Snowden could find friendly soil in Latin America

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BOGOTA, Colombia -- The three Latin American countries said to be helping Edward Snowden flee from American authorities are united in their opposition to the Obama administration and pursue foreign policy objectives designed to counter U.S. influence.

As Mr. Snowden arrived in Moscow from Hong Kong on Sunday, Russian media reported that he was booked on a flight to the Cuban capital, Havana, and from there on to Caracas, the Venezuelan capital.

By Sunday afternoon, Ecuador's foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, said via his Twitter account that his government had received an asylum request from Mr. Snowden. Ecuador's embassy in London is hosting Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group that published reams of classified U.S. documents.

WikiLeaks, which is also assisting Mr. Snowden, said in a brief statement that he "is bound for the Republic of Ecuador via a safe route for the purpose of asylum." WikiLeaks said that once in Ecuador, Mr. Snowden's request for political asylum would be processed.

The Ecuadoran government of President Rafael Correa, a populist who expelled the U.S. ambassador from Quito in 2011, did not confirm the WikiLeaks account. But his administration, which has sought a greater role for the small country on the international stage, has reveled in the attention it has received since Mr. Assange holed up in its London embassy.

"Assange has been in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London for a year," Mr. Patino said in a Thursday tweet. "We will not faint in this fight for liberty."

Analysts who closely follow the region said it would make sense for the former National Security Agency contractor to wind up in Venezuela or Ecuador. Both countries are led by self-styled leftist presidents who are publicly hostile to the Obama administration and position themselves to oppose U.S. policies in this region and beyond.

"Their foreign policy is based on being the anti-United States, and so this is consistent with that posture," said Carl Meacham, director of the Americas program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "They try, at every stop, to point out the problems they have with U.S. foreign policy."

In Venezuela, the new president, Nicolas Maduro, a former foreign minister, has suggested that the United States had a hand in the death of Hugo Chavez, who led the country for 14 years and frequently accused Washington of hatching assassination plots against him. Chavez died in March after a long battle with cancer. He, like Mr. Correa, expelled the U.S. ambassador to his country.

"The different elite groups that represent the United States government and its imperial policies will have to recognize that in Venezuela there's a revolution," Mr. Maduro said this month.

Ecuador's relations with Washington also have been strained, with Mr. Correa frequently critical of American policies in Latin America and eager to form alliances with U.S. adversaries such as Iran.

Still, Ecuador has an ambassador in Washington, and the United States last year appointed Adam Namm as ambassador in Quito.

Ecuador, Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua and a handful of smaller Caribbean countries belong to a Venezuela-led bloc called ALBA, which sees itself as an alternative to U.S.-led trade partnerships. ALBA, or the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, also has clashed with the Obama administration after left-leaning leaders were ousted in Honduras and Paraguay.

Cuba, too, has been locked in conflict with the United States, with the Castro brothers battling a half-century-old American economic embargo. Since the 1960s, Havana has been a welcoming home for dozens of American fugitives. Perhaps the most prominent was CIA agent Philip Agee, whose 1975 book, "Inside the Company: CIA Diary," alleged U.S. misdeeds in Latin America and included a list of secret agency operatives.

But Havana may be a likely transit point for Mr. Snowden rather than serving as a long-term refuge. The island's communist government, now led by Raul Castro, Fidel Castro's younger brother, has recently revived diplomatic talks with the Obama administration. Giving Mr. Snowden asylum would inject new tensions into the strained relationship.

Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, though, could prove to be a key steppingstone for Mr. Snowden as he tries to escape U.S. extradition efforts. There are direct flights from Moscow, giving him ample possibilities to fly to Havana and from there fly on to Caracas or Quito.

The United States has been in touch via diplomatic and law enforcement channels with countries in the region through which Mr. Snowden might transit or that might serve as a final destination, said a U.S. official with knowledge of the administration's diplomatic efforts.



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