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Scholars Write on the Supposed "Irony" of Snowden's Asylum Requests in Latin America Print
Written by Stephan Lefebvre   
Thursday, 18 July 2013 12:02

A group of Latin America scholars have taken issue with the supposed “irony” of Edward Snowden’s requests for asylum in Ecuador, and acceptance of asylum in Venezuela. The authors debunk what they say “has become a media meme” that it is “ironic” that a whistle-blower and free press advocate like Snowden would seek asylum in those countries. The authors point out, “most media outlets in Ecuador and Venezuela are privately-owned, and opposition in their orientation.”

The letter also offers important context and corrections of reports that seem to discredit the governments of Ecuador under President Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Venezuela under Hugo Chávez (and now Nicolás Maduro), which “contribute to a climate of demonization that enables U.S. aggression against those countries and damages relations between the people of the U.S. and our foreign neighbors.” While the media contacts for the letter say they have received few responses from the reporters and editors to whom they sent the letter, it has received some attention, with Chicago Public Media station WBEZ interviewing Ecuador expert Steve Striffler (at 22:30) on their “World View” program yesterday and posting an article about the letter on their site here.

Here is the full text:

The supposed “irony” of whistle-blower Edward Snowden seeking asylum in countries such as Ecuador and Venezuela has become a media meme. Numerous articles, op-eds, reports and editorials in outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, NPR, and MSNBC have hammered on this idea since the news first broke that Snowden was seeking asylum in Ecuador. It was a predictable retread of the same meme last year when Julian Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London and the Ecuadorian government deliberated his asylum request for months.

Of course, any such “ironies” would be irrelevant even if they were based on factual considerations.  The media has never noted the “irony” of the many thousands of people who have taken refuge in the United States, which is currently torturing people in a secret prison at Guantanamo, and regularly kills civilians in drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and other countries. Nor has the press noted the “irony” of refugees who have fled here from terror that was actively funded and sponsored by the U.S. government, e.g. from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chile, and other countries.

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General Strike in Brazil Responds to Wave of Street Protests Print
Written by Brian Mier (guest post)   
Friday, 12 July 2013 16:37

I have lived in Brazil for 18 years.  Yesterday I decided that an opportunity to protest for a 40-hour workweek was too important to pass up, and headed to Rio de Janeiro’s Candelaria square to march with the unions.

The march was part of a general strike held across Brazil yesterday. Across the country banks, ports, factories and construction projects shut down.  Protesters closed off 50 highways in 18 states.  In Brasilia, the Landless Peasant’s Movement (MST) occupied the Incra (agrarian reform) Federal Ministry.  The strike was coordinated by a group of 70 union federations, such as the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT; the Unified Workers' Central, in English) and Força Sindical, the national student union (UNE) and social movements like the MST. 

cut-mier
(Photo by Brian Mier)

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Thumbing its Nose at International Law, US Pressures Latin America to Reject Snowden’s “Serious Asylum Claim” Print
Written by Jake Johnston   
Friday, 12 July 2013 15:52

After meeting with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden today, Human Rights Watch issued a statement reiterating their appeal for his asylum case to be treated fairly. The statement read:

“Edward Snowden has a serious asylum claim that should be considered fairly by Russia or any other country where he may apply,” said Dinah PoKempner, general counsel at Human Rights Watch. “He should be allowed at least to make that claim and have it heard.”

Snowden has disclosed serious rights violations by the US. But US law does not provide sufficient protection for whistleblowers when classified information is involved. The US has charged Snowden, among other things, with violating the Espionage Act, a vague law that provides no exceptions or defenses to whistleblowers who disclose matters of serious public importance.



Washington’s actions appear to be aimed at preventing Snowden from gaining an opportunity to claim refuge, in violation of his right to seek asylum under international law.

But while human rights organizations and legal experts have pointed out the compelling case for granting Snowden asylum, most of the media continues to treat offers from Latin America as nothing more than governments “thumbing their noses” at the U.S. A front page article in today’s New York Times on the U.S. pressuring Latin American governments to not accept Snowden’s asylum doesn’t quote any organization or individual making the legal case for asylum, but does quote former American ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson:

“What I think is going on among Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua and possibly others is, who can replace Chávez as the main U.S. antagonist?”

The article also points out that the U.S. is threatening these countries, whose only action has been to consider asylum for Snowden, as human rights groups have recommended. The Times quotes an anonymous official:

“There is not a country in the hemisphere whose government does not understand our position at this point,” a senior State Department official focusing on the matter said recently, adding that helping Mr. Snowden “would put relations in a very bad place for a long time to come.”

“If someone thinks things would go away, it won’t be the case,” the official said.
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US’ Double Standard on Extraditions Contributes to its Increasing Isolation Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Thursday, 11 July 2013 10:09

Revelations of extensive NSA spying on several Latin American countries have further weakened U.S. relations with neighbors south of the border. Colombia, Mexico and Argentina are demanding answers, Peruvian president Ollanta Humala condemned the spying, and the Brazilian Senate has called on U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Thomas Shannon to testify about the U.S. surveillance of millions of Brazilian citizens.

As we have noted, an Organization of American States resolution passed on Tuesday – with the U.S. and Canada dissenting – further demonstrates Washington’s current political isolation in the hemisphere. The resolution expressed “solidarity” with Bolivia and its president, Evo Morales and “firmly call[s] on the Governments of France, Portugal, Italy, and Spain to provide the necessary explanations of the events that took place” related to President Morales’ plane being denied airspace and forced to land in Austria, whereupon it was searched, apparently due to bad U.S. intelligence that Edward Snowden was on board. (CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot touches on theories of a “dry run”/rehearsal response to Snowden leaving Russia here.)

The targeting of President Morales’ plane is all the more egregious considering the U.S. government’s ongoing refusal to extradite Bolivia’s former president Gonzalo (“Goni”) Sánchez de Lozada for serious human rights crimes related to the shooting of protesters in 2003. Goni lives comfortably just outside Washington, D.C. in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and as a member emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue is close to Washington foreign policy circles. The worst allegations that pundits have leveled at Snowden are that his leaks could endanger Americans – allegations for which there is no evidence. The case against Goni, however, is serious: he is believed to be responsible for ordering the military to attack protesters, resulting in the shooting deaths of over 67 and injury to over 400.

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OAS Resolution Expressing Solidarity with Bolivia Supported by Latin American and Caribbean, Rejected by the U.S. and Canada Print
Written by Alexander Main   
Wednesday, 10 July 2013 17:45

Late on July 9th, after many hours of negotiations, the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (made up of the representatives of the 34 active member countries of the OAS) approved a resolution expressing solidarity with President Evo Morales of Bolivia, condemning violations of international law and the inviolability of heads of state, and “firmly” calling on France, Portugal, Italy and Spain to provide the “necessary explanations” as well as apologies "as appropriate."  The resolution comes on the heels of similar statements by other regional bodies, namely UNASUR and CELAC, strongly rejecting the four countries’ decisions to deny airspace access to the plane of President Morales due to the suspicion that U.S. whistle-blower Edward Snowden was traveling aboard the plane.   In the words of the OAS resolution, by their actions the four European countries “potentially [compromised] the safety of the Bolivian President and his entourage; and [violated] international law.”

Nearly every country in the region backed the resolution.  The only holdouts were Canada and the U.S., identified in footnotes as refusing to join the regional consensus in support of the resolution.  The U.S. has been identified as having provided the four European governments with the false intelligence regarding Snowden’s presence on the plane, according to Reuters, and could hardly be expected to condemn its European partners, especially given that their actions have resulted in a particularly serious diplomatic crisis, affecting European relations with a number of Latin American countries.  But, rather than try to block the resolution entirely, the U.S. and Canada – which has almost systematically backed the U.S. agenda at the OAS in recent years – chose instead to discreetly voice their opposition in the form of footnotes.  Nevertheless, the two countries’ rejection of the resolution has been noted in the Latin American media; the U.S. in particular appears to be more isolated in the region than ever.

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The Hill On Snowden's Travel Options Print
Written by Mark Weisbrot   
Tuesday, 09 July 2013 22:39

This article in The Hill, Obama administration set to make NSA leaker Snowdens trip tough, looks at some of the possibilities for Snowden flying to safety without running into interference from the U.S. government or its allies.  It contains this interesting speculation:

“Morales was forced to refuel in Austria, which is not a NATO member. Snowden was not aboard the flight, but some have speculated that it might have been a dry run to test how a flight carrying the accused felon would fare over NATO-member countries.”

Dry run by whom?  I don't think Evo could have fooled the U.S. into thinking that Snowden was on his plane.  More likely a "dry run" by the U.S. -- especially since they were almost certainly watching Evo's plane and knew exactly who boarded it and who didn't.  If U.S. intelligence agencies didn't do that, then they are more incompetent than anyone can imagine.

The article isn’t very convincing on the eastern route:

“Traveling eastward from Moscow also looks dim. It would involve a nearly eight-hour flight across Russia that would touch dangerously close to Chinese and Japanese airspace. There would be no likely sympathetic refueling destination in the Pacific Ocean on the way toward South America.”

It’s not clear what the problem is with Chinese airspace; there is no evidence that they want to interfere with Snowden’s travels.  Also, it’s not clear why Snowden couldn’t refuel in eastern Russia, and then fly down the Pacific in international air space to friendly countries in South America, which would be well within range of a non-stop flight for a decent private plane.

The question then would be whether the U.S. would flagrantly violate international law, and do what Obama previously said he wouldnt do, by going after his plane in international air space.  This is something that a reporter should ask the White House.

 
“They are going to do everything they can to get Snowden. But I think they will lose.” – Mark Weisbrot Interview in Greek newspaper Eleftherotypia Print
Written by CEPR Staff   
Monday, 08 July 2013 14:42

CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot did an interview via email with one of Greece’s leading daily newspapers, Eleftherotypia last week. The interview, which occurred prior to the news that Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia had offered political asylum to Edward Snowden, appears in Eleftherotypia today. Mark’s original responses, in English, appear below:

 

Eleftherotypia: Why do you think Snowden did it?  He has destroyed his life now. Does he have a very high sense of justice or is there something else behind it?

Mark Weisbrot: I think he explained his reasons very eloquently in his first public interview, with Glenn Greenwald, and especially this:

I’m no different from anybody else. I don’t have special skills. I’m just another guy who sits there, day to day, in the office, watches what happening­, and goes, "This is something that’s not our place to decide. The public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong."

I think he strongly believes this.  He is against the idea of government deciding major issues of public policy in secret.

 

What will happen to him? How do you see the asylum requests developing?

He has at least three countries -- Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela -- that are almost guaranteed to give him asylum.  There are numerous others that would give him asylum or refugee status if he showed up in their territories, which includes their embassies.  So the main problem right now is transportation.  But I think that will be resolved, sooner or later.

 

Will the U.S. use the carrot-and-stick policy in order to make sure no country offers him asylum so they can get him back to face justice?

They are trying very, very hard to do that. But they are losing -- contrary to what you might read or hear in the international media.  First, as I mentioned, there are several countries willing to give him asylum or refuge. This includes Russia, which he rejected because of their conditions. Second, they cannot push everyone around indefinitely. France in particular was embarrassed by this latest episode where they blocked Evo Morales' plane from passing through their air space, on the false rumor that Snowden may have been aboard. Spain, which considers its relations with Latin America to be important especially because of its large investments and commerce there, also paid a price for being Washington's thug in this case. So there are costs to their strategy.

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Reviewing Rory Carroll's Reporting on Ecuador and Snowden Print
Written by Stephan Lefebvre   
Friday, 05 July 2013 09:44

Rory Carroll has been reporting on Ecuador and the Snowden case for the Guardian, but not without serious criticism.  Most outrageous was the headline on his most recent article, which may have not been the reporter’s doing: Rafael Correa not considering Snowden asylum: helping him was a 'mistake.'

This is of course very misleading; Correa made it clear in his interview that providing travel documents was a “mistake,” since this is not Ecuador’s responsibility; and that he would consider asylum for Snowden if Snowden was in Ecuadorean territory. The headline tells the reader that Correa has abandoned Snowden, but anyone who reads it can see that if Snowden arrived at an Ecuadorean embassy, his application for asylum would be seriously considered, and very likely granted.

The Guardian has since corrected the headline.

Correa himself criticized Carroll’s reporting on the interview, saying:

Translation: “My statements for The Guardian totally decontextualized. Fortunately we have it taped. [We are] to not fall into the same trap of the very same as always!"

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UNASUR Statement on Interference with Bolivian Presidential Plane Over Snowden Print
Written by Stephan Lefebvre   
Wednesday, 03 July 2013 12:38

UNASUR released a statement today in response to the incident where Evo Morales' plane was forced to land in Austria after threats to search the plane for Snowden.  EU officials are scrambling to explain why Bolivian government officials are claiming that the president's plane was blocked from flying over several countries.  These events seem to parallel the incident where U.K. government officials threatened to invade the Ecuadorian Embassy in order to capture wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

Here is our translation of the UNASUR statement:

Statement from the Union of South American Nations

The Union of South American Nations – UNASUR – has taken note, with the greatest concern, of the Statement-Denunciation issued by the Government of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, by which the government states its claim before the international community due to the surprising withdrawal of permissions over airspace and landing for the presidential airplane that carried President Evo Morales Ayma and his party, in return flight, after his participation in the Second Summit of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum, held in the Russian Federation.

The Union of South American Countries – UNASUR – makes public its strong solidarity with the Government of the Plurinational State of Bolivia and in particular with its President Mr. Evo Morales Ayma.  Additionally, it expresses its indignation and profound rejection of these acts which constitute unfriendly and unjustifiable acts that have also put in serious risk the security of the Bolivian head of state and his party.

UNASUR demands a clarification of these acts and an explanation as it were to arise.

This is the original, posted on the website for Peru's foreign ministry.

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The Edward Snowden Case Monitor Print
Written by CEPR Staff   
Wednesday, 26 June 2013 14:49
Amnesty International Condemns Violations of Snowden's Human Rights By U.S. Government

 7/2/2013

 

In an important development today, Amnesty International stated that “The US authorities’ relentless campaign to hunt down and block whistleblower Edward Snowden’s attempts to seek asylum is deplorable and amounts to a gross violation of his human rights.”

This is significant because the international press coverage of the Snowden drama has almost completely ignored the question of whether Snowden’s rights are being violated by U.S. efforts to prevent him from seeking asylum under international law. 

It will be interesting to see if any of the major media outlets covering these events will report on this important and apparently well-grounded legal argument, given that they have reported on the Obama administration’s arguments that countries are legally obligated to hand Snowden over to the United States.  Also, Amnesty International is one of the most important human rights organizations in the world, and its statement should be relevant to news reporting on the Snowden case.

Read the full Amnesty International statement here.

 

Snowden’s Revelations Go from Being a “Serious Breach” to Not “Significant” as Obama Administration Shifts Message

 7/2/2013

As we have previously noted, the Obama administration has reversed course, seeking to lower the profile of the Snowden case after its threats against Russia, Ecuador, and Hong Kong backfired and after apparently realizing that public support for Snowden remains high despite a U.S. government-led effort to demonize him in the media. This has resulted in a litany of mixed messages from senior administration officials.

Is the Obama administration simply disorganized, or has the strategy changed over time as information about the Snowden case and government surveillance reaches wider and wider audiences? Also, what is the overall strategy of the government as an international effort develops to protect the right to privacy and the right to asylum?  We try to answer some of these questions here.

 

Gentlemen Don't Read Each Other's Mail

 7/1/2013

A reporter went after State Department Spokesman Patrick Ventrell at the State Department's Daily Press Briefing today about European anger in response to Snowden's revelations of U.S. surveillance of European officials and citizens. Here we will quote at length because the exchange was amusing and revealing:

QUESTION: When discussing this issue, the – with the Europeans or others who might be upset or are saying that they’re upset, the U.S. position is that all countries engage in intelligence gathering and this shouldn’t come as a surprise to you?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not going to get into the content of that diplomatic exchange, other than to say that we’re going to have it very directly and privately with the countries concerned.

QUESTION: But --

QUESTION: Change topic?

QUESTION: Hold on, I’m just – but you’re not admitting any wrongdoing, though?

MR. VENTRELL: I didn’t say that. I said we’ll have our --

QUESTION: I know. I want to make sure that I understand, when these conversations happen, you’re not saying, “Oh, sorry.”

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m just not going to characterize --

QUESTION: You’re not – you’re explaining what you do, and you’re saying, “This isn’t unusual and you probably do it as well.”

MR. VENTRELL: To take the lens back a little bit, I think a number of these countries are countries we have a very strong relationship with on a number of fronts --

QUESTION: Or you did, at least, have a very strong relationship with.

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