People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 31

August 04 , 2013




International Public Opinion Sides with Snowden


Yohannan Chemarapally


EDWARD Snowden’s travails may be ongoing but it is clear that he now has the support of the international community and many governments. The whistleblower, whose revelations have exposed the American double standards on issues relating to civil rights and international law in an unprecedented way, has asked for political asylum in Ecuador. Other governments have also said that they would consider requests for asylum favourably. The president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, while on a visit to Haiti in the last week of June, said that Snowden required “humanitarian protection” from the international community. He revealed that Snowden had not approached Venezuela with a request for asylum but indicated that if such a request materialised, his government would “evaluate” it in a manner similar to that being adopted by Ecuador.


“This guy, Edward Snowden, deserves humanitarian protection,” said Maduro. He pointed out that if a “humble country like Venezuela was caught spying on the rest of the world, all the organisations including the UN Security Council would come down on Venezuela straight away.” Maduro compared Snowden’s situation with that of Nelson Mandela during the Apartheid era. He reminded the international community that Mandela was also branded “as a most wanted terrorist by the United States government.” On the other hand, he pointed out, the United States allows well known terrorists like Luis Posada Carriles sanctuary on its own territory. Posada Carrriles was the man responsible for the downing of a Cuban passenger plane over the Caribbean. More than 70 people on board that plane were killed. Maduro said that Ecuador was expeditiously looking into the asylum request by Snowden.




The Obama administration has been trying to armtwist the small Latin American country into denying entry for the whistleblower. The Wall Street Journal reported that Washington had warned the Latin American countries against facilitating the passage of Snowden through their territories. In the specific case of Ecuador, the Obama administration had threatened to scrap the preferential trade agreements it had with that country and the withdrawal of its ambassador. On June 27, in a retaliatory move, the Ecuadorian government announced that it had decided to waive its preferential trade rights with Washington. And to add insult to injury, Ecuador also announced a donation of 23 million dollars for human rights training in the US. Ecuador wants this money to be used for issues relating to torture and illegal executions in the US.


Ecuador does not accept pressure or threats from anyone, nor does it trade with principles or submit them to mercantile interests, however important they may be,” Ecuador’s communications secretary, Fernando Alvarado said in Ecuador’s capital, Quito. The United States is the main trading partner of Ecuador, buying 40 per cent of the country’s exports worth nine billion dollars per year. The preferential trade agreement was set to expire on July 31 this year. One may recall that President Correa had expelled the Americans from their military base in the country in 2009 and last year he gave asylum to Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder, in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. It is unlikely that he would turn his back on Snowden. The Ecuadorian foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, had said in last week of June that the Ecuadorian authorities were in consultation with their Russian counterparts on the issue.


The Obama administration had made the asylum request more complicated by revoking Snowden’s American passport as he was flying from Hong Kong to Moscow. The Ecuadorian president, Rafael Correa, has said that Snowden has to physically present himself in an Ecuadorian embassy or enter the country if asylum was to be granted. “Would he be allowed to arrive on Ecuadorian territory? This is something in principle that we have not considered,” President Correa said in the last week of June. Correa revealed on June 30 that the American vice president, Joseph Biden, had personally spoken to him requesting the denial of asylum for Snowden.




As of now, Snowden remains confined to a transit lounge in one of Moscow’s international airports and lacks the necessary travel papers to do so. The Russian authorities have also said that the cancellation of Snowden’s passport has complicated the situation for the whistleblower.


President Vladimir Putin described Snowden as a “free man” waiting to leave for a third country. He reiterated that there was no question of Moscow handing over Snowden to the US authorities, but the Russian president indicated that he would be happy to see Snowden out of the country. “The sooner he selects his final destination the better it is for us and for him,” Putin told the media during his recent visit to Finland. Putin noted that Russia does not have an extradition treaty with the US and that Snowden had not committed any crime on Russian territory. According to reports, high level talks are going on behind the scenes between Washington and Moscow to make Snowden leave the airport premises. The US deputy secretary of state, William Burns, is said to have visited Moscow to convince the Russian government to hand over Snowden to American custody. President Obama is scheduled to visit Moscow in October. The Russian side does not want the Snowden issue to derail the visit.


The US secretary of state, John Kerry, during his recent visit to Delhi had warned Moscow that “there would be consequences without doubt” if Russian authorities do not give up Snowden. “They are on notice with respect to our desires. It would be deeply disappointing if he was wilfully allowed to board a plane,” Kerry said while in Delhi. Kerry described Snowden as a “convicted felon” and appealed to Russia “to live by the standards of the law,” choosing to conveniently gloss over the gross violation of international law that the US has committed, as illustrated by the Snowden expose.


The Indian government also sought to play down the Snowden issue. The Indian external affairs minister, Salman Khurshid, while addressing a joint press conference with Kerry, seemed to be supporting the American position, saying that the widespread American surveillance of the world’s internet traffic helped to save lives and thwart terror attacks on Indian targets.




Most of the US anger was reserved for China. Washington has accused Beijing of allowing Snowden to leave Hong Kong. A White House spokesman said that China’s “deliberate” action to release “a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant” would have a negative impact on the US-China relationship. The People’s Daily, reflecting the views of China’s leadership, strongly rebutted Washington. The newspaper said that the decision to allow Snowden to leave Hong Kong was “consistent with the law and entirely defensible,” and urged the Obama administration to stop “the hypocrisy of the thief shouting ‘stop thief.’ ” Much of the US National Security Agency’s (NSA) hacking was directed at Chinese computer networks. China’s defence ministry issued a statement saying that Snowden’s disclosures on US surveillance showed that their country was a victim, not a perpetrator, of cyber spying and hacking


But as President Obama was preparing to leave on his tour of three African countries at the end of June, there was a noticeable attempt to cool down the rhetoric on Snowden at the highest levels in Washington. In his first statement on Snowden, President Obama chose to describe the whistleblower as a “29 year old hacker” and hinted that Moscow and Beijing’s refusal to hand him over should not be allowed to derail relations with the two countries. He went on to add that the Snowden affair was merely a routine legal case to be dealt with by the competent law enforcement authorities in various countries. Speaking to the media in Dakar, at the beginning of his African tour, the US president said that he would neither be speaking to the Chinese and Russian presidents on the issue or for that matter scramble US air force jets to intercept the plane carrying Snowden to a third country.    


In a related development, Lonnie Snowden, the whistleblower’s father, told an American television network on June 28 that he believed his son would be willing to voluntarily return to the US if the government gives an assurance that he would not be arrested before being tried and not subject him to a gag order. Snowden, ironically, has been charged under the Espionage Act by a government which has been routinely spying on all the major governments of the world. The senior Snowden said that he has not spoken to his son since April but went on to claim that the Wikileaks organisation was misleading his son by giving him wrong advice.


Snowden’s revelations have begun to have a tangible impact in US politics, despite influential sections of the media and the establishment standing behind the Obama administration’s routine collection of private data on a gargantuan scale. Now, the news that the NSA was spying on the European Union (EU) has further infuriated the Obama administration’s influential European allies like Germany. The German magazine, Der Spiegel, reported on June 29 that it had seen NSA documents marked “top secret” that Snowden had with him on the NSA bugging EU offices and spying on its internal computer network. Leading European politicians are already describing the latest revelations as a “huge scandal” that would adversely impact on relations with Washington.




In the last week of June, 26 US senators asked the NSA chief to release more information of the government’s bulk collection of data relating to American citizens. American law makers were not consulted or informed about the widespread snooping activities of the NSA. Senator Ron Wyden, one of the senators demanding accountability from the Obama administration, admitted that the American government’s reliance on secret laws “raises civil liberty concerns and all but removes the public from an informed national security and civil liberty debate.” Since the Snowden affair hit the headlines, President Obama has been spending a lot of his time assuring his fellow Americans that their government is not spying on them. At the same time, he and senior administration officials are arguing that the NSA’s massive surveillance programmes helped foil more than 50 terror plots. But the Obama administration has not been very forthcoming with the alleged plots that the NSA is claimed to have thwarted.