Whistleblower/leaker Edward Snowden, the 29 year old IT whiz who worked as a contractor to the NSA for Booz Allen Hamilton, is waiting his fate in a transit lounge in a Moscow airport after fleeing from Hawaii and then Hong Kong. He may end up in Ecuador if his request for political asylum goes through. How did this happen? And, is it likely?Snowden is being helped by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Assange as you may recall has asylum with the government of Ecuador and has been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for a year, after his organization’s document release triggered calls for his arrest (as did Assange’s personal conduct). Snowden has apparently requested asylum from a number of countries including Ecuador.
Will Ecuador grant Snowden’s asylum request? It’s unclear. By granting Assange’s request, Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa has indicated his willingness to challenge the United States. However, in this instance, the stakes may be higher. Ecuador is one of a handful of countries that benefits from free trade privileges under the Andean Pact that allows Ecuadorian roses, tuna, socks, and other products to enter the United States at low or no duties. These have been valued at $23 million a year. That agreement was up for renewal in July. This week, however, Ecuador preempted the possible linkage of Snowden’s case to trade preference extension by unilaterally rejecting those trade benefits. What that implies is that Ecuador’s exporters would have to pay duties and tariffs to the United States.
While this set of events suggests Snowden might get a favorable response from the Ecuadorian government, Ecuador also said this week that it could take months to process that asylum application, leaving Snowden’s status up in the air and the 29-year old trapped in Moscow, for how long, who knows?
I guess that means we won’t be seeing Snowden in Quito any time soon. Stay tuned!