BOGOTA -- U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden is reportedly being hustled across the Atlantic, perhaps through Cuba, as he tries to make his way to Ecuador where he hopes to fight extradition to the United States on espionage charges.
Ecuadors Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño on Sunday said that the country had received his asylum request. And the whistleblower website WikiLeaks said Snowden had left Hong Kong and was bound for Ecuador via a safe route for the purposes of asylum, and is being escorted by diplomats and legal advisors from WikiLeaks.
A U.S. State Department official speaking on background said countries in the Western Hemisphere were being advised that Snowden is wanted on felony charges, and as such should not be allowed to proceed in any further international travel, other than is necessary to return him to the United States.
If Snowdon makes it to Ecuador, theres little doubt hell be granted asylum, said Berta García, a social science professor at Ecuadors Catholic University in Quito. The country set a precedent last year by granting refuge to WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange, she said. And President Rafael Correa a charismatic populist who easily won reelection in February has often clashed with the United States in the name of Latin American sovereignty.
When it comes to international issues, Correa has wrapped himself in the flag of being a defender of human rights, García said. I think the United States will have to handle this issue delicately so it doesnt turn into a regional issue.
Patiño, who is traveling in Vietnam, is expected to hold a news conference on the issue Monday.
Ecuador a nation of 15 million better known for the Galapagos Islands and its banana exports is cementing its reputation as a safe-haven for whistleblowers on the run. Assange has been holed up in the nations London embassy for more than a year fighting extradition to Sweden on allegations of sex crimes. Assange fears that Sweden may ultimately deport him to the United States where he might be punished for publishing thousands of secret and confidential U.S. State Department cables, but British authorities are refusing to give him safe passage to Ecuador.
What is being done to Mr. Snowden and to Mr. Julian Assange - for making or facilitating disclosures in the public interest - is an assault against the people, Baltasar Garzón, a former Spanish judge who is the legal director of and represents Assange, said in a statement. WikiLeaks said Snowden had requested its legal expertise and experience to secure his safety.
Snowden originally said he would fight extradition from Hong Kong, where he has spent weeks revealing details about U.S. and U.K. surveillance programs. But during a trip last week to London, Patiño said Ecuador would consider an eventual asylum plea from him. On Sunday, Snowden traveled from Hong Kong to Moscow, and Russian media said he would be travelling through Cuba before entering South America.
The United States has been in touch via diplomatic and law enforcement channels with countries in the Western Hemisphere through which Snowden might transit or that could serve as final destinations. The U.S. is advising these governments that Snowden is wanted on felony charges, and as such should not be allowed to proceed in any further international travel, other than is necessary to return him to the United States."