• Facebook
  • Twitter
  • RSS
33°
Sunday December 28, 2014
View complete forecast
News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Local Business Search
Stock Summary
Dow18053.7123.5
Nasdaq4806.8633.39
S&P 5002088.776.89
AEP61.990.68
Comcast58.3850.315
GE25.78-0.05
ITT Exelis17.78-0.04
LNC58.50-0.08
Navistar33.70-0.11
Raytheon110.08-0.39
SDI19.38-0.015
Verizon47.860.19

Ecuador heats rhetoric as Obama downplays Snowden

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Thursday, June 27, 2013 - 3:57 pm

QUITO, Ecuador — President Obama tried to cool the international frenzy over Edward Snowden on Thursday as Ecuador stepped up its defiance against the United States and said it was preemptively rejecting millions in trade benefits that it could lose by taking in the fugitive from his limbo in a Moscow airport.

The country seen as likeliest to shelter the National Security Agency leaker seemed determined to prove it could handle any repercussions, with three of its highest officials calling an early-morning press conference to "unilaterally and irrevocably renounce" $23 million a year in lowered tariffs on products such as roses, shrimp and frozen vegetables. Fernando Alvarado, the secretary of communications for leftist President Rafael Correa, sarcastically suggested the U.S. use the money to train government employees to respect human rights.

Obama, meanwhile, sought to downplay the international chase for the man he called "a 29-year-old hacker" and lower the temperature of an issue that has raised tensions between the U.S. and uneasy partners Russia and China. Obama said in Senegal that the damage to U.S. national security has already been done and his top focus now is making sure it can't happen again.

"I'm not going to have one case with a suspect who we're trying to extradite suddenly be elevated to the point where I've got to start doing wheeling and dealing and trading on a whole host of other issues, simply to get a guy extradited so he can face the justice system," Obama said at a joint news conference with Senegal's President Macky Sall.

While Ecuadorean government appeared angry over U.S. threats of punishment if it accepts Snowden, there were also mixed signals about how eager it was to grant asylum. For days, officials here have been blasting the U.S. and praising Snowden's leaks of NSA eavesdropping secrets as a blow for global human rights.

But they also have repeatedly insisted that they are nowhere close to making a decision on whether Snowden can leave Moscow for refuge in this oil-rich northwest corner of South America.

WikiLeaks, which has been aiding Snowden, announced earlier he was en route to Ecuador and had received a travel document. And on Wednesday, the Univision television network displayed an unsigned letter of safe passage for him.

Officials on Thursday acknowledged that the Ecuadorean embassy in London had issued a June 22 letter of safe passage for Snowden that calls on other countries to allow him to travel to asylum in Ecuador. But Secretary of Political Management Betty Tola said the letter is invalid because it was issued without the approval of the government in the capital, Quito.

She also threatened legal action against whoever leaked the letter about granting asylum to a leaker of documents.

"This demonstrates a total lack of coordination in the department of foreign affairs," said Santiago Basabe, a professor of political science at the Latin American School of Social Sciences in Quito. "It's no small question to issue a document of safe passage or a diplomatic document for someone like Snowden without this decision being taken directly by the foreign minister or president."

Other analysts saw not confusion but internal divisions in the Ecuadorean government. Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank focused on Latin America, said many in Washington believed that Correa, a leftist elected to a third term in February, had been telegraphing a desire to moderate and take a softer tack toward the United States and private business.

Harder-core leftists led by Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino may be seeking to maintain a tough line, Shifter said, a division expressing itself in confusing messages.

"I think there really are different factions within the government on this," Shifter said. "Correa wants to become more moderate. That has been the signal that has been communicated in Washington."

Tola told reporters the safe-conduct pass "has no validity and is the exclusive responsibility of the person who issued it" and Snowden's asylum application hadn't been processed because he was not in Ecuador as required by law.

Tola and other officials offered no further details about the case.

Embarrassment for the Obama administration over the surveillance revelations continued as the British newspaper The Guardian reported that it allowed the National Security Agency for more than two years to collect records detailing email and Internet use by Americans. The story cited documents showing that under the program a federal judge could approve a bulk collection order for Internet metadata every 90 days.

A senior Obama administration confirmed the program and said it ended in 2011, according to The Guardian. The records were first collected during the Bush administration and the agency collected "bulk Internet metadata" that involved "communications with at least one communicant outside the United States or for which no communicant was known to be a citizen of the United States."

The report said that eventually, the NSA was allowed to "analyze communications metadata associated with United States persons and persons believed to be in the United States," according to a 2007 Justice Department memo marked secret.

The U.S. administration is supposed to decide by Monday whether to grant Ecuador export privileges for flowers, canned artichokes and broccoli under the Generalized System of Preferences, a system meant to spur development and growth in poorer countries. The deadline was deadline set long before the Snowden affair.

More broadly, a larger trade pact allowing reduced tariffs on more than $5 billion in annual exports to the U.S. is up for congressional renewal before July 21. While approval of the Andean Trade Preference Act has long been seen as doubtful in Washington, Ecuador has been lobbying strongly for its renewal.

On Wednesday, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, promised to lead an effort to block extension of U.S. tariff benefits if Ecuador grants asylum to Snowden, who turned 30 last week. Nearly half of Ecuador's billions a year in foreign trade depends on the United States.

The Obama administration said Thursday that accepting Snowden would damage the overall relationship between the two countries and analysts said it was almost certain that granting the leaker asylum would lead the U.S. to cut roughly $30 million a year in military and law-enforcement assistance.

"What would not be a good thing is them granting Mr. Snowden asylum. That would cause there to be great difficulties in our bilateral relationship," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said. "If they take that step, that would have very negative repercussions."

Alvarado, the communications minister, said his country rejects economic "blackmail" in the form of threats against the trade measures.

"The preferences were authorized for Andean countries as compensation for the fight against drugs, but soon became a new instrument of pressure," he said. "As a result, Ecuador unilaterally and irrevocably renounces these preferences."

Alvarado did not explicitly mention the separate effort to win trade benefits under the presidential order.

He did suggest, however, how the U.S. could use the money saved from Ecuadorean tariffs.

"Ecuador offers the United States $23 million a year in economic aid, an amount similar to what we were receiving under the tariff benefits, with the purpose of providing human rights training that will contribute to avoid violations of people's privacy, torture, extrajudicial executions and other acts that degrade humanity," he said.