Assange Tells Snowden to Seek Refuge in Latin America

PHOTO: Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, has been living in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since last summer, in order to avoid extradition to Sweden. In the embassy, he occasionally holds press conferences and interviews.

Rosie Hallam/Getty Images

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has some advice for Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker who revealed his identity on Sunday.

In a recent interview with CNN, Assange said that Snowden, who was last seen in Hong Kong, should go to Latin America, if he wants to avoid getting extradited to the U.S.

The reason?

"Latin America has shown in the past 10 years, that it is really pushing for human rights. There is a very strong tradition of asylum," Assange said on Monday, from his London hideout.

Assange has some reasons to praise Latin America's governments. He has himself avoided extradition to Sweden (where he is wanted on sexual assault charges that he denies) by seeking refuge at Ecuador's embassy in London, where he has been holed up since June of last year.

But any suggestion that Latin America is a great place in general for whistleblowers and journalists who uncover government secrets, is rather crazy.

What would Assange say, for example, to journalists who have had to flee Mexico, because they reported on drug cartels, and shady groups with ties to local politicians?

Or what would Assange say to Emilio Palacio, the columnist and government critic who fled Ecuador in 2011, after that country's government threatened to slap a 40 million dollar "libel" fine on his newspaper, and jail him for three years?

As we have previously noted on this site, Latin American governments have a very mixed record when it comes to the protection of free speech.

A few of them have even come up with some pretty creative ways of silencing their critics by attacking them with hefty fines, and even with soccer broadcasts.

If any government in Latin America offers asylum to Snowden, it will probably be out of an interest to boost their anti-US credentials, or falsely portray themselves as protectors of free speech.

In Ecuador for example, some analysts say that President Rafael Correa used the decision to grant asylum to Assange as a way to boost his popularity in the months leading to his re-election, and also as a way to raise his standing among the international "anti-imperialism" crowd. The Ecuadorean government said that it granted asylum to Assange strictly on human rights grounds, arguing that charges against Assange in Sweden, were politically motivated.

Snowden hasn't expressed any interest in going to Latin America for the moment. In his most recent interview with The Guardian he said that he was considering asylum in Iceland, due to its strict laws protecting freedom of speech.

Some media reports have said, however, that from Hong Kong, Snowden could easily move to several Asian countries, where he would be relatively safe from extradition.

Some of the options that have been mentioned: Myanmar, Cambodia, The Philippines, Thailand and Russia, which has said that it would consider an asylum request. We'll have to see where Snowden surfaces next.

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