conflict.
  • The dispute between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the Falkland Islands/Malvinas hit a bump on Thursday, when the UK rejected an Argentine proposal for Pope Francis I (an Argentine) to mediate, the NYT reports.
  • Because Argentine President Cristina Fernandez has spent much of the last year pushing for a judicial reform law, last week’s Supreme Court ruling which found the law’s provision allowing for public election of judges to be unconstitutional came as a major blow. The Economist argues that in order to avoid becoming a lame duck president her party needs to perform well in October’s legislative elections, “a prospect that has seemed unlikely for months and is even less likely now.”
  • The State Department has issued a new travel warning for Honduras, advising U.S. citizens that “crime and violence levels in Honduras remain critically high.” The announce comes as a group of twenty-one Senators urged Secretary of State John Kerry to review aid to Honduran security forces. The CEPR Americas Blog provides an overview of the press coverage of the letter, noting it is rare for so many -- around 40 percent of the Senate Democratic caucus -- to take a unified position on Latin America policy. 

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