Ecuador to waive U.S. trade rights for Snowden

By Kristen Butler,  |  Updated June 27, 2013 at 2:30 PM
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Ecuador is still weighing an asylum request from NSA leaker Edward Snowden, who stands accused of espionage, but officials said Thursday they will not be deterred by trade agreements with the United States.

Snowden is reportedly still in the transit area of Moscow's international airport, and his asylum request has not proceeded because he has not reached any of Ecuador's diplomatic territories, as the law requires.

But despite the difficulty of arranging travel out of Moscow, and despite the fact that Ecuador has not yet granted asylum, officials nonetheless balked at U.S. threats to undo Ecuador's preferential rights under the Andean Trade Preferences Act.

Officials in Quito said Thursday that they are prepared to waive their trade rights under the agreement, giving up their benefits "unilaterally and irrevocably" as a matter of "principle."

In an added touch, Ecuador also cheekily offered a donation in the amount of the trade benefit -- about $23 million annually -- to human rights organizations in the U.S.

The leftist government of President Rafael Correa, wants to "challenge the world," according to the country's former ambassador to London, Mauricio Gándara.

Dan Restrepo, former adviser to President Obama on Latin American policy, said the revocation of trade benefits "is something that will adversely affect the Ecuadorean economy."

But Orlando Pérez, director of government-owned newspaper El Telégrafo, said that granting asylum to Snowden may be worth the economic risk. "What is at play is to guarantee human rights," he said. "Rather than hurt Ecuador it puts it in a kind of political vanguard in Latin America."

Meanwhile, Obama has downplayed some aspects of the hunt for Snowden, while at the same time saying he "continues to be concerned" that he could release further documents.

"No, I'm not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker," the president said, adding that he "shouldn't have to" personally intervene to get governments to abide by international extradition laws.

"I'm sure it will be a made-for-TV movie down the road," Obama dismissively added.

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