The saga of former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor turned “whistleblower” Edward Snowden continues to attract global attention. If press reports prove accurate, Snowden’s final destination may be Ecuador, where asylum has been requested.
Ecuador is a South American nation of 15.5 million with a dollarized economy. Leftist president Rafael Correa, first elected 2007, has established a degree of political control over his country that is the envy of politicians of every political stripe. One of Correa’s more consistent governing traits has been a running feud with a free press. A law passed by Ecuador’s congress earlier this month granted Correa’s government widely expanded powers to silence government critics.
The Obama Administration openly courted Correa under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton but had little to show for these diplomatic efforts. Last year, Ecuador offered asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. One year later, Assange remains cloistered in the same embassy. Little wonder Assange and his WikiLeaks machine are brokering the idea of asylum for Snowden in Ecuador.
Following the death of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez in March, some in the region have looked to Correa as an emerging leader of the leftist, anti-American regional group known as the Bolivarian Alliance. Although lacking Chavez’s charismatic touch and oil resources, Correa is not afraid to challenge the U.S. on the global diplomatic stage, opening the doors of his country to China and Iran.
Granting Snowden a safe haven would further burnish Correa’s anti-American credentials as an outspoken leader in a “people’s campaign” against an overbearing, hegemonic-minded U.S., a consistent theme of Correa and his anti-American allies. It would also make this small-bore Latin American leader—consumed with authoritarian tendencies—the darling of global anti-establishment zealots.
The Snowden case is reminiscent of the role Fidel Castro’s Havana played in hosting for decades runaway CIA operative and “whistleblower” Philip Agee. Asylum for Snowden would give Correa the type of low-cost yet high-visibility profile he craves, falsely equate ongoing anti-Americanism with the defense of global freedom, and cause the hapless Obama Administration and U.S. national security machine even further embarrassment and heartburn.