Bolivia on Saturday offered asylum to former US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, joining leftist allies Venezuela and Nicaragua in defiance of Washington, which is demanding his arrest for divulging details of secret US spy programs.
Snowden, 30, is believed to be holed up in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport and has been trying to find a country that would give him sanctuary after he landed there from Hong Kong on June 23.
Bolivian President Evo Morales had said last week that he would consider granting asylum to Snowden. However, he took a harder line on Saturday, angered that some European countries banned his plane from their airspace this week on suspicion it carried Snowden.
“I want to tell ... the Europeans and Americans that last night I was thinking that as a fair protest, I want to say that now in fact we are going to give asylum to that American who is being persecuted by his fellow Americans,” Morales said during a visit to the town of Chipaya.
“If we receive a legal request, we will grant asylum,” he said.
Bolivia’s Foreign Ministry was not immediately available to comment on whether a formal asylum request had been received.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro also offered refuge to Snowden late on Friday, but the government said that by Saturday night it had not received any word back.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said his country had received an asylum request and could agree to it “if circumstances permit.”
All three nations are members of the leftist ALBA bloc of countries that was forged by former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and whose leaders often denounce US “imperial” aggression.
Russia has kept Snowden at arm’s length, saying the airport’s transit area where passengers wait between flights is neutral territory and that he would only be on Russian soil if he went through passport control.
It was not clear whether the former US National Security Agency contractor would accept any of the Latin American offers, nor how he would reach the countries if he does.
There are no direct commercial flights between Moscow and Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, and the usual route involves changing planes in Havana.
However, it is not clear if Cuban authorities would let him transit, and there was no sign of Snowden aboard the flight to Havana on Saturday.
To obtain refugee status in Bolivia, Snowden would have to submit a request to the Bolivian embassy in Russia and would not have to be physically in Bolivia, former Bolivian foreign minister Armando Loayza said.
Ecuador, which also backs Snowden, says it could only consider granting him asylum if he made it that country.
Given the dramatic grounding in Vienna of Morales’ plane, using European airspace could prove problematic.
Moscow has shown signs of growing impatience.
Russia’s deputy foreign minister said on Thursday that Snowden had not sought asylum there and needed to choose a place to go.