NSA leaker Edward Snowden's effort to evade prosecution in the U.S. took a turn toward Latin America Friday after the Presidents of Venezuela and Nicaragua announced they were prepared to grant NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden asylum.
Although there were no concrete details from Presidents Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua or Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, it is believed that they are the first offers of asylum that Snowden has received since he requested asylum in several countries, including Nicaragua and Venezuela.
"As head of state, the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela decided to offer humanitarian asylum to the young American Edward Snowden so that he can live (without) ... persecution from the empire," President Maduro said, referring to the United States. He made the offer during a speech marking the anniversary of Venezuela's independence. It was not immediately clear if there were any conditions to Venezuela's offer.
In Nicaragua, Ortega said he was willing to make the same offer "if circumstances allow it." Ortega didn't say what the right circumstances would be when he spoke during a speech in Managua.
He said the Nicaraguan embassy in Moscow received Snowden's application for asylum and that it is studying the request.
"We have the sovereign right to help a person who felt remorse after finding out how the United States was using technology to spy on the whole world, and especially its European allies," Ortega said.
Maduro made the asylum offer during a speech marking the anniversary of Venezuela's independence. It was not immediately clear if there were any conditions to Venezuela's offer.
But his critics said Maduro's decision is nothing but an attempt to veil the current undignified conditions of Venezuela, including one of the world's highest inflation rates and a shortage of basic products such as toilet paper.
"The asylum doesn't fix the economic disaster, the record inflation, an upcoming devaluation (of the currency), and the rising crime rate," Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles said in his Twitter account. Maduro beat Capriles in April's presidential election, but Capriles has not recognized defeat and has called it an electoral fraud.
The White House on Friday refused to comment on the asylum offers, referring questions on the matter to the U.S. Justice Department, according to Reuters.
The offers came a day after left-wing South American leaders gathered to denounce the rerouting of Bolivian President Evo Morales' plane in Europe earlier this week amid reports that Snowden might have been aboard.
Spain on Friday said it had been warned along with other European countries that Snowden, a former U.S. intelligence worker, was aboard the Bolivian presidential plane, an acknowledgement that the manhunt for the fugitive leaker had something to do with the plane's unexpected diversion to Austria.
It is unclear whether the United States, which has told its European allies that it wants Snowden back, warned Madrid about the Bolivian president's plane. U.S. officials will not detail their conversations with European countries, except to say that they have stated the U.S.'s general position that it wants Snowden back.
President Obama has publicly displayed a relaxed attitude toward Snowden's movements, saying last month that he wouldn't be "scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker."
But the drama surrounding the flight of Bolivian President Evo Morales, whose plane was abruptly rerouted to Vienna after apparently being denied permission to fly over France, suggests that pressure is being applied behind the scenes.
Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo told Spanish National Television that "they told us that the information was clear, that he was inside."
He did not identify who "they" were and declined to say whether he had been in contact with the U.S. But he said that European countries' decisions were based on the tip. France has since sent a letter of apology to the Bolivian government.
Meanwhile, secret-spilling website WikiLeaks said that Snowden, who is still believed to be stuck in a Moscow airport's transit area, had put in asylum applications to six new countries.
The organization said in a message posted to Twitter on Friday that it wouldn't be identifying the countries involved "due to attempted U.S. interference." They also called for “all strong countries” in the Union of South American Nations to offer Snowden asylym.
A number of countries have already rejected asylum applications from Snowden.