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A Letter to Edward Snowden
It is understandable that you are requesting temporary asylum in Russia, given the determination of President Obama to mount an international crusade to apprehend you and throw you in prison. But here are ten reasons why it is in your interest, and the world’s, to find a route to Venezuela as soon as possible.
1. President Nicolas Maduro is a man you can rely on to assist you in your odyssey. He is one of your earliest champions on the international scene and understands the principles that drive you to challenge the US national security state. On June 26 he declared: “What has this young man done? He divulged documents that the United States spies on the entire world; they listen to anyone’s telephone, they over see the Internet around the globe, and they monitor all electronic mail….” The United States “violates international laws of self-determination and sovereignty,” … Snowden “hasn’t planted any bombs, hasn’t assassinated anyone, hasn’t robbed anyone, he simply one day looked in the mirror and said: ‘What am I doing to the world, this should not be.’ … He is part of the rebellion of North American youth that is moving forward in a rebellion of consciousness, of ethics.”
2. Maduro and Venezuela are facing the same hostile forces that you are. Aside from the US government led by President Obama (who appears to have developed a personal vendetta against you) the US main stream media, including much of the liberal press, have maligned and lied about you and Maduro. Innumerable distortions about both of you have been carried in the New York Times, the newspaper that carries “all the news that’s fit to print.” Even National Public Radio has joined in the fray. On the day of your conference in the Moscow airport, an NPR news commentator asserted that you had “lauded Russia’s human rights record,” which is not true as we hear on the videos that came out of the conference. The New York Review of Books has yet to weigh in on you, but we should be prepared for the worst as one of it authors did a hack job on Maduro in early May.
3. You will encounter an outpouring of support in Latin America. Newspapers and journals up and down the Americas, from Santiago, Chile and Buenos Aires, Argentina to San Jose, Costa Rica and Mexico City have taken up your cause and excoriated the Obama administration.
On July 12, the day of your conference at the Moscow airport, Mercosur, the largest economic bloc of nations in Latin America met in Montevideo, Uruguay and issued a statement defending your right to asylum in their countries: “We repudiate any activity that could undermine the authority of States to grant and fully implement the right of asylum,” the statement said. “We reject any attempt in pressuring, harassment or criminalization of a State over a country’s sovereign right to grant asylum.”
Outraged by the documents you released revealing massive spying and intelligence gathering by the National Security Agency in Latin America, Mercosur’s final declaration stated: “We emphatically reject the interception of telecommunications and espionage actions in our nations, as they constitute a violation of human rights, of the right of our citizens to privacy and information. It’s unacceptable behavior that breaches our sovereignty and harms relations between nations.”
4. In Venezuela you would witness a popular struggle to construct a socialist society, and would be able to visit Bolivia and Ecuador, where similar and yet different paths are being taken in pursuit of a 21st-century utopia. In Caracas you will experience shortages (from toilet paper to electricity) because the Venezuelan economy is in transition. I witnessed similar difficulties during the last democratic transition to socialism in the hemisphere, that of Salvador Allende and the Popular Unity government in Chile from 1970 to 1973. As is now well documented, the CIA and the local bourgeoisie conspired to destabilize the economy, overthrew Allende and imposed the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet for seventeen long dark years. Hopefully your generation’s engagement around the Americas can help prevent a similar tragedy in Venezuela or elsewhere in Latin America.
5. Although you and Maduro are of distinct class backgrounds—he is working class and you are middle class–did you know that you and Maduro are both interested in eastern philosophies? According to Wikipedia you practice the martial arts and are a self-declared Buddhist, interests you apparently nurtured while you worked as an undercover CIA agent as a State Department officer at the US embassy in Japan. Maduro is interested in eastern teachings as well, following the thoughts and practices of eastern leaders particularly those of Satya Sai Baba who is renown for having supported a variety of free educational institutions, hospitals and charitable works in over 166 countries. Maduro and his wife, Cilia Flores, visited him in Puttaparthi, India in 2005.
You might even discover some mutual interests in music, given that Maduro in his youth played guitar in a rock band called Enigma. To add to his complexity, Maduro’s paternal grandparents are Sephardic Jews who converted to Catholicism.
6. In Caracas you would have access to one of the better Internet grids in the global south and this would facilitate the use of your talents to set up an international non-profit center. You might want to host open seminars or workshops, inviting university educators, business executives and government ministers to learn about how to deal with US surveillance as well as other predators on the Internet. Others like me, might want to know your thoughts about how we can use the Internet to our advantage and stop the incipient emergence of an Orwellian world.
7. Last year an oceanic fiber optic cable was completed that links Venezuela to Santiago de Cuba. I am sure that your skills would be useful in advising both countries on how to best use the cable and the Internet for the benefit of their peoples, given that Cuba has dramatically changed its Internet policy, throwing it open to public access. I suspect you would concur with Vice-president Miguel Diaz-Canal, the probable successor to Raul Castro, who pointed out in May the challenges presented by the Internet:
“Today, with the development of information technologies; today, with the development of social networks; today, with the development of computers and the Internet, to prohibit something is nearly an impossible chimera. It makes no sense. Today, news from all sources, from good ones and from bad ones, those that are manipulated, and those that are true, and those that are half-truths, all circulate on the web and reach people and those people are aware of them.”
8. Caracas is only three and a quarter hours from Miami via commercial air carrier. As you have probably heard many times, “Cuba is only ninety miles from the United States.” Your relative proximity, much like that of Fidel Castro, would drive the National Security Agency nuts for years and perhaps decades, albeit on a lesser scale, given that you don’t aspire to state power.
9. You could be in touch with your family and friends. Perhaps your last girl friend in Hawaii would come to visit. You might have to set up a personal housing compound to entertain and house all of them. Many from the US would make a pilgrimage to shake your hand and talk to you. I might even be one of those who appear at your doorstep.
10. Lastly you should enjoy the great geographic vistas Venezuela offers its peoples and tourists alike. It has crystal clear beaches, rain-forests, breathtaking mountains and plains, and the tallest waterfall in the world, Angel Falls.
I will not recommend any tour guides, but in lieu of posting my by-line at the end of this letter, and to introduce you to the political terrain of Latin America, I humbly suggest you ask your favorite book store in the Moscow airport if it can order a book I co-authored with Michael Fox and Federico Fuentes, Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions: The Future of Twenty-First Century Socialism. Hopefully it won’t be intercepted by air or land as it is transported from Zed Books in London to Moscow.
Roger Burbach is the director of the Center for the Study of the Americas (CENSA) based in Berkeley, CA and is the author with Michael Fox and Federico Fuentes of Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions: The Future of Twenty-First Century Socialism.