Sunday, July 7, 2013

Edward Snowden: Washington's massive miscalculation

MGR's view

"Judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment" - Simón Bolívar, The Liberator of Latin America (1783-1830)

Guadalajara -
Latin America, much of it anyway, has been free for just over 200 years. And yet America and Americans - the other ones, the ones whose forefathers spoke English instead of Spanish and who sailed from the British Isles instead of the Iberian peninsula - still understand so very little about it.

If anyone doubted the proposition, the last 15 days of an international cause célèbre known as the Edward Snowden affair will provide more than adequate proof.

Snowden himself has played but a minor character role as the drama unfolded on stage. In fact, the play is no longer about Edward Snowden at all. It's about the United States, which once again has quite expertly and quite needlessly demonstrated its innate skill at portraying the bully of the schoolyard. A schoolyard where everybody is tired of being pushed around by the fair skinned kid who speaks English.

Edward Snowden will land somewhere soon. As of today, Venezuela appears the most likely. But if that plan goes awry, other friends await him. In Nicaragua, or Bolivia.

Snowden's Wikileaks team rather outwitted all the massive machinery and power of American justice, successfully smuggling him from Hong Kong to Moscow, where the Russians refused to play ball with Washington. The fugitive NSA contractor, now a member of the very exclusive club of those charged with violating the infamous Espionage Act of 1917, will likely escape the tight confines of his Moscow airport transit hotel this week. It's improbable that the U.S. will be able to nab him while he wings his way to tropical lands far away. Perhaps Snowden can pick up a Spanish primer in one of those duty free Sheremetyevo stores on his way out of town.

But Edward Snowden is, or should be, the least of Washington's worries. The real trouble, the trouble that won't quickly evaporate once the Obama administration quietly accepts that Snowden is beyond the reach of the Justice Dept., lurks just below the 15th parallel.

The United States, with all of its trademark saber rattling, infuriated much of Latin America. But why, and to what end? As Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa noted 10 days ago, our Spanish-speaking neighbors didn't ask for this problem. Snowden and his team batch mailed requests to more than two dozen nations seeking political asylum. When Latin leaders opened their letter boxes to examine the contractor's solicitations, the U.S. greatly overreacted.

We did it in the patented carrot-and-stick way, of course, threatening to punish economically any nation which dared receive the 30 year old computer wiz kid. Ecuador's Correa, in the characteristic macho style of so many Latin strong men, checkmated the administration with his own tour de force. Politicians and newspapers continued to pile on, with childlike efforts at intimidation guaranteed not to close the distance between neighbors, but to enlarge it. Ecuador and Correa told the U.S. to stick it.

That was only the beginning. Bolivian president Evo Morales got a brief tour of Vienna last week that he neither requested nor wanted, and correctly or not, he holds the U.S. responsible. Morales might close the U.S. embassy in La Paz, in the same way he expelled the snooping eyes of Washington on May 1. America's relationship with the mountainous Andes nation remains on a downhill slide.

Then Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro entered the fray, and on Friday offered "humanitarian asylum" to Snowden. Just a month ago it appeared that a long awaited diplomatic thaw behind the Bolivarian Socialist Republic and the United States might be at hand. Now that may be in jeopardy - or history.

Even Mexico, the United States' mejor amigo in Latin America, made it clear last week that it stands with its southern partners, not its northern one, on the festering diplomatic issues.

If Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega stands firm by his offer of political asylum to Snowden, and the internet geek (whose greatest fear in life is not having a strong WiFi connection for his four laptops) makes it to Managua, Washington will suffer yet another indignity. Sr. Ortega, of course, is the U.S.' Central American thorn-in-the-side from three decades ago. More than a few will vividly recall the Iran-Contra affair, with a curious cast of characters which included president Ronald Reagan and a Marine lieutenant coronel named Oliver North. In world history, the boomerang of Karma always returns.

President Obama's Latin American policy - if there is one - has been woefully insufficient to attend to the needs of a critical care patient barely hanging on in ICU. The Snowden affair has further darkened the United States' already tarnished image, from the Mexican border to Tierra del Fuego. We cannot end the analysis, of course, without dropping a footnote on Cuba, where every fall the United Nations General Assembly dutifully votes on Havana's motion to condemn the 51 year old U.S. embargo of the island as a violation of international law. For 21 consecutive years, the motion has carried almost unanimously. In 2012 the tally was 188 to 3, with only Israel and Palau supporting the United States. But the worthless embargo continues, having cost the island at least a trillion dollars in damages since the Kennedy administration, and untold human suffering. Obama, who could improve a few things Cuban without calling upon the Congress, refuses to do so.

The United States of America officially presents itself to the world through the Obama administration's chief diplomat, secretary of state John Kerry. Kerry speaks elegant French, it should be noted, but his Spanish is apparently nonexistent. Otherwise he would not have made a casual comment earlier this year about all of Latin America being the backyard of the U.S. - a remark which, after translation, was devastatingly misunderstood in this region.

Or then again, was it?

Aug. 5 - Legendary American linguist Noam Chomsky opines that the U.S. and Canada have been "virtually expelled" from the Latin hemisphere.

July 10 - Peña Nieto: American espionage "totally unacceptable"
July 10 - Mexico turns up heat on U.S. over PRISM surveillance
July 9 - Maduro puts out the welcome mat for Edward Snowden, unconditionally
July 8 - Brazilian newspaper says NSA intercepted millions of phone calls, emails within that country
July 7 - Al rescate de Snowden la América Latina más antagónica con EE.UU.
July 7 - Raúl Castro apoya a países que acogerían a Snowden

© MGRR 2013. All rights reserved. This article may be cited or briefly quoted with proper attribution or a hyperlink, but not reproduced without permission.

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