Sanctioning Latin America For Sheltering Edward Snowden Would Be Ludicrous

On NBC's Meet the Press, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) announced that he felt countries offering NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden asylum should be rebuked with sanctions. Menendez said, "It's very clear that any country that accepts Snowden, offers him political asylum, is taking a step against the United States ... I think you have to look whether it's at trade preferences that may exist with these countries, other elements of our policy our aid, our trade." Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) held similar views with Menendez on CNN's The State of the Union. On the show, Rogers claimed, "We shouldn't just allow this to happen and shrug it off. This is serious business. Those Latin American companies enjoy certain trade benefits with the United States. We ought to look at all of that to send a very clear message that we won't put up with this kind of behavior."

The heated political attacks on Snowden seem to have transcended simply attacking the leaker himself but also attacking all those aiding him. Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua, all Latin American countries with a history of Communist tendencies, have all offered Snowden asylum; the call for penalties on these countries is hypocritical, as shown by the U.S.'s finicky interpretation of asylum and sanctions as well as its own past with controversial asylum-seekers.

Political asylum is defined by Collins Dictionary as the "right to live in a foreign country ... given by the government of that country to people who have to leave their own country because they are in danger of persecution." Snowden has clearly personally been of the opinion that he would be persecuted in the United States. "It is unlikely I would receive a fair trial and proper treatment prior to that trial, and face the possibility of life in prison and even death," he wrote on Sunday. Asylum seekers need to be simply in danger of persecution, and the perceived threats Snowden himself believes in could be used by foreign countries to justify their offers of asylum. Thus, even though the U.S. obviously has no plans of unfairly persecuting Snowden (they want to put him on trial in a court of law), the perception of danger that these asylum granters have used as their justification can be understood.

The next definition that needs to be considered seriously is that of sanctions. Merriam-Webster defines the term sanction (in the international sense) as the "an economic or military coercive measure adopted usually by several nations in concert for forcing a nation violating international law to desist or yield to adjudication." The important application of this definition is the violation of international law. The nations offering Snowden asylum have the right to do so for individuals they believe fit the definition of an asylum seeker. Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution." As Encyclopædia Britannica explains, in international law "It is the right of a state to grant asylum to an individual, but it is not the right of an individual to be granted asylum by a state." Although the United States may argue, rightfully, that they are not going to persecute Edward Snowden, if these sovereign states believe this persecution to be tenable, they have the right to grant asylum to whom they wish.

In the case of the United States, for example, the U.S. has had an interesting history with political asylum seekers that reflect its own questionable choices granting political asylum. It has offered protection for Orlando Bosch Ávila, a Cuban terrorist that was head of the Coordination of United Revolutionary Organizations, allegedly responsible for various anti-Castro attacks including the bombing of Cubana Flight 455, which killed 73 people. Another Cuban terrorist, Luis Posada Carriles, now lives in Miami following a career of terrorizing Venezuelans. Although both aforementioned persons were U.S. operatives for the CIA, the point is that if a country can justify their grant of asylum, they have the power to grant it to whom they wish, even if other parties or countries may have laws that say otherwise. The U.S. therefore would be only further alienating these countries by placing sanctions on them. Although they may be wrong to offer Snowden a safe haven, it is within their power and rights to give asylum.