Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, left, and Nicaraguan President… (Inti Ocon / AFP/Getty Images )
CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro offered NSA leaker Edward Snowden political asylum Friday, possibly the firmest offer of refuge the U.S. fugitive has received since exposing a massive program of surveillance of phone calls and emails in the United States and abroad.
Also Friday, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said his government had received an asylum request from Snowden and would be willing to grant it under the right circumstances.
Snowden, who is believed to be stranded in the transit area of a Moscow airport, has applied for refuge to about 30 countries. Many have already refused his request.
Maduro made the offer during a military parade in Caracas commemorating the 202nd anniversary of Venezuela’s declaration of independence. Maduro had previously said he would consider such an offer, as had Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa.
Correa, however, appeared to back away from his offer after receiving a phone call from Vice President Joe Biden.
Although Maduro’s statement Friday seemed to go a step further in making a firm offer, the Venezuelan leader was in Moscow earlier this week and did not take the opportunity to bring Snowden back with him. And Maduro made no mention of facilitating Snowden’s trip to Venezuela with either an aircraft or travel documents.
Maduro did not say specifically that Snowden had formally applied for asylum.
“I, as head of state of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, offer humanitarian asylum to the young American, Edward Joseph Snowden, the ex-functionary of the CIA, so that he can come to live in the country of [Venezuela’s founder Simon] Bolivar and [late President Hugo] Chavez and [escape] U.S. imperial persecution,” Maduro said.
Although the offer may hearten Snowden, who has been in limbo since fleeing Hong Kong on June 23 amid U.S. efforts to extradite him, it was still unclear Friday night how Maduro’s offer would work.
The U.S. has revoked Snowden's passport, so he needs valid travel documents to buy a plane ticket to leave Russia.
“There is a persecution being done by the most powerful imperium of the world against this youth, who has done nothing bad except speak the truth,” Maduro said.
In Nicaragua, meanwhile, Ortega said the right to asylum had to be respected.
"It is clear that, if the circumstances permit it, we will happily receive Snowden," Ortega said in a speech in Managua, "and we will give him asylum here in Nicaragua."
Ortega, once a leftist revolutionary leader who was a constant thorn in Washington's side, did not specify what circumstances he meant. Snowden's request, he said, came through the Nicaraguan Embassy in Moscow.
It was difficult to gauge the sincerity of Ortega's offer, as he committed to virtually nothing. He may have been playing to his constituency -- the speech was before hundreds of supporters -- by offering a message in solidarity with other regional heads of state.
On Thursday, many of South America's leftist leaders rallied to support Bolivian President Evo Morales, whose plane was rerouted over Europe on Tuesday amid suspicions that Snowden was on board.
The presidents of Argentina, Ecuador, Suriname, Venezuela and Uruguay had gathered in Bolivia to demand an apology from France, Italy, Portugal and Spain, the Associated Press reported.
Morales blamed Washington for pressuring European countries to refuse to allow his plane to fly through their airspace, forcing it to land in Vienna. He warned that he would close the U.S. Embassyin Bolivia if necessary.
Morales had been returning from a summit in Russia during which he had suggested he would be willing to consider a request from Snowden for asylum.
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Special correspondents Mogollon and Kraul reported from Caracas, Venezuela, and Bogota, Colombia, respectively. Times staff writer Wilkinson reported from Mexico City.