On Friday, Venezuela's recently elected President Nicolás Maduro offered asylum to Edward Snowden, making Venezuela the first country to open its arms to the rogue intelligence contractor.
Before a military parade marking Venezuela's independence day, July 5, Maduro announced, "I have decided to offer humanitarian asylum to Edward Snowden so that he can come and live in the homeland of Bolivar and Chavez, away from the persecution of North American imperialism."
"He is a young man who has told the truth, in the spirit of rebellion, about the United States spying on the whole world."
While Maduro's asylum offer may have answered several pressing questions about Snowden's immediate future, it leaves us to wonder about the motivation behind Maduro's decision.
Why, after watching dozens of countries reject Snowden's asylum applications, did Maduro decide to take the whistleblower in? What political implications does this move have for the Maduro presidency, both in Venezuela and in its diplomatic relations with the United States? And why now?
It's important to keep in mind that Maduro is far from secure in his office as Venezuelan president. In the wake of the death of Hugo Chávez in March, Maduro rode a wave of pro-Chávez support into office and has been striving to fill his mentor's shoes ever since. Having pledged to continue the policies of Chávismo, Maduro has yet to distinguish himself from his predecessor before the Venezuelan people or the international public.
Nicolás Maduro kisses a portrait of Hugo Chávez during a campaign rally. Image courtesy of The Guardian.
Granting asylum to Edward Snowden on the anniversary of Venezuela's independence from Spain is a politically genius move that was designed to stick the middle finger to Washington and gain Maduro recognition before the greater Latin American community.
Need proof? Just take a look at the rhetoric that Maduro employed in his speech. "I'd like to announce something in the name of the dignity of Latin America," he began. He went on to explain that he had conferred with other Latin American presidents the previous day, and that "Several Latin American governments have expressed their willingness to assume the stance that I am about to announce."
Nicolás Maduro's decision to extend asylum to Edward Snowden has, in fact, very little to do with Edward Snowden himself. It is a symbolic move calculated to invoke Latin American unity and solidarity in the face of what many Latin Americans perceive as the impending threat of imperialism.
Anti-U.S. sentiment in Latin America is starting to boil, and Maduro's timing couldn't be better. His announcement comes just days after the United States bullied France, Spain, Italy, and Portugal into obstructing the jet of Bolivian President Evo Morales on the suspicion that Snowden was on board.
"Message to the Americans: The empire and its servants will never be able to intimidate or scare us," an angry Morales told supporters at El Alto International Airport outside La Paz on Wednesday. "European countries need to liberate themselves from the imperialism of the Americans."
Meanwhile, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner demanded an apology from the U.S. and the European countries involved in the incident.
"At least here in South America, when we make a mistake, we recognize it and at least ask for forgiveness from those we have offended... Let them apologize for once in their lives for what they have done," she said.
In the midst of the diplomatic crisis following the incident, Maduro himself blamed an invasive and overzealous CIA for pressuring governments to refuse to allow Morales in their airspace. He stated that the Morales affair "shows the level of madness and desperation that the [U.S.] empire has reached."
Whether or not Snowden will end up in Venezuela remains to be seen. Even if he decides to accept Maduro's offer, he will have to figure out a way to get there from Moscow's Sheremedevo International Airport, where he has been stuck without a valid passport for nearly two weeks.
Regardless, Nicolás Maduro's decision to extend asylum to Snowden provides us with the first clear signal of what Venezuelan foreign policy will look like during the Maduro presidency. It demonstrates a lack of faith in Washington's ability to cooperate equally with Latin America that stems from a history of political and economic exploitation.
Obama administration bureaucrats and foreign policy advisers will inevitably get together on Capitol Hill in the coming weeks to discuss how to handle the Snowden situation. But unless they also re-examine America's paternalistic attitude towards our long-abused American neighbors to the south, they'll be missing the point entirely.
Gabe Grand is an editorialist for PolicyMic and an avid scholar of Latin American affairs.