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Latin America is Ready to Defy the US Over Snowden and Other Issues
Latin America has long lived in the US shadow, but the fact that some countries might take Snowden shows how that's changed
No offense to Iceland, but Latin America is where the fugitive leaker Edward Snowden should settle.
He apparently has the same idea. News reports suggest that he is in Moscow awaiting transport to Cuba, Venezuela, and/or Ecuador. A Facebook post suggests Bolivia may have granted Snowden asylum. Nothing has been heard from Nicaragua, Peru, Brazil, or Argentina, but any or all might also welcome him.
Any country that grants asylum to Snowden risks retaliation from the United States, including diplomatic isolation and costly trade sanctions. Several don't seem to care. The fact that Latin America has become the favored refuge for a United States citizen accused of treason and espionage is an eye-popping reminder of how fully the continent has emerged from Washington's shadow.
"Latin America is not gone, and we want to keep it," President Richard Nixon told aides as he was pressing the covert operation that brought down the Chilean government in 1973. A decade later, the Reagan administration was fighting proxy wars in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. In the 1980s the US Army invaded two Caribbean countries, Grenada and Panama, to depose leaders who had defied Washington.
During the 1990s the United States sought to impose the "Washington Consensus" on Latin American governments. It embodied what Latin Americans call "neo-liberal" principles: budget cuts, privatization, deregulation of business, and incentives for foreign companies. This campaign sparked bitter resistance and ultimately collapsed.
In spite of these military, political, and economic assaults – or perhaps because of them – much of Latin America has become profoundly dissatisfied with the made-in-USA model. Some of the continent's most popular leaders rose to power by denouncing the "Washington Consensus" and pledging to pull their countries out of the United States orbit.
Because President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela was the most flamboyant of these defiant leaders, some outsiders may have expected that following his death, the region would return to its traditional state of submission. In fact, not just a handful of leaders but huge populations in Latin America have decided that they wish for more independence from Washington.
This is vital for Snowden because it reduces the chances that a sudden change of government could mean his extradition. If he can make it to Latin America, he will never lack for friends or supporters.
One would be the American-educated President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, an avowed socialist and admirer of Fidel Castro. In 2009 Correa forced the United States to abandon its military base in his country, despite repeated protests from Washington. He has already granted a form of asylum to Wiki-leaks founder Julian Assange, who is living inside the Ecuadoran embassy in London. Having publicly welcomed Assange to "the club of the persecuted," he would presumably embrace Snowden as another member.
Ecuador, with its long coastline, majestic mountains, and lush rain forest, is an ideal place for such a club to assemble. It is more than twice the size of Iceland and considerably warmer. Its people, not just its president, are known for gentle hospitality.
From Ecuador, Snowden could travel widely. Everything from the splendor of Bolivia's Lake Titicaca to the vibrancy of teeming Caracas awaits him. With luck, he might even be able to visit Guatemala in September to attend the grand festival being planned for the 100th anniversary of the birth of Jacobo Arbenz, the reformist president who the United States deposed in 1954.
Snowden would have much to celebrate upon landing in Latin America, and much to anticipate. He might not be truly free, however. Some in Washington have raised his case, like those of Assange and Corporal Bradley Manning, into major national security tests. They might press for a "rendition" in which Snowden would be snatched and brought home for trial.
Two breathtakingly different possible lives await Snowden. If the United States has its way, he will probably end up with something like the long prison sentence that is being prepared for Corporal Manning. If not, he could spend years in an Ecuadoran beach town like Playas, where the lobster is cheap, the sunsets are spectacular, and internet connections could keep him on the front line of the information war for years.