Edward Snowden Welcome in Venezuela? Not So Much

CARACAS, Venezuela (Los Angeles Times/MCT) —

Does Edward Snowden know what he’d be getting into if he ended up gaining asylum here? Many Venezuelans doubt it.

The former National Security Agency contractor remains in Russia seeking at least temporary asylum. But leaders in Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua have to varying degrees said they would be willing to take him in if he could devise a way to get to those countries.

Some Venezuelans interviewed in recent days say they have more pressing concerns than taking in Snowden, who is wanted by the U.S. government on espionage charges for having leaked details of the government’s efforts to monitor email and voice communications.

“It would be better for Venezuela if he stayed far away,” said Sergio Chacon, a 57-year-old Caracas bus driver.

“But if they do bring him, all I ask is that he keep his mouth shut and not live off the money of Venezuelans,” Chacon added. “I believe his only intention would be to bother people.”

Snowden has been stuck in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport since June 23. Early this month, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro became the first foreign leader to formally offer him asylum, a move that was later matched by the two other countries. All three have left-leaning governments and are frequent critics of U.S. foreign policy.

Some analysts have suggested that Maduro was trying to divert Venezuelans’ attention from problems on the home front, including rampant violent crime, scarcity of basic goods and food, inflation and a stagnant economy.

“The asylum offer was a failed attempt to try to change the political agenda,” political scientist Jose Vicente Carrasquero said. “But when people suffer for their basic subsistence, it’s not so easy to divert their attention.”

Maduro, protege and successor of the late president Hugo Chavez, has substantial support, and at least some Venezuelans are willing to give him — and Snowden — the benefit of the doubt.

“If President Maduro offers him asylum, it’s so [Snowden] can find a secure place to live, and we will welcome him here,” said Yelicer Hernandez, a 33-year-old apartment building concierge in an upscale Caracas neighborhood.

But some people interviewed at random in Caracas in recent days had no idea who Snowden is. Among those who did, many were concerned that Venezuela would be needlessly involving itself in an international dispute with an uncertain outcome.

“It’s up to the U.S. and Russia to resolve the situation of this guy in the airport,” said a 23-year-old university mathematics student, Arturo Marcano.

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