Even In Snowden-Friendly Brazil, Asylum May Be 'Bridge Too Far' | KUOW News and Information

Even In Snowden-Friendly Brazil, Asylum May Be 'Bridge Too Far'

Jan 8, 2014
Originally published on January 8, 2014 7:21 am

Should they or shouldn't they? That's the question Brazilians are asking themselves after Edward Snowden's "open letter" lauding Brazil's role in protecting privacy rights and alluding to his hand in uncovering spying on their president.

"Today, if you carry a cellphone in Sao [Paulo], the NSA can and does keep track of your location," wrote Snowden, 30, who is living in temporary asylum in Russia. "They do this 5 billion times a day to people around the world."

Last month, a group of Brazilian senators came out in support of the former NSA contractor. And even Luis Roberto Barroso — a judge on Brazil's highest court — spoke in his defense.

"He gave an unequivocal service to governments around the world and U.S. citizens," writes Hélio Schwartsman in Folha de Sao Paulo. " ... I am of the opinion that, if he asks, asylum should be granted."

But not all columnists agree. Reinaldo Azevedo wrote in the right-wing Veja magazine's blog: "Snowden is a traitor to his own country. ... What does Brazil gain by giving him shelter?"

"It is very unlikely asylum will be given," says Pedro Arruda, a political analyst at Sao Paulo's Catholic University. "President Dilma Rousseff has already expressed herself. Or rather, her silence has given her opinion."

Brazil's government has indeed been circumspect. It says that Snowden has not formally asked for asylum, so it hasn't considered the matter — hardly rolling out the welcome mat.

Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center, says Rousseff already showed her displeasure by postponing a state visit to the U.S. Rousseff also is pushing United Nations action on global Internet privacy issues.

Several months ago, Rio de Janeiro-based journalist Glenn Greenwald reported in the Brazilian media that the NSA was spying on Rousseff's personal emails and on the state oil company Petrobras. The allegations were based on documents Greenwald got from Snowden.

Rousseff "obviously was very upset about the revelations, but values Brazil-U.S. relations and knows how important it is to cultivate that relationship," Sotero says, "especially in that moment that Brazil is starting to face some tough economic [issues] and needs to integrate its economy with advanced countries, especially the United States."

Julia Sweig, director of Latin America studies for the Council on Foreign Relations, says while Snowden is a popular figure in Brazil, his fate is not at the top of the agenda.

"I don't think the Brazilian public is, by and large, looking to pick a big public fight with the United States," she says, adding that asylum for Snowden would be a "bridge too far" for Brazil.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning. In Brazil, a petition asking the government to give asylum to Edward Snowden has almost 75,000 signatures. The former NSA contractor wrote an open letter to the Brazilian people last month and he praised the South American nation for its stand against America's spying tactics. Still, as NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports, opinion is divided on what to do about Snowden.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Should they or shouldn't they? That's the question Brazilians are asking themselves after Snowden's letter.

RICARDO DE SOUZA: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ricardo de Souza is a 37 year old hairdresser. He says, I think the Brazilian government should give him asylum. He did something good for humanity, he says.

JULIANE KAORI MATSUBAYASHI: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Juliane Kaori Matsubayashi is a 24 year old editorial assistant. I don't think so, she says. I think he should go back to the United States but he shouldn't be punished, she says. Opinion too is divided among the cognisati. Last month, a group of senators came out in support of the former NSA employee. Even a Supreme Court justice, Luis Roberto Barroso, spoke in his defense.

JUSTICE LUIS ROBERTO BARROSO: (speaks Portuguese)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: If Brazil had given him asylum and I was still a lawyer, I would have defended him, Barroso told Brazil's biggest daily. Columnists have also come out on Snowden's side, writes Helio Schwartsman in Folha de Sao Paulo. He gave an unequivocal service to governments around the world and U.S. citizens. I am of the opinion that if he asks, asylum should be granted.

But another columnist, Reinaldo Azevedo, wrote in the right-wing Veja magazine's blog: Snowden is a traitor to his own country. What does Brazil gain by giving him shelter? Pedro Arruda is a political analyst at Sao Paulo's Catholic University.

PEDRO ARRUDA: (Through translator) It is very unlikely asylum will be given. President Dilma Rousseff has already expressed herself, or rather her silence has given her opinion.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Brazil's government has indeed been circumspect. It says that Snowden has not formally asked for asylum, so it hasn't considered the matter - hardly rolling out the welcome mat. Paulo Sotero is the director of the Brazil Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center. He says President Rousseff already showed her displeasure by postponing a state visit to the U.S. She is also pushing United Nations action on global Internet privacy issues.

PAULO SOTERO: She obviously was very upset about the revelations, but values Brazil-U.S. relationship and knows how important it is to cultivate those relationships, especially in this moment that Brazil is starting to face some tough economic issues and needs to integrate its economy more and more with advanced countries, especially with the United States.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Those revelations, written in the Brazilian press by Rio de Janeiro-based journalist Glenn Greenwald, include allegations that the NSA was spying on Rousseff's personal emails and on the state oil company, Petrobras. Julia Sweig is the director of Latin America studies for the Council on Foreign Relations. She says also while Snowden is a popular figure in Brazil, his fate is not top of the agenda here.

JULIA SWEIG: I don't think the Brazilian public is by and large looking to pick a big public fight with the United States.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says granting asylum to Snowden would be a bridge too far for Brazil. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Sao Paulo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.