Tuesday, June 25, 2013

No Snowden in Havana

Until yesterday it appeared that Edward Snowden, the rat on the run for divulging U.S. government secrets, might depart Russia for a life of political asylum in Ecuador, making a brief stop on our favorite island.  But the Moscow-Havana Aeroflot flight took off without him, and his plans and whereabouts are as unclear as ever.  Today, Russian officials are denying that he is even there. 

(Update: President Putin confirms that he’s in Russia and won’t be extradicted.)

Cuba has not been mentioned as an asylum option.  Is that because Cuba has been asked and said no?  Anya Landau French dug up the State Department’s terrorism report for 2005 where the section that justifies Cuba’s designation as a “state sponsor of terrorism” includes this statement: “Cuba has stated that it will no longer provide safe haven to new U.S. fugitives who may enter Cuba.”  That’s a pretty clear statement of Cuban policy, not something that Bush Administration officials would have included casually.  If it applies now, and if it bars layovers as well as long-term stays, then Snowden needs a Plan B, big time.

There has been no Cuban government statement on the matter.  This article in yesterday’s Granma simply rounds up the news about Snowden without mentioning speculation that he might transit Cuba on his way to Quito.

The reason Snowden is having to hop-scotch around the world is that the United States has agreements with many countries that would require them to turn Snowden over.  And in the absence of agreements, we have relationships with many countries that are sufficiently strong that they would be open to a request from Washington.  Add up the two categories of countries, and Snowden’s options narrow.

The United States and Cuba do have an extradition agreement in force, dating from 1904.  But it is a dead letter because neither side has honored its terms for years.  From the first weeks of Cuba’s revolution, the United States refused to hand over persons sought by Cuba, and Cuba has fugitives from U.S. justice that it has refused to hand over.

Since extradition agreements are based on reciprocal obligations, and since the United States thinks little of Cuba’s justice system, it is unlikely that the United States would seek to revive an extradition agreement with Cuba.  Even in cases where we have agreements, some do not apply to all crimes.  As we saw in the Ana Montes case, Montes’ alleged accomplice Marta Rita Velazquez is safely out of reach of U.S. law in Sweden because our extradition agreement with that country excludes political crimes, a category that includes espionage.

But what if we did negotiate with Cuba?  Each side would carve out exceptions from the obligation to extradict, and the agreement might exclude past cases such as Luis Posada Carriles and JoAnn Chesimard.  Even if it’s an agreement full of holes, it would be worth it if it complicates the life and travels of the next Edward Snowden.

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