Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Why Ecuador might shelter Snowden

By Steve Striffler, Special to CNN
June 26, 2013 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
Edward Snowden, the man who admitted leaking top-secret details about U.S. surveillance programs, has been charged with three felony counts, including violations of the U.S. Espionage Act. After living in a Moscow airport since June, he began his <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/01/us/nsa-snowden/index.html'>temporary asylum in Russia</a> on August 1. He had been hiding out in Hong Kong until WikiLeaks helped him move to Moscow. Snowden has said he is afraid he would not get a fair trial if he came back to the United States. Edward Snowden, the man who admitted leaking top-secret details about U.S. surveillance programs, has been charged with three felony counts, including violations of the U.S. Espionage Act. After living in a Moscow airport since June, he began his temporary asylum in Russia on August 1. He had been hiding out in Hong Kong until WikiLeaks helped him move to Moscow. Snowden has said he is afraid he would not get a fair trial if he came back to the United States.
HIDE CAPTION
Fugitives on the run
Fugitives on the run
Fugitives on the run
Fugitives on the run
Fugitives on the run
Fugitives on the run
Fugitives on the run
Fugitives on the run
Fugitives on the run
Fugitives on the run
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ecuador seems willing to consider giving asylum to Edward Snowden
  • Steve Striffler: Many around the world question the morality of American policy
  • He says the Snowden case affords opponents a chance to put U.S. on defensive
  • Striffler says Ecuador's president has legitimate questions about U.S. policy

Editor's note: Steve Striffler holds the Doris Zemurray Stone Chair in Latin American Studies and is a professor of anthropology and geography at the University of New Orleans.

(CNN) -- Ecuador remains the frontrunner in the Edward Snowden sweepstakes. Hong Kong let him go, neither ready to arrest him on behalf of the United States nor willing to let him stay.

Russian authorities have played coy, looking to avoid open conflict with the United States but hardly forthcoming with any details. Even Cuba is in the mix, perhaps as a temporary detour on the way to somewhere else. But it is Ecuador, of all places, that appears consistently as the country most willing to openly challenge the United States, apparently not averse to allowing Snowden to land in Quito while considering a request for asylum.

How do we understand the inability of the United States to capture a U.S. citizen who has been charged with espionage and no longer has a valid U.S. passport? Why won't anyone help the United States get this guy? And why does Ecuador in particular appear willing to embrace Edward Snowden and oppose the United States?

Where on Earth could Snowden go next?

Ecuador's president to defy U.S.?
NSA leaker is on the move
Snowden asylum questions remain

Part of the explanation lies in the fact that the United States does not appear to be garnering much sympathy on this issue within the international community as a whole. China, Russia, Cuba and Ecuador are hardly alone in wanting to poke at the United States by helping Snowden. Foreign observers are much less interested in the relative virtues of Snowden (traitor? hero? refugee? attention-seeker?) and much more willing to focus on the actions of the U.S. government, which outside our borders tends to be understood as part of a long history of out-of-control surveillance by U.S. intelligence agencies.

In this sense, the United States may have the law on its side when demanding the arrest of Snowden, but it does not, from the perspective of many foreign observers, have a moral leg to stand on.

Our past use of covert surveillance at both home and abroad, combined with our current pursuit of an individual who exposed questionable surveillance programs, has meant that our attempts to capture Snowden, however sound legally, have been effectively undermined by our own moral bankruptcy within international circles (at least with respect to issues of surveillance, privacy, espionage, etc.).

4 options for the U.S. to get Snowden back

This perception is all the more pervasive in Latin America, where decades of U.S. support for repressive military dictatorships was enforced by a wide range of surveillance programs that were often permitted and justified by legal statutes.

Still, why Ecuador? The prevailing explanation among U.S. pundits is that Edward Snowden and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa are "unlikely allies" and thus Correa's stance has nothing to do with Snowden's actions or the fact the United States is pursuing him. In other words, it is all about scoring political points. This is too simplistic an explanation and relies on a misunderstanding of Correa and the leftward shift that has swept Latin America during the past 25 years.

Snowden: I took job to gather evidence

Politicians are always looking to score political points, and Correa has certainly had his moments. But when Correa offered Wikileaks journalist Julian Assange asylum in 2012, he had relatively little to gain politically beyond raising his international profile. At the time, he was expected to easily win re-election (which he did), in large part because under his administration unemployment levels had reached record lows, public spending on education had more than doubled and medical care was more accessible than ever. This was despite the fact that Ecuador had been hit harder than almost any country in the region by the financial crisis of 2008.

Correa pumped money into the economy, reformed the financial system, took control of the central bank and otherwise worked, however imperfectly, to build a government and economy that serves the interests of the people.

Simply put, Correa's popularity insured that there was relatively little to be gained by taking on Assange in 2012. Quite the opposite, Correa's embrace of Assange produced an intense backlash by the media in Ecuador, which then amped up opposition during the election.

Similarly, Correa will score relatively few political points by embracing Snowden in 2013. Correa's stance is best seen as a principled one. In broad terms, Correa's openness to Assange and Snowden, as well as his decision to close a U.S. military base in Ecuador, is part of an effort to deepen Ecuadorian sovereignty while strengthening Latin America's ability to limit the influence of the United States in the region.

Opinion: Why U.S. is being humiliated by the hunt for Snowden

This is perfectly within the rights of an independent nation, even one that has historically followed the U.S. lead. More immediately, Correa's willingness to take on Snowden should be seen for what it is, as a refreshingly principled stand by a small country against a powerful nation engaged in what many see as the political persecution of one of its own citizens.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Steve Striffler.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1938 GMT (0338 HKT)
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Martha Pease says the NFL commissioner shouldn't be judge and jury on player wrongdoing.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
It's time for a much needed public reckoning over U.S. use of torture, argues Donald P. Gregg.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1225 GMT (2025 HKT)
Peter Bergen says UK officials know the identity of the man who killed U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1128 GMT (1928 HKT)
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1241 GMT (2041 HKT)
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2211 GMT (0611 HKT)
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2218 GMT (0618 HKT)
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1721 GMT (0121 HKT)
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2231 GMT (0631 HKT)
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1327 GMT (2127 HKT)
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT