NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – U.S. officials including Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) have issued stern warnings to the Ecuadorian government against granting asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.
Schumer issued a threat to the South American nation, warning its trade preferences with the U.S. would be in jeopardy if it allows Snowden in to avoid extradition on charges of espionage and theft of government property.
“Your economy will pay a very big price,” Schumer told reporters including WCBS 880’s Monica Miller on Sunday. “We should end all foreign aid, repeal trade agreements worth billions of dollars.”
Schumer says the Latin American country could lose trade preferences with the U.S.
“Some of them are due up for renewal in Congress in July,” Schumer said. “They will be not allowed with any trade preference into this country if Snowden is given asylum in Ecuador.”
He said the trade preferences include items like fruits, vegetables and flowers.
The Obama administration sent a thinly veiled economic threat to Ecuador on Thursday when it indefinitely delayed a decision to eliminate tariffs on imports of roses worth about $250 million a year. The move created leverage over the leftist government seen as likeliest to grant Snowden political asylum.
Flowers are serious business in Ecuador.
The industry says it employs about 50,000 people on about 550 farms across the country and is indirectly responsible for 110,000 jobs, putting it after only oil, seafood and bananas in the ranks of the country’s biggest exporters. It boasts that the long days, rich sunlight and cool nights of the Andean highlands mean the heads of flowers, particularly roses, grow fuller and richer than those from Colombia, which they scoff at as more suitable for grocery stores than florists.
“Over 85,000 business visas are issued to Ecuadorians who want to come do business here in the United States. We will cut those off,” the senator threatened.
Snowden, a former NSA contractor, requested political asylum from Ecuador earlier this month after he fled to Hong Kong.
The U.S. is seeking Snowden, 30, for extradition on charges that he leaked secret documents detailing highly classified federal surveillance programs.
He is currently holed up at the Moscow airport. Russia and Hong Kong both failed to extradite Snowden to the U.S. to face charges.
There was talk last week that Snowden had planned to travel from Hong Kong to Moscow and then on to Cuba and Venezuela, but he has stayed put since arriving in Russia.
Snowden is “under the care of the Russian authorities” and can’t leave Moscow’s international airport without his U.S. passport, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa told The Associated Press Sunday.
Correa said he had no idea Snowden’s intended destination was Ecuador when he fled Hong Kong for Russia last week. He said the Ecuadorean consul in London committed “a serious error” without consulting any officials in Ecuador’s capital when the consul issued a letter of safe passage for Snowden. He said the consul would be punished, although he didn’t specify how.
Correa said “the case is not in Ecuador’s hands” and said Snowden must assume responsibility if he broke U.S. laws. Correa said the broader legitimacy of Snowden’s action must be taken into consideration and Ecuador would still consider an asylum request but only if Snowden is able to make it to Ecuador or an Ecuadorean Embassy to apply.
“This is the decision of Russian authorities. He doesn’t have a passport. I don’t know the Russian laws, I don’t know if he can leave the airport, but I understand that he can’t,” Correa said. “At this moment he’s under the care of the Russian authorities. If he arrives at an Ecuadorean Embassy we’ll analyze his request for asylum.”
The U.S. is seeking the former NSA contractor’s extradition for leaking secret documents that, among other things, detail U.S. surveillance of international online activity. On Sunday, German magazine Der Spiegel reported that classified documents taken by Snowden also revealed U.S. spies had allegedly bugged European Union offices.
Correa’s Sunday statement appears to contradict Russia’s repeated statements that Snowden is not on Russian territory because he has not left the airport transit area, and he is free to depart whenever he likes. Russian authorities restated that position Sunday in response to Correa’s comments.
Without entirely closing the door to Snowden, whom Ecuadorean authorities strongly praised earlier in the week, Correa appeared to be telegraphing that it’s unlikely the 30-year-old leaker will ever end up in Ecuador. He repeatedly emphasized the importance of the U.S. legal process and praised Vice President Joe Biden for what he described as a courteous and appreciated half-hour call about the Snowden case on Friday.
He similarly declined to reject an important set of U.S. trade benefits for Ecuadorean exports, again a contrast with his government’s unilateral renunciation of a separate set of tariff benefits earlier in the week.
“If he really could have broken North American laws, I am very respectful of other countries and their laws and I believe that someone who breaks the law must assume his responsibilities,” Correa said. “But we also believe in human rights and due process.”
He said Biden had asked him to send Snowden back to the United States immediately because he faces criminal charges, is a fugitive from justice and has had his passport revoked.
“I told him that we would analyze his opinion, which is very important to us,” Correa said, adding that he had demanded the return of several Ecuadoreans who are in the United States but face criminal charges at home.
“I greatly appreciated the call,” he said, contrasting it with threats by a small group of U.S. senators to revoke Ecuadorean trade privileges. “When I received the call from Vice President Biden, which was with great cordiality and a different vision, we really welcomed it a lot.”
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