Edward Snowden can go to Venezuela, Nicaragua, or Bolivia. Here, we help him decide.

July 10, 2013

I really feel like y'all haven't seen this one picture of Edward Snowden enough times. (The Guardian/Reuters)

The Simpsons Edward Snowden is going to Latin America! So far, he has three offers, from the socialist leaders of Nicaragua, Bolivia and Venezuela; the similarly-minded regime in Ecuador has ruled out asylum after some initial overtures. Contrary to initial reports, he has not accepted Venezuela's or any other country's offer yet. So, assuming it's physically possible for him to fly to Latin America without flying over countries that won't have him in their airspace, where should Ed go?

Anywhere he lands is going to have a considerably lower standard of living than his former home in Waipahu, Hawaii. According to the latest Bureau of Economic Analysis figures, Hawaii's real GDP per capita in 2012 was about $44,442 in 2005 dollars, or $52,245.86 in 2012 dollars. By contrast, in 2012 Venezuela had a GDP per capita of $12,767 in current American dollars, according to the World Bank. Bolivia's was $2,576 and Nicaragua's was $1,754:

Life expectancy is also a great deal lower than back in Hawaii; see Measure of America for state-by-state life expectancies. These measure life expectancy at birth, so they're of limited relevance for Snowden personally, but they speak to the quality of life in the countries where he might live:

What will affect Snowden is the high crime rates of the places he's considering moving. The United Nations doesn't have reliable numbers for non-homicide crimes in Venezuela, but the homicide rates in all three countries offering Snowden asylum are far higher than the rate in Hawaii. Venezuela's is jaw-droppingly high: 45.1 per 100,000 residents. And there's reason to believe even that number is too low. According to the Venezuela Violence Observatory, the homicide rate in Caracas, the capital city, is above 200 per 100,000 residents. That is, 0.2 percent of Caracas residents being killed each year.

All three countries offering asylum are rated as only "partly free" by Freedom House, the NGO that puts out the most widely cited metrics of political freedom. The United States got a perfect score from that organization. The group measures countries on two dimensions: political rights (fair election, multiple parties, breadth of political participation, etc.) and civil liberties (freedom of speech and press etc.) -- 1 is the best score possible; 7 is the worst.

But it's not all bad news for Snowden's would-be hosts. Only Bolivia is more economically unequal than the United States; Nicaragua and Venezuela's income distributions are more egalitarian.

And life satisfaction data culled by the Happy Planet Index from the Gallup World Poll suggests that the residents of Venezuela report higher well-being than do U.S. residents (see this post for more on these studies). No such luck for Nicaragua or Bolivia though:

So Snowden has to weigh how much he cares about overall well-being (which argues for Venezuela) vs. not being murdered (which argues for basically anywhere on this earth other than Venezuela).

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Lydia DePillis · July 10, 2013