Venezuela, Nicaragua Talk Asylum for Edward Snowden, but Could He Get There?
Accused NSA leaker stuck in Moscow airport transit area for nearly two weeks.
MOSCOW, July 5, 2013 — -- Venezuela and Nicaragua reportedly are prepared to throw Edward Snowden a lifeline -- if he can get there.
The accused NSA leaker has been stuck in the transit area of Moscow's Sheremedevo International Airport for nearly two weeks, with no way to enter Russia, no valid U.S. passport to travel on because the United States revoked it, and no route to safe haven that avoids a U.S. extradition treaty.
Most of his applications for asylum in more than two dozen countries have been rejected, but now he may have options.
"I have decided to offer humanitarian asylum to the young American Edward Snowden," Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro said Friday evening, adding that he was doing so, "in the name of the dignity of Latin America."
"He can come and live here, away from the persecution of American imperialism," Maduro said.
Just an hour earlier, Nicaragua offered what appeared to be conditional asylum.
"If the circumstances permit it, we would gladly receive Snowden here and would grant him asylum here," Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega said on Friday.
He did not elaborate on what those circumstances would be.
Bolivia's President Evo Morales, whose plane was forced to land in Austria and searched after rumors swirled that Snowden was on board earlier this week, said on Wednesday that his country would consider giving Snowden asylum, as well.
Federal authorities last month filed espionage charges against Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor accused of disclosing secret anti-terrorism programs run by the U.S. government.
But how could Snowden get Latin America from Moscow, where he traveled after originally hiding out in Hong Kong?
The only "safe" commercial flight across the Atlantic -- one that would avoid U.S. extradition treaties -- is to Cuba. Cuba has an extradition treaty from 1904, but the Castro government could chose to ignore it.
From Havana, Snowden could connect to Caracas, Venezuela, or Managua, Nicaragua.
If he could get a valid travel document from either country in time, Snowden could take Saturday's 2:05 p.m. flight to Cuba. There are two connecting flights to Caracas on Sunday.
Getting to Managua commercially is more difficult. There's only one non-stop flight from Cuba and it leaves Saturday morning, so Snowden would have to cool his heels in Cuba for an entire week if he left Moscow on the next flight.
The other question is: Will Cuba let Snowden transit there? U.S. officials have told ABC News they believe the Cubans want nothing to do with Snowden. As evidence, they pointed to the fact that Snowden failed to board previous flights to Cuba, when safe haven in Ecuador appeared to be an option.
There is also the private-flight option. Reports last week quoted the cost of a private plane to Ecuador to be more than $200,000 on one of the few private jets that could make the trip without refueling. Similar flights to Venezuela or Nicaragua would presumably be only a bit less.
But even if he does get on either of those flights, there is also the question of air space -- especially after the incident involving the Bolivian president's plane. Would European countries or the United States deny a plane carrying Snowden to fly over their territory or force it down?
The Bolivian president's situation was slightly different in that his plane needed to refuel somewhere in Europe before crossing the Atlantic, rather than just flying over.
President Obama last week dismissed suggestions the U.S. was prepared to force down a commercial flight carrying Snowden, saying, "No, I am not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29 year-old hacker."
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