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Brazil shuts out Snowden

Ericka de Sa / Greta Hamann / ewFebruary 1, 2014

Over a million people have signed an online petition to grant asylum to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in Brazil. However, experts doubt that the country will give in to this demand.

A person poses with a cardboard cut-out mask representing Edward Snowden's face
Image: Reuters

An online petition started in November on the websites of the civic activism Avaaz has attracted over 1 million signatures. The petition was initiated by David Miranda, partner of American journalist Glenn Greenwald, who conducted the first media interviews with former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Miranda plans to present the petition to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff once it has attracted 1,250,000 supporters.

But it is not only the campaign's signatories who believe Snowden would be in good hands if he received asylum in Brazil: Snowden himself has appealed for it. The request, however, has so far remained unanswered, according to Snowden's official support website. In July 2013, Brazil's foreign minister stated that Snowden would not be grated asylum in the country. Meanwhile, the Brazilian president has claimed that no official application has been submitted on Snowden's behalf.

A hot topic

The discussion gathered extra steam in December, following an open letter Snowden wrote to the people of Brazil stating, "Until a country grants permanent political asylum, the US government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak." Some interpreted this statement as a renewed appeal for asylum.

Several Brazilian politicians have expressed support for granting asylum to Snowden, and they would like Snowden to reveal more details about the US government's spying activities. Brazil was one of the countries particularly heavily targeted by the US National Security Agency, which monitored Rousseff's phone calls and e-mails, as well as those of Petrobras, Brazil's largest oil company.

Dilma Rousseff
Rousseff is reluctant to do anything that would provoke conflict with the USImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo

"If Snowden was here in Brazil, we could fully clarify the spying scandal that has sparked outrage not only here but also around the world," Brazilian Senator Ricardo Ferraco told the Brazilian press in December. Ferraco is responsible for reporting on the activities of the parliamentary investigation commission that has been looking into the NSA spying activities in Brazil.

Fear of diplomatic fallout with US

Despite the widespread support for Snowden in Brazilian society and media, Virgilio Caixeta Arraes, a professor of international relations at the University of Brasilia, said he doubts the Avaaz petition will change the government's mind. "At the moment Brazil has no interest in picking a fight with the US," Arraes told DW.

Snowden is seen by many as people around the world as a whistleblower who drew back the curtain on egregious surveillance programs conducted by the NSA, while others regards him as a traitor who stole US state secrets.

Political scientist Antonio Celso Alves Pereira from the University of Rio de Janeiro was also skeptical, "As commendable as Snowden's deeds are and as much as he deserves to be accepted by our country, the Brazilian government doesn't want to increase strain on the already tense relations between us and the US."

Brazil's upcoming presidential election, scheduled for October, is another complicating factor, added Arraes.

"In an election year, the government doesn't want any conflicts with the US that could negatively impact economic relations with North America," he explained.

Rousseff's cancelation of a scheduled meeting with US President Barack Obama last year was already a bold statement, Arraes pointed out, adding that Rousseff would not dare to create any additional tension.

Since mid-2013, Snowden has been in Russia, which has granted him temporary asylum. Petitions in his support have been run in various countries, including Germany, but so far none of the 21 countries that Snowden has appealed to has offered him permanent asylum. Most of them claim that the legal conditions for asylum have not been met.