QUITO (Reuters) - President Rafael Correa vowed on Monday that Ecuador’s decision on the “complicated” asylum case of fugitive former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden would not be swayed by others.
Snowden, 30, whose exposure of secret U.S. surveillance infuriated Washington while making him a champion of civil liberties for others, has requested asylum from the tiny South American nation’s leftist government.
His whereabouts remains uncertain after he flew at the weekend from Hong Kong to Moscow.
“It’s another complicated week - for a change,” Correa said via Twitter in his first comments on a case that has again thrust his tiny Andean nation of 15 million people into the forefront of a global diplomatic tussle and manhunt.
“Rest assured that we will analyze the Snowden case responsibly and take the decision we believe best with absolute sovereignty.”
A prominent member of Latin America’s left-wing ALBA alliance and close friend of Venezuela’s late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, Ecuador’s Correa, 50, has not flinched in the past from taking on Western powers.
Ecuador is already embroiled in a major dispute with Britain and the United States over its sheltering of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange at its embassy in London for the past year.
Earlier, Correa’s foreign minister said Ecuador was in talks with Russia over Snowden, while it was also reviewing a request from the United States to deny him asylum.
Critics of Correa, a U.S.-trained economist, say Ecuador’s embrace of Assange - and now possibly Snowden - is hypocritical given what they say is his authoritarian style of government and suppression of media at home.
Supporters of Correa, who won a landslide re-election last year and is hugely popular among Ecuador’s poor, say he has simply taken on media and business elites who were trying to erode what the president calls his “Citizens’ Revolution.”
On the streets of Ecuador’s highland capital, Quito, opinion was divided - though many had barely heard of the Snowden case.
“I‘m opposed to asylum because the government is always politicizing human rights,” said architect Bolivar Lupera, 62.
“I‘m in agreement because the United States has spied on underdeveloped nations, and this gentleman should not be condemned,” countered graphic designer Rodolfo Guaman, 48.
Any further deterioration in ties with Washington now could put at risk Ecuador’s commercial benefits under the Andean Trade Preferences Act, which is set to expire next month unless Congress votes to renew it.
Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; editing by Jackie Frank