Bolivia adds to Venezuela, Nicaragua Snowden offers

Evo Morales willing to give asylum to US whistleblower if requested

People spend time in a waiting room at the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. Photograph: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

People spend time in a waiting room at the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. Photograph: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

Sat, Jul 6, 2013, 18:29

Bolivia has joined two other Latin American nations in their willingness to offer asylum to former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden

Bolivian President Evo Morales said today he would grant asylum, if requested, to the whistleblower.

Mr Morales’ offer came after two other leftist Latin American leaders - Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega - also said they would help the US fugitive, who is believed to be holed up in the transit area of a Moscow international airport.

Mr Maduro offered asylum last night in defiance of Washington, which is demanding his arrest for divulging details of secret US spy programmes.

“In the name of America’s dignity ... I have decided to offer humanitarian asylum to Edward Snowden, ” Mr Maduro told a military parade marking Venezuela’s independence day.

“He is a young man who has told the truth, in the spirit of rebellion, about the United States spying on the whole world.”

The 30-year-old former National Security Agency contractor is believed to be in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo international airport.

Russian officials have kept Mr Snowden at arm’s length since he landed from Hong Kong on June 23rd, saying the transit area where passengers stay between flights is neutral territory and he will be on Russian soil only if he goes through passport control.

It was not immediately clear how Mr Snowden would react to Mr Maduro’s offer, nor reach Venezuela if he accepted.

There are no direct commercial flights between Moscow and Caracas, and the usual route involves changing planes in Havana. It is not clear if the Cuban authorities would let him transit.

Given the dramatic grounding in Vienna of the Bolivian president’s plane this week over suspicions that Mr Snowden was onboard, using European airspace could prove problematic.

One alternative flight plan would involve an aircraft taking off from Moscow, refueling in Vladivostok, and then continuing east over the Pacific to South America.

Russia has shown signs of growing impatience over Mr Snowden’s stay in Moscow. Its deputy foreign minister said on Thursday that Mr Snowden had not sought asylum in that country and needed to choose a place to go.

Moscow has made clear that the longer he stays, the greater the risk of the diplomatic standoff over his fate causing lasting damage to relations with Washington.

The White House declined to comment on Mr Maduro’s offer.

Raising the possibility of at least one other option, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said his country would also offer asylum “if circumstances permit”.

WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy organization, said last night that Mr Snowden had asked six more nations for asylum, bringing to about 20 the number of countries he has appealed to for protection from US espionage charges.

WikiLeaks said on Twitter it would not reveal which six new countries Mr Snowden had applied to for asylum, due to “attempted US interference”.

Mr Maduro said Venezuela was ready to offer him sanctuary, and that the details Mr Snowden had revealed of US spy programs had exposed the nefarious schemes of the US “empire.”

“Who is the guilty one? A young man ... who denounces war plans, or the US government which launches bombs and arms the terrorist Syrian opposition against the people and legitimate president Bashar al-Assad?” he asked, to applause and cheers from ranks of military officers at the parade.