(Reuters) – Bolivia offered asylum yesterday to former US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, joining leftist allies Venezuela and Nicaragua in defiance of Washington, which is demanding his arrest for divulging details of secret US surveillance programmes.
Snowden, 30, is believed to be holed up in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo international airport and has been trying to find a country that would take him since he landed from Hong Kong on June 23.
Bolivian President Evo Morales had said earlier this week that he would consider granting asylum to Snowden. But he took a harder line yesterday, angered that some European countries banned his plane from their airspace this week on suspicion it carried Snowden.
“I want to tell … the Europeans and Americans that last night I was thinking that as a fair protest, I want to say that now in fact we are going to give asylum to that American who is being persecuted by his fellow Americans,” Morales said during a visit to the town of Chipaya.
“If we receive a legal request, we will grant asylum,” he said. Bolivia’s Foreign Ministry was not immediately available to comment on whether a formal asylum request had been received.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro also offered refuge to Snowden late Friday and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said his country had received an asylum request and could agree to it “if circumstances permit.”
Russia has kept the former National Security Agency contractor at arm’s length, saying the transit area where passengers stay between flights is neutral territory and he would be on Russian soil only if he went through passport control.
It was not immediately clear how Snowden would react to the new offers from Latin America, nor reach the countries if he accepted.
There are no direct commercial flights between Moscow and Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, and the usual route involves changing planes in Havana. It is not clear if Cuban authorities would let him transit, however, and there was no sign of Snowden aboard the flight to Havana yesterday.
To obtain refugee status in Bolivia, Snowden would have to submit a request to the Bolivian Embassy in Russia and would not have to be physically in Bolivian territory, said former Foreign Minister Armando Loayza. Ecuador, which also backs Snowden, has said it could only consider granting asylum once the fugitive landed on Ecuadorean soil.