By Marc Frank
HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuban President Raul Castro on Sunday backed offers of asylum by Venezuela and other Latin American countries to fugitive U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden and criticized the United States for what he described as bullying other nations. Castro, speaking behind closed doors to Cuba’s National Assembly, said Venezuela and other countries in the region have the right to grant asylum “to those persecuted for their ideals or struggles for democracy, according to our tradition,” according to the official Prensa Latina News Agency. Foreign journalists were barred from the parliament meeting. Castro’s remarks were his first public comment on the Snowden affair.
Cuba over the years has given refuge to various U.S. fugitives it considers political refugees, most notably members of the Black Panthers group decades ago.
Communist-run Cuba’s leftist allies Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua have stated that their doors are open to Snowden. Castro did not say if Cuba had received an asylum request and what the country’s position would be if it does. Snowden, 30, is believed to be holed up in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo international airport and has been trying to find a country to give him sanctuary since he landed there from Hong Kong on June 23.
There are no direct commercial flights between Moscow and Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, and the usual route involves changing planes in Havana. It is not clear if Cuban authorities would let him transit. There was no sign of Snowden aboard the flight to Havana on Saturday.
Castro denounced U.S. threats of economic sanctions against any country that harbours Snowden and also denounced this week’s incident in which some European countries banned Bolivian President Evo Morales’s plane from their airspace on suspicion that it was carrying the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor. “These actions demonstrate we live in a world in which the powerful feel they can violate international law, violate the national sovereignty of other states and trample on the rights of citizens,” he said, accusing the United States of employing a “philosophy of domination.” Castro downplayed Snowden’s revelations of secret U.S. spy programs, stating Cuba had been one of the countries most spied upon on the planet. “We already knew about the existence of these systems,” he said, as he closed the parliament meeting.