BOGOTA, Colombia – Stranded in a Moscow airport, NSA leaker Edward Snowden is casting his asylum net wider as he hopes to elude capture by U.S. authorities on espionage charges. With a number of countries backtracking on support, including Ecuador, Snowden’s options seemed to be dwindling, but might include Venezuela, Bolivia or Cuba.
On Tuesday, whistleblower website WikiLeaks said it had submitted asylum papers on Snowden’s behalf with at least 19 countries, in addition to Russia and Ecuador.
Among the Latin American destinations are Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. But it’s still unclear how Snowden might get out of Russia. The United States has revoked his passport, and Ecuador says that any documents he might have from that country are not valid.
The impasse raised speculation that Snowden, 30, might hitch a ride with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who is in Russia for a meeting with leaders of gas-exporting countries.
Asked by reporters Tuesday if he would leave with the U.S. fugitive, Maduro avoided the question.
“We’re going to take back many accords that we’ve signed with Russia,” he said, according to the Venezuelan presidency, “that’s what we’re going to take back to Venezuela.
“The world cannot be governed by the imperialist elite of the United States,” Maduro added. “This young man deserves protection, and he has the right to international protection.”
Maduro will be holding meetings in Minsk today before returning to Caracas tonight, the presidency said.
Bolivian President Evo Morales, who is also in Moscow, told the RT network that “Bolivia is ready to give political asylum to people who expose spying activities, so to speak. … If we receive a request, we are willing to consider it.”
Cuba also has a history of giving safe harbor to U.S. fugitives. CIA defector Philip Agee, who published Inside the Company in 1975, died on the island in 2008.
Snowden, a former CIA employee and National Security Agency contractor, is facing criminal charges in the United States for unveiling top-secret programs that monitored Internet and telephone communications worldwide.
His allegations that the NSA also targeted U.S. allies for spying has turned into a diplomatic headache for the Obama administration and led to a groundswell of support for the young whistleblower.
But that support hasn’t translated into refuge for Snowden, who began his second week stranded in the transit zone of a Moscow airport. Snowden reportedly withdrew his asylum request to Russia after President Vladimir Putin said he could only stay if he quit divulging U.S. secrets.
The prospect of being muzzled sent Snowden and his legal team scrambling for more safe harbors. India, Poland and Germany, among others, have turned down his request. Many others have said they cannot consider asylum unless he’s on their soil.