Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro and Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega have offered National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden asylum. The immediate reaction will be that they are left-wing anti-American countries. This offer disrespects an extradition treaty that the United States has with Venezuela or Nicaragua.
[*UPDATE – 11:30 AM EST: Bolivian President Evo Morales would grant Snowden asylum if asked.]
US government officials and politicians, along with those at American think tanks and pundits in the media, will focus upon what the US can do to show the governments of Venezuela or Nicaragua that this will not be tolerated. The Brookings Institution has already suggested if Venezuela granted Snowden asylum the US could cut off a “prime economic lifeline”—the “sale of its heavy oil to the United States.” (The suggestion came from the Diana Villers Negroponte, the wife of John Negroponte, the former British-born American diplomat who played a key role in the dirty wars in Central America.)
It must be understood that President Barack Obama and his administration created the conditions that ultimately led to this moment.
I’ll focus on Venezuela with the thought in mind that most of what is suggested applies to Nicaragua if that is the country where Snowden ultimately lands.
Maduro, during the 202nd anniversary of the declaration of independence of Venezuela, stated, according to a rough translation from the Venezuela media organization, El Universal:
In my capacity as Head of State and Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, I announce the brother governments of the world that we have decided to offer humanitarian asylum to US citizen Edward Snowden, to protect him from a persecution unleashed by the most powerful empire in the world (the US) against a young man who has done nothing but tell the truth,” said Maduro.
“Who violates international law? A young man who has decided, in an act of rebellion, to tell the truth about the US espionage on the world or a government like that of the United States, or the power of the imperialist elites that spy on the whole world?” wondered Maduro.
All of which suggests that Maduro and the Venezuela government view what Snowden did as a political act.
The extradition treaty between the US and Venezuela agreed to on April 14, 1923, specifically outlines:
The provisions of the Convention shall not import claim of extradition for any crime or offense of a political character, nor for acts connected with such crimes or offenses; and no person surrendered by or to either of the Contracting Parties in virtue of this Convention shall be tried or punished for a political crime or offense…
Venezuela is fully within its rights to grant Snowden asylum, especially if it views what he did was a political act that would result in harsh punishment if he was returned to the US.
Maduro said during a meeting with presidents of the UNASUR member states in Cochabamba, Bolivia, on the incident that occurred with Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane that the US had called the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry to “lobby against” political asylum for Snowden.
Anticipating that the US might need to extradite Snowden from Venezuela, the Embassy of the United States of America in Caracas sent Venezuela a request for the provisional arrest of Snowden for “the purpose of extradition.” It described him as a “flight risk because of the substantial charges he is facing and his current and active attempts to remain a fugitive.” Also, under the extradition treaty, it requested the “seizure of all articles, instruments, objects of value or documents in the possession of Snowden at the time of his arrest that may relate to the offense for which extradition is sought for later delivery to the United States authorities should extradition be granted. This includes, but is not limited to, all computer devices, electronic storage devices and other forms of electronic media.”
If Snowden ends up in Venezuela, there is little chance he would be extradited to the US. Any blustering by US government officials about how Venezuela should respect some process would be undermined by the historical fact that Luis Posada Carriles, a suspected and known violent terrorist, continues to reside in the US and has not been extradited to Venezuela, as the country requested.
Carriles is the mastermind behind the bombing of a Cuban airliner. He also is suspected to have been involved in “the 1997 bombings of two Havana hotels that killed an Italian tourist.” Because he was a CIA asset, he has never been put on trial for committing this act of terrorism.
He entered the US in 2005 and sought political asylum. He was put on trial in El Paso, Texas, in 2011 for lying to immigration authorities about how he got into the country and his participation in terrorist attacks. In April of that year, he was acquitted.
Venezuela had pushed for his extradition. But, a US immigration judge ruled he could not “be sent to either country, for fear he could be tortured.”
If the “harboring” of a “fugitive” who likely committed real acts of terrorism is acceptable within the rule of law, it should go without saying that anything Venezuela does to help Snowden will, without any questions whatsoever, deserve to be accepted as within the rule of law too.
The State Department will likely claim the US and Venezuela have “shared ties of friendship and common values” and the two countries should be able to work out some kind of agreement—one that ends with Snowden in the custody of the US government.
On July 3, Secretary of State John Kerry offered this rosy version of history between the two countries to congratulate Venezuela on its commemoration of its independence day:
Venezuela and the United States have much in common. For example, revolutionary leader General Francisco de Miranda also played a part in our own struggle for independence, participating in the Battle of Pensacola in 1781. His contribution is forever memorialized in a monument that stands in the heart of Philadelphia, the original capital of the United States. When a devastating earthquake struck Venezuela in 1812 the United States sent the Venezuelan people the first humanitarian assistance it ever provided to a foreign country. These two examples demonstrate that Venezuela and the United States have shared ties of friendship and common values since the birth of our two nations, and the ties between our people endure.
I wish Venezuelans everywhere health, happiness, and hope on the anniversary of your independence.
Both Venezuela and the United States have had “shared ties of friendship and common values,” if one ignores the last two decades, including that coup the US government backed when President George W. Bush was in power.
Noam Chomsky’s book, Hopes and Prospects, highlights the “traditional mechanisms” of “violence and economic warfare,” which the US government has employed against Latin American countries like Venezuela:
…Bush and his associates did try to resort to the traditional means in 2002, backing a military coup to overthrow the democratically elected government—another illustration of the “strong line of continuity” in democracy promotion. But the effort failed. After a popular uprising restored the elected government, Washington immediately turned to funding groups of its choice within Venezuela while refusing to identify recipients: $26 million by 2006 for the new program after the failed coup attempt, all under the guise of supporting democracy. When the facts were reported by wire services, law professor Bill Monning at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California, “We would scream bloody murder if any outside force were interfering in our internal political system.”…
The two countries have not had ambassadors since the late President Hugo Chavez expelled the US ambassador to Venezuela in 2008, whom he suspected of being involved in plotting a military coup against him. The US expelled the Venezuelan ambassador after this happened.
Increasingly, these “traditional mechanisms” are failing as countries like Venezuela take measures to protect their countries from US meddling. Any dependence they have on the US is brought to an end, as the countries turn to China or Russia for the aid, support or ties they could have had with the US if it did not insist it impose neoliberal economic policies on their populations.
The US government must admit it is responsible for creating geopolitical conditions where Venezuela or any other Latin American country would be eager to help a whistleblower avoid persecution.
In the end, what is most significant—and will continue to receive little to no attention by US government officials, politicians, pundits or members of think tanks—is the reality that what has happened with Snowden is a result of Obama’s failure to provide protections for national security agency whistleblowers.
What “proper channels” did Snowden have to go through to blow the whistle on what the wrongdoing he believed the NSA was committing? He had none because the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act signed into law by Obama exempted national security agency whistleblowers. And had he gone to the inspector general, there would have been no guarantee that the inspector general took any actions whatsoever on behalf of him. He may have even given his name to some superior official and Snowden may have lost his security clearance or job as a contractor.
If he went to the press and remained in the United States, there would have been little opportunity in a court of law to mount a defense that his disclosures were in the public interest and not some act of espionage. He may have been put in administrative segregation or in solitary confinement in a federal prison and endured harsh pretrial confinement conditions like Pfc. Bradley Manning did for nine months of his pretrial confinement.
Thus, the reality is that those who dare to blow the whistle on their own government more likely to follow the example of Snowden and fly to a country where they meet with a journalist like Glenn Greenwald, eventually go public and take responsibility for what they exposed and then begin the possibly long, arduous process of seeking asylum from a country in the world willing to stand up to the United States.
Who will be the next whistleblower to be offered asylum by a Latin American country?
So long as there is no guarantee that the US will not deprive whistleblowers of their right to a fair trial, Latin American countries like Venezuela will be a refuge for whistleblowers, who do not wish to spend a long period of time or the rest of their lives in prison because they decided to speak up and tell the truth about what they were seeing from within the sterile corridors and cubicles of the national security state.