CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The presidents of Nicaragua and Venezuela offered Friday to grant asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden, one day after leftist South American leaders gathered to denounce the rerouting of Bolivian President Evo Morales' plane over Europe amid reports that the American was aboard.
Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua made their offers during separate speeches in their home countries Friday afternoon. Snowden, who is being sought by the United States, has asked for asylum in numerous countries, including Nicaragua and Venezuela.
"As head of state, the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela decided to offer humanitarian asylum to the young American Edward Snowden so that he can live in the homeland" of independence leader Simon Bolivar and the late President Hugo Chavez without "persecution from the empire," Maduro said, referring to the United States.
Chavez often engaged in similar defiance, criticizing U.S.-style capitalism and policies. In a 2006 speech to the U.N. General Assembly of world leaders, Chavez called President George W. Bush the devil, saying the podium reeked of sulfur after the U.S. president's address. He also accused Washington of plotting against him, expelled several diplomats and drug-enforcement agents and threatened to stop sending oil to the U.S.
Maduro made the offer during a speech marking the anniversary of Venezuela's independence. It was not immediately clear if there were any conditions to Venezuela's offer. He added that several other Latin American governments have also expressed their intention of taking a similar stance by offering asylum for the cause of "dignity."
But his critics said Maduro's decision is nothing but an attempt to veil the current undignified conditions of Venezuela, including one of the world's highest inflation rates and a shortage of basic products like toilet paper.
"The asylum doesn't fix the economic disaster, the record inflation, an upcoming devaluation (of the currency), and the rising crime rate," Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles said in his Twitter account. Maduro beat Capriles in April's presidential election, but Capriles has not recognized defeat and has called it an electoral fraud.
Asked earlier this week about the possibility that any countries in the region would offer Snowden asylum, Geoff Thale, program director at the Washington Office on Latin America think tank, said that he thought Ortega would be careful not to damage his country's relationship with the U.S.
"Ortega has been tremendously successful at exploiting both the ALBA relationship and the U.S. relationship," Thale said, referring to the ALBA leftist trade bloc that provides Nicaragua with petroleum subsidies. Although Ortega is publicly seen as anti-American, "Nicaragua and the U.S. cooperate very closely on drug interdiction and the U.S. and Nicaraguan militaries work very closely, too," Thale said before the asylum offer was made.