Bolivia joined two other South American countries on Saturday in offering fugitive US intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden political asylum.
“If we are asked legally, we will give asylum,” President Evo Morales said in Chipaya, a rural area of the Andean department of Oruro.
Offering “humanitarian asylum” would be justified, Morales said, after his plane made the unscheduled stop on Wednesday in Austria en route from Moscow to Bolivia on unfounded suspicion that Snowden was on board. Before the plane landed the Governments of France, Italy, Spain and Portugal denied it access to their airspace.
How Snowden would reach Bolivia or either of the other two South American countries that have offered him asylum remains unclear. The 30-year-old former computer contractor who worked for the National Security Agency (NSA) has been in diplomatic limbo in the transit zone of a Moscow airport for two weeks.
The US has revoked his passport and formally charged him with espionage and theft of Government property for revealing an NSA internet spying programme and other US government surveillance.
Snowden admits to leaking the information, but said he did it to make Americans aware of the breadth and depth of their Government’s snooping.
Venezuela and Nicaragua offered to grant Snowden political asylum on Friday. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said his offer was for political asylum “from imperial North American persecution.” “He should come to the fatherland of Bolivar and of Chavez and be able to live free from the imperialistic pursuit of North America,” said Maduro in Caracas, referring to Simon Bolivar, who fought for Latin American independence from Spain during the early 19th century, and recently deceased Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. The offer was welcomed by Moscow.
“Asylum for Snowden in Venezuela would be the best solution,” said influential Russian politician Alexei Puschkov in a Twitter post on Saturday. “The country is currently in a great conflict with the US. It can’t get worse,” said Puschkov, chairman of the foreign relations committee of the Russian Duma.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said he would grant the asylum to “with pleasure, if circumstances permit.” Ortega confirmed that Nicaragua was one of the countries that Snowden solicited for asylum, via Managua’s embassy in Russia.
“We are an open country, respectful of the right of asylum, and it is clear that if circumstances permit we would receive Snowden here with pleasure,” he said.
Ortega also condemned European countries that refused to allow Morales’ plane to enter their airspace on Wednesday.
“That is the unity of empire, the same that has oppressed the people of our Americas,” he said. “They are the same old colonialists, humiliating the peoples of other nations.” Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador are among the most socialist countries in the Americas and are extremely critical of US hegemony. On Friday the website Wikileaks, which has supported Snowden, reported on Twitter that he has sought asylum from six other countries, bringing the total to 27. None of the countries was named in order to prevent any possible influence from the US.
A number of countries have turned down asylum for Snowden. Clear rejections have come from France, Italy, Brazil, India and Poland.