QUITO (TIP): Ecuador’s president said on June 27 he had yet to consider letting US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden enter his country as tensions with the United States rose, with Washington warning Quito against granting the fugitive asylum. The Ecuadoran leftist government defiantly pulled out of a trade pact with the United States, claiming it had become an instrument of “blackmail” as Quito considers Snowden’s asylum bid.
But despite voicing support for Snowden, the Andean nation denied reports that it authorized a “safepass” travel document for the former National Security Agency contractor and said it would not be able to process his asylum bid until he enters Ecuadoran territory. “Would he be allowed to arrive on Ecuadoran territory? This is something that, in principle, we haven’t considered,” President Rafael Correa told a news conference.
“We would probably examine it, but for now he is in Russia,” he said, adding that Ecuador’s ambassador to Russia met Snowden just once on Monday in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and that no more contact had been made. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, whose anti-secrecy website has assisted Snowden, said on Monday that Quito had given Snowden a “refugee document of passage” that would allow him to travel here.
The US Spanish-language television network Univision published on its website what appeared to be a “safepass” document with the letterhead of Quito’s consulate in London, asking authorities in transit countries to “give the appropriate help” as the bearer travels to Ecuador. “You request asylum when you are on a country’s territory. Snowden is not on Ecuadoran territory, so technically we cannot even process the asylum request,” Correa said.
The United States revoked Snowden’s passport after he revealed a massive US surveillance program, and the 30-year-old computer specialist has been holed up at the Moscow airport’s terminal since arriving there from Hong Kong on Sunday. In Washington, US State Department deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell warned that giving Snowden asylum would create “grave difficulties for our bilateral relationship.”
“If they take that step, that would have very negative repercussions,” Ventrell said. But a US official also denied that a bilateral trade pact was being used as “blackmail” in the case, insisting that Washington wanted to maintain a good economic relationship with Quito. Ecuador’s communications minister Fernando Alvarado announced earlier that the country “unilaterally and irrevocably renounces these preferential customs tariff rights.”
“Ecuador does not accept pressure or threats from anyone, and does not trade on principles or make them contingent on commercial interests, even if those interests are important,” he said. Correa’s government said that while it had received the preferential rights in exchange for its cooperation in the war on drugs, they had become a “new instrument of blackmail.” But the US State Department said the trade program was granted by Congress and Quito could not withdraw unilaterally. The pact, which covers key Ecuadoran exports such as fresh-cut roses, fruits, vegetables and tuna, is set to expire on July 31 unless the US Congress renews it.
The arrangement, which dates back to the early 1990s, originally benefited four Andean nations, and Ecuador was the last country still participating in it. Analysts have warned that Washington may refuse to renew it if Quito grants asylum to Snowden. The United States is Ecuador’s main trade partner, buying 40 percent of Quito’s exports, or the equivalent of $9 billion per year. The Ecuadoran business community disapproved of the government’s decision.
“It’s a hasty and wrong decision because there was no formal US government announcement threatening to remove us from the ATPDEA (Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act) over the Snowden case,” Roberto Aspiazu, head of the Ecuadoran Business Committee, said. Ecuador has said it could take as little as one day or as long as two months to decide whether to grant asylum to Snowden. An online publication of the Ecuadoran presidency said Washington has put “explicit and implicit” pressure on Quito over Snowden’s asylum petition as well as its decision to shelter Assange at its London embassy and its ties with “nations considered ‘enemies’ of the United States.”