The head of the Senate’s foreign policy body on Sunday called for sanctions against any countries that elect to offer shelter to former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who currently faces charges in the U.S. for leaking classified documents related to the NSA’s potential overreach in collecting information against American citizens.
At least three countries have offered to take Snowden in and grant him the political asylum he has applied for: Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua. Meet The Press host David Gregory asked Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) what the repercussions should be for those countries if they grant him asylum. “It’s very clear that any country that accepts Snowden, offers him political asylum, is taking a step against the United States,” Menendez replied. “I think you have to look whether it’s at trade preferences that may exist with these countries, other elements of our policy our aid, our trade.”
“Any acceptance of Snowden to any country — to these three countries or any other — puts them against the United States and they need to know that,” Menendez continued. Snowden is currently stuck in the “transit zone” of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport. From there, he has applied for asylum in more than a dozen countries around the world, many of whom have already elected to turn him down.
Menendez also told Gregory that he “wasn’t surprised” at the three countries who had currently offered to grant Snowden’s asylum requests, noting that the three like to “stick it” to the U.S. The three Latin American countries in question do all have varying degrees of antagonistic histories with the United States. The U.S. has particularly had a chaotic relationship with Venezuela in the past, due to the anti-American rhetoric former President Hugo Chavez often wielded. Since Chavez’s passing, current President Nicolas Maduro has seemed to tamp down on the fiery speeches Chavez was known for, but still needs the support of the base the long-time ruler left behind, something accepting Snowden would likely solidify.
Despite that, relations between Washington and Caracas remain civil, if frequently chilly. Venezuela has thus far, however, managed to avoid anything more than mild sanctions from the United States over its continued ties with Iran’s petro-industries. A threat to issue sanctions in April over the disputed nature of Maduro’s election was quickly walked back.
On the whole, the Obama administration has been frequently accused of ignoring Latin America in its foreign policy. Tensions boiled over when France and Portugal refused to clear the plane of Bolivian president Evo Morales to travel across their air space, based on a belief that Snowden was possibly being smuggled onboard.
The presidential plane was forced to land in Austria, where conflicting reports exist over whether the plane was searched or not before being allowed to continue on its way. While technically legal, the incident was a fiasco for relations with Latin America, whose countries responded sharply to a slight against one of their own. On Thursday, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) met to condemn the treatment of Morales at the hands of the Europeans. Should Congress pass sanctions against a Latin American country for taking in Snowden as Menendez suggests, it’s unlikely its neighbors will respond positively.