Normative Narratives

Conflict Watch: Edward Snowden Offered Asylum in Latin America, and “Legitimate” Democratic Leadership


Original Article:

“Bolivia offered asylum on Saturday to former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, joining leftist allies Venezuela and Nicaragua in defiance of Washington, which is demanding his arrest for divulging details of secret U.S. surveillance 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 take him since he landed from Hong Kong on June 23.

Bolivian President Evo Morales had said earlier this week that he would consider granting asylum to Snowden. But 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 Friday. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, speaking in Managua, said he would gladly give Snowden asylum in Nicaragua ‘if circumstances permit.’ He did not say what those circumstances might be.

Nicaragua, one of the poorest countries in the Americas, has benefited greatly from financial support from Venezuela, and Ortega was a staunch ally of Chavez.

“Russia has shown signs of growing impatience over Snowden’s stay in Moscow. Its deputy foreign minister said on Thursday that Snowden had not sought asylum in that country and needed to choose a place to go.

Moscow has made clear that the longer he stays, the greater the risk of the diplomatic standoff over his fate causing lasting damage to relations with Washington.

Both Russia’s Foreign Ministry and President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman declined to comment on Venezuela’s offer.

‘This is not our affair,’ spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters.”

“The White House declined to comment. But one U.S. official familiar with the matter, who asked for anonymity, said: ‘It’s fair to say in general that U.S. officials have been pressuring governments where Snowden might try to go to do the right thing here.”

“Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous leader and a former union leader for the country’s coca leaf farmers, and Maduro both condemned the U.S. spy programs that Snowden revealed and said he deserved protection.

‘Who is the guilty one? A young man … who denounces war plans, or the U.S. government which launches bombs and arms the terrorist Syrian opposition against the people and legitimate President Bashar al-Assad?’ Maduro asked, to applause and cheers from ranks of military officers at a parade.

‘Who is the terrorist? Who is the global delinquent?’

A bid by Snowden for Icelandic citizenship hit an impasse on Friday when the country’s parliament voted not to debate the issue before its summer recess.”

“Ex-intelligence contractor Edward Snowden has been charged with espionage and theft of government records after exposing a massive National Security Agency surveillance program known as PRISM.”

The Snowden issue is a loaded one, with national security and civil liberties implications. The U.S. government has had its hands full trying to balance the democratic principles of transparency and freedom of information with the national security responsibilities that modern warfare imposes on governments.

While PRISM was the first such program revealed, I think many people probably assumed that certain steps had been taken since 9/11 to ramp up intelligence gathering as part of a broader anti-terrorism mandate. In addition, intelligence gathering programs such as PRISM do not appear to be uniquely American.

“U.S. Secretary of State Kerry, on July 1 in Brunei series of meetings held during the East Asian correspondent conference. Asked about the recent burst of the U.S. National Security Agency of the EU institutions as well as some of the leaders of allies wiretapping issue, Kerry said that such behavior for most countries and there is nothing ‘unusual.'”

“But Kerry also said that such behavior for most countries, and there is nothing ‘unusual.’ He said: ‘I would say there is international relations of any one country, when it comes to national security, will take a variety of actions and collect all kinds of information to safeguard national security, which for most countries, and there is nothing unusual.'”

Recent reports suggest that France has a similar program, as more likely than not does any government with adequate information and communication technology (ICT) and manpower / resources. So long as this information is used for legitimate purposes and not as a tool for invading privacy, I support intelligence gathering programs.

I am of the mind that if you live transparently/legitimately, and have nothing to hide, then there is no reason to be afraid of government intelligence gathering. There is certainly lots of information on me out there on the internet, none of which I am concerned about. While some of it could be potentially embarrassing, none of it is illegal, and I do not believe the U.S. governments intelligence gathering has an “embarrassment mandate”. When the U.S. government starts selling personal information to US Weekly, then I will be concerned with PRISM.

I am getting off track, as the Snowden case could certainly be explored over the course of many blogs. I would like to turn focus to the inexplicable statements by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. It is not surprising to see a Venezuelan leader railing against the U.S. government. His predecessor Hugo Chavez was an adamant anti-American figure, and remains one of the most popular figures in the country despite the impediment of not being alive. Maduro has often made baseless claims of American-backed plots to undermine his Presidency in his short time as Venezuelan President. But this latest statement truly has me shaking my head:

‘Who is the guilty one? A young man … who denounces war plans, or the U.S. government which launches bombs and arms the terrorist Syrian opposition against the people and legitimate President Bashar al-Assad?’ Maduro asked, to applause and cheers from ranks of military officers at a parade.

‘Who is the terrorist? Who is the global delinquent?'”

The term “legitimate President”  has been tossed around a lot lately, mostly surrounding the military coup and ouster of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.The term has been tossed around so much that I believe it has begun to lose its meaning, as highlighted by President Maduro’s anti-American rhetoric. This is unacceptable to us (me and my readers) here at NN, so I would like to set the record straight on what exactly constitutes a “legitimate presidency”

Where does legitimacy come from? In a democracy, a regimes legitimate claim to govern comes predominantly from the execution of free and fair elections. While this is obviously only the starting point of effective democracy, it is –as far as I can tell–an indispensable part of the democratic process.

Morsi was Egypt’s legitimate President not because he was a good leader or even particularly effective (it would appear he was not as calculating a politician as he or his supporters liked to imagine, unless his ultimate goal was martyrdom). Morsi was the legitimate leader because he and his constitution passed open and fair elections in Egypt.

The message being sent to Muslims everywhere by the coup in Egypt is simple–that democracy has no place for them. I cannot help but feel that the normative vision of a democratic and modernized Middle-East took a step backwards this past week. I can only hope that I am wrong, and the The Muslim Brotherhood is embraced as part of a pluralistic and democratic Egyptian government. While talks of a “road-map” to an inclusive democratic government are promising, actions speak louder than words. One has to question the Egyptian military’s commitment to a truly effective democracy, as it represents the strongest vested interest in Egypt that would ultimately lose power if effective democracy took hold.

Bashar-al Assad of Syria IS NOT a legitimate OR effective leader. He is illegitimate because he was never elected in a fair or free election (or any election at all for that matter), but instead succeeded his father in a hereditary autocracy that has lasted 40+ years. He is not effective for a number of reasons, chiefly because he managed to turn peaceful protests into a civil war and regional refugee crisis that has threatened regional stability in the Middle-East. While human rights violations have occurred on both sides of the Syrian Civil War, the majority of these violations have been perpetuated by Assad’s forces.

Regardless of how ineffectual Morsi’s rule was, he was more of a legitimate leader than Assad can ever hope to be at this point.

While it is true there are extremist factions amongst the Syrian opposition, the U.S and allies are taking all steps possible to ensure that military aid is channeled through the proper avenues. To claim that Assad is a “legitimate President” shows an alarming irrationality and hatred of America emanating from the Venezuelan government.



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3 thoughts on “Conflict Watch: Edward Snowden Offered Asylum in Latin America, and “Legitimate” Democratic Leadership

  1. A very complicated situation. I Agree Mr. Maduro will use whatever situation to criticize the US and he is using now Mr. Snowden status. I agree Mr. Morsi was legitimated by the elections and ousted by a coup and that’s not a good precedent. I agree That Mr. Al Assad has not that kind of legitimation and the war in Syria has to be stopped I don’t know how. I see how the US, the UK and France are spying on us and who knows what other states are doing the same using the new technologies that also hackers can use, by the way. But I don’t like states spying on innocent people despite innocent people had nothing to hide. The technology is there and the temptation is to hard. But there is a right to privacy in free societies that has to be respected and guaranteed by authorities. Ate least Mr Obama spook about balance between the right to privacy and National Security. In Europe we are waiting


  2. This is sort of a reply to your own reply on a previous post as well as this one. I agree with two of your many points. Morse was a”legitimate” head of State; Assad is not. Yet I do not believe that single defining characteristic is whether one (at some point) won an election. You do qualify with “in a Democracy…”. I think “legitimate” is a slippery word here. Legitimate to whom? Hitler (who did take power in an election). Stalin? The Peoples Republic of China in 1970? Louis XIV? Napoleon? Mugabe?

    I would suggest that the primary question is what do we, as citizens in a Democracy, want our Government to do in a given situation? And for me, at leat, a Democratically elected government gets a lot of “points” in both the who is legitimate and who our Govt. should support – or at least deal with as the de facto power.

    Your other point: Snowden and National Security. I must disagree with the idea that as long as you are not doing something illegal, there is no big deal. I do not want the governmnt to decide i am doing something illegal later. I guess the best analogy is that there are simply weapons i do not want my government to have. I actually trust this administration to not use the badly. But future ones?Thus, i am troubled by the nature and extent of our Government’s collecting of information about us. (about foreign counties and contacts – everyone is spying on everyone else. My main is that my country be good at it) I agree that we need to keep some of our methods secret in order for them to be useful. But it seems to me that when asked for any details, the government says the are secret. Uh, no. Their has to be some meaningful watchdog here.

    However, Mr. Snowden gets no sympathy from me. What i am glad he exposed is the general outline of what was going on. Taking specific details of security programs and making them available to potential enemies of his and my country is another matter. He and his computers and his flash drives may wind up in Bolivia or Venezuala. Those are, I believe, legitimate governments. That does not make them our friends.


    • I do think I also qualified that comment on elections by saying that they are only the starting point of effective democratic governance.

      To me, legitimacy is bestowed via free and fair elections, and is concerned with how a regime assumes power. Elections are free and fair when their is universal suffrage and real alternatives underpinned by a freedom of people to form political parties (and those parties to participate[ate in the election).

      Effectiveness is concerned with how that regime rules when in it is in power. The ultimate goal would be effective and legitimate governments–which aspect of governance is “more important” is certainly open to debate.

      I suppose that under my definition, only a democratic government can be “legitimate”, and legitimacy and effectiveness are independent variables (which I think helps when defining terms). One could certainly challenge my definition of “legitimacy”.

      And legitimacy is not permanent. Hitler rose to power as part of a coalition government (receiving roughly 1/3 of the votes) and went on to become a dictator, nullifying any legitimacy his initial election may have had. Mugabe was initially elected legitimately, but lost legitimacy when the last two elections where mired with allegations of unfair and coercive election tactics. The Peoples Republic of China is not legitimate today as it is not a democracy.Lenin assumed power after an unfair election (illegitimate). Louis XIV, and Napoleon were of a different era so I will not ponder their legitimacy.

      I may be digging myself into a whole with my definitions, as there are always exceptions to the rule and “grey areas”. But I stick to my definitions; otherwise I am just arguing on an ad-hoc basis which makes for a very weak argument IMO.


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