Friday, July 12, 2013

Snowden Case Shows Decline of U.S. Influence in Latin America

The United States has launched an all-out diplomatic effort to prevent Edward Snowden from receiving asylum in Latin America, but neither carrot or stick have prevented regional governments’ recent widespread condemnation of the NSA surveillance activities Snowden denounced.

Today’s New York Times features a front-page story on the U.S. struggle to keep Snowden from reaching Latin America, noting that the White House’s seemingly implicit agreement to renew a set of trade preferences with Ecuador and a phone call from Vice President Joe Biden were enough to cause Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa to back away from helping the former NSA contractor. Similar tactics have been employed throughout the hemisphere, according to the NYT:
And all across the region, American embassies have communicated Washington’s message that letting Mr. Snowden into Latin America, even if he shows up unexpectedly, would have lasting consequences. 
“There is not a country in the hemisphere whose government does not understand our position at this point,” a senior State Department official focusing on the matter said recently, adding that helping Mr. Snowden “would put relations in a very bad place for a long time to come.” 
“If someone thinks things would go away, it won’t be the case,” the official said.

But a warning may not be enough for the government of Venezuela, widely considered the most viable option for Snowden of the three countries that have offered him asylum (Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua). Despite recently-improved relations with the Obama administration, President Maduro seems committed to sheltering Snowden, even pressuring him earlier this week by setting a Tuesday deadline to make up his mind over the offer. The deadline passed with no apparent announcement from Snowden, even though Maduro claimed he had received an official asylum request.

The only thing that may make Venezuela reconsider is if the United States turns over Luis Posada Carriles, a former CIA operative linked to the bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people in 1976. Posada is currently living in Miami. “The first thing you need to do to have the moral standing to request the extradition of this youth Snowden, who has only revealed the crimes that you commit, is to turn over Luis Posada Carriles, who you have protected,” Maduro said earlier this month.

Ultimately, while the United States has succeeded in making harboring Snowden a costly choice, it has not been able to contain the outrage over his revelations that the U.S. government is monitoring communications and internet activity across Latin America. Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Argentina have all requested official explanation of the NSA’s activities in their countries.

The Snowden incident has played out in the region’s international organizations as well. On Tuesday evening, the OAS Permanent Council passed a resolution  condemning the  decision by Portugal, Spain, France and Italy to deny airspace access to his plane on suspicions that he was harboring Snowden on board, an incident which had already been criticized by UNASUR and CELAC.

In a summit today in Montevideo, Uruguay, the Mercosur trade bloc is expected to take up the issue of NSA surveillance. It may also release a statement on Snowden’s asylum. Uruguay’s Radio 180 reports that, according to Brazilian Foreign Minister, “There may be parallel decision on the issue of asylum. We are coordinating on the terms of that decision.” This was confirmed by Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua, according to the AFP.

News Briefs
  • Yesterday, the five major labor federations in Brazil held a day of protests intended to capitalize on the mass demonstrations last month. The New York Times reports that the “National Day of Struggle” disrupted ports and major highways in cities around the country in support of labor demands. Folha de Sao Paulo claims that the protests had little support compared to the mobilizations in June, turning out about 80,000 people in 18 state capitals. According to Reuters, “Organized labor was sidelined in the June demonstrations, but is now trying to assert leadership and provide direction for what was a diverse and leaderless protest movement.”
  • The Economist assesses the Brazilian government’s response to the protests last month, noting that the passage of anti-corruption reforms promised by President Dilma Rousseff depends on a Congress in which 191 of Brazil’s 594 senators and deputies are currently under investigation.
  • While Guatemalan President Otto Perez’s recently announced plans to ask Congress to impose a two-year moratorium on mining in the country was presented as a bid to resolve mining conflicts in indigenous communities, critics say it is only political theater. NISGUA has translated a statement released by an indigenous civil society group in Huehuetenango Department, who accuse the moratorium of being a “smokescreen” to pass legislation that would allow mining companies to distribute royalties at the departmental rather than the municipal level.
  • The Washington Post looks at the case of unusual candidate in Mexico’s recent local elections: a small town mayor in Oaxaca state who had himself legally declared dead in 2010 in order to avoid sexual assault charges. Because Lenin Carballido was able to present a coroner’s statement certifying the death, he was able to participate in the elections and won Sunday’s vote. Officials say this is a highly unusual violation of Mexican electoral law, and Carballido will not be allowed to take office if evidence of the crime is presented again.
  • Mexico’s Proceso magazine looks at absenteeism in Mexico, which played a major role in the last election. According to authorities, 60 of eligible voters stayed home rather than voting last weekend.  
  • The administration of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has cut off negotiations with campesinos in Catatumbo, in Norte de Santander department, where major demonstrations and highway blockades have been in place since June 11. The demonstrators have been accused by Interior Minister Fernando Carrillo of holding the negotiations hostage by their confrontational tactics, RCN Radio reports.
  • After President Santos stated last week that he would not negotiate with the ELN “until all hostages are released and kidnapping is ceased,” EFE reports that the leader of the country’s second-biggest guerrilla organization released a statement saying that he will only engage in dialogue with officials if there are no conditions.