The Snowden affair is just the kind of high-wire, global crisis that the bombastic late president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, would have loved.
The cast of actors in the drama would be perfect for the anti-imperialist leader: There’s the young American whistleblower. Chavez’s Venezuela would have cast him as an idealistic, anti-imperialist truth teller. There are juicy American secrets and furious U.S. officials. There are big countries – Russia and China, both Venezuelan allies – jousting with the colossus Chavez simply called “The Empire,” the United States.
Chavez, of course, is gone: felled by cancer in March. But no matter. His successor, Nicolas Maduro, is doing his best to make hay of the Snowden affair at the expense of the Obama administration.
In fact, with Maduro and a large Venezuelan delegation in Moscow on Tuesday for an energy conference, many observers of the Snowden affair were taking bets that the former National Security Agency contractor might find his way back to Caracas on the official Venezuelan presidential plane. Maduro did little to dampen such speculation.
The Venezuelan leader, who just last week said it was “almost certain” he’d bestow asylum for Snowden, spoke of little else but Snowden’s courage and American malice in one public appearance after another in Moscow.
He told reporters early in the day that Snowden is a “young American who has dared to say big truths, that the imperialist elite of the United States want to control the world, that they spy on friends and foes, that they spy on the whole world, that they have created an evil system, halfway Orwellian, that intends to control the communications of the world.”
He then said on Venezuelan state television that Snowden “has done humanity a favor.”
Then at a theater, attending an event to commemorate Chavez, Maduro said Snowden represented disaffected Americans ready to rise up. “His gesture is a gesture of rebellion of the American youth against those who want to control, the elite from the United States who want to control the world,” Maduro said.
The Venezuelan leader, who cut his teeth as a union activist in his youth, said Snowden is now being chased around the world for little reason. “And you have to ask yourself,” Maduro said, “you have a right to ask yourself as a citizen of the world, why do they chase him? How many missiles has Snowden fired against the innocent peoples of the world? Did Snowden plant bombs that killed I don’t know who? What crimes has he committed against humanity?”
In interviews, though, Maduro dodged questions about whether Snowden would have a seat on his plane. He didn’t say yes. He didn’t say no.
“Those are things that at this moment I can’t respond to,” he told RT, a state-financed TV network in Russia. The interviewer followed up by noting that Maduro had said last Thursday that he would likely give Snowden asylum.
“Do you maintain that posture?” Maduro was asked.
“Yes, I maintain that posture,” he said. “But I’ll add a new element to that posture: which is, I make a call to the youth of the world: What have you done for Snowden? What have you done for the peace of the world? That’s the question.”
There’s a chance, of course, that as Maduro ponders Venezuela’s role in helping Snowden he will consider Venezuela’s relations with the U.S., which are bruised but which State Department diplomats have been trying to resuscitate.
Maduro, though, has been a difficult negotiator: While professing to want better relations, he has accused U.S. agents of having caused the cancer that killed Chavez and of stoking protests in his homeland after he barely won the presidency in a disputed election rife with voting irregularities.