Implications on Venezuela for Granting Asylum to Snowden

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: One legal concept that's the same across the globe is asylum. A person persecuted in one country has the option of asking for protection in another, though different countries can and often do disagree about what constitutes persecution or grounds for asylum. The case of NSA leaker Edward Snowden is such a case in point. Snowden is wanted by the United States on espionage charges for leaking information about US secret surveillance programs. But three Latin American nations — Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua — have stepped forward to offer Snowden asylum. The US is urging them not to take him in. Francisco Toro is a Venezuelan blogger based in Montreal. He recently wrote a book about his blog and the era of Hugo Chavez called "Blogging the Revolution." So first of all, Francisco Toro, what is your reaction to the invitation to Snowden from the Venezuelan government?

Francisco Toro: Well, we all had a bit of a laugh about it. It's really a bit rich for the Venezuelan government, which has a terrible track record of spying on domestic opponents suddenly be trying to portray itself as a kind of freedom of information stalwart in the Western Hemisphere. So most of the discussion in Venezuela and most of the commentary has really circled around that.

Werman: So Venezuela, like Bolivia and Nicaragua, it's led by a leftist government. They've had frosty relations with Washington, continue to be. Relations could get even worse because of the Snowden case if he were to go there. Is that really in the interest of Venezuela's government?

Toro: Well, Venezuela has always had a very strange kind of rhetorical war with the US that goes hand in hand with a deep economic relationship. Venezuela is now one of the top ten trade partners of the United States because about ten percent of the oil that the US consumes comes from Venezuela. So going back to Snowden, it's not surprising that the Venezuelan government would want to underline its belonging to a leftist bloc by poking its eye at the State Department and at Washington in general. But it is surprising that they would try to do it with a case like this one, because this is a case that can't help but reflect back on issues that you would think that the Venezuelan government would want to distract attention from because they really don't come out looking very good at all.

Werman: Right, so if this is rhetoric and posturing by the Venezuelan government, if Snowden were to buy his ticket to Caracas, you think they'd suddenly say, whoa, whoa, slow down?

Toro: Well, I think they wouldn't mind if they are in the first place because it doesn't really imperil the key to the relationship, which is seven-hundred, eight-hundred-thousand barrels of oil that are flowing from south to north every single day. So the posturing works, but along with that comes a discussion and renewed attention onto what are really looking like police state tactics. Venezuela is a place where not only do political dissidents have their phone conversations routinely recorded, but where we've even seen more kind of East German Stasi-style recordings in recent days, where people's private conversations inside their homes are being not only recorded but then actually published on state TV and published by the Information Minister in a press conference. So the kinds of violations that Edward Snowden was interested in pointing out in the United States are 20 times worse in Venezuela where the state's surveillance capabilities are actually abused for political ends as a matter of routine.

Werman: So apparently the Venezuelan government doesn't worry too much about the hypocrisy. They could still take Snowden in and have their ace in the hole, oil. What about Snowden? Does this undermine him if he were to go there? He tried to make his arguments seemingly on the basis of transparency, not politics. Won't he get instantly politicized if he were to go to a country like Venezuela where the politics are very clear?

Toro: At this point, he doesn't seem to have very many options and the options he does have seem to undermine the broader point that he was trying to make. In a strange kind of way I'm almost glad that Snowden has forced this debate, because people really do need to know that the old Eastern Bloc police state tactics are alive and well in South America right now.

Werman: Francisco Toro, a Venezuelan blogger based in Montreal. You can find a link to his blog at Great to speak with you. Thanks.

Toro: Thank you.