A debate is raging in Brazil on whether to grant Edward Snowden political asylum. Demands for granting refuge to the US whistleblower are growing louder by the day.
"If Snowden were here in Brazil, then we could determine the complete scope of the scandal, which has caused resentment not only in Brazil but worldwide," Brazilian Senator Ricardo Ferraco told the local media.
Ferraco is responsible for reporting on the Senate commission investigating the alleged eavesdropping of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and oil company Petrobras by the US National Security Agency (NSA).
Other senators have joined Ferraco in demanding asylum for the former NSA contractor. "Snowden is committed to freedom of expression," said Roberto Requiao in an official statement of the Brazil Senate. "We need to grant him this on our territory as gratitude for his courageous revelations."
Open letter to Brazilians
An "open letter to the Brazilian people" from Snowden, published on Tuesday (17.12.2013) in the Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo, has sparked renewed debate about asylum for the American.
In the letter, Snowden explains that the US government has worked "very hard to limit" his efforts to clarify NSA surveillance activities."Until a country grants permanent political asylum, the US government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak," he wrote.
In July 2013, Snowden had already sought political asylum in 21 countries, including Brazil. President Rousseff has not yet ruled on the request.
In August 2013, Russia granted Snowden asylum for one year.
Not only Folha de Sao Paulo but the international media as well interpreted the open letter as a renewed asylum request. That prompted an immediate denial from Rio-based Glenn Greenwald, the US journalist who earlier this year published Snowden's explosive documents in the Guardian newspaper that led to the scandal. The letter, Greenwald told the media, has been misunderstood. Snowden, he explained, only intended to explain why he could not respond at the moment to enquiries from Brazil and help further.
For Brazilian public opinion expert Valeriano Costa, the asylum debate is limited to the intellectual middle class and the media. "The discussion is very elitist," said Costa, a professor of sociology at the University of Campinas. Many journalists in Brazil, he told DW, are in favor of granting Snowden asylum.
The sluggish asylum campaign for the former US intelligence official headed by the non-governmental organization Avaaz appears to confirm Costa's skepticism. So far, only 8,500 people have signed the online petition for granting Snowden political asylum, according to Greenwald's partner David Miranda.
Despite the Brazilian government's reluctant attitude, Costa still believes the asylum debate is far from over. "When Snowden's asylum expires in the coming year and he no longer knows where he can go, then negotiations will take on a new tone and Brazil's political provocation toward the United States will turn into a humanitarian issue," he predicted.
'Nein' from Germany
And that could prompt the Brazilian government to change its position, added Costa, pointing to the country's long tradition of accepting politically prosecuted refugees. "If it's about humanitarian aid, it would only be logical for Brazil to accept Snowden," he said.
Germany is also arguing over whether or not to grant Snowden asylum. Following the surprise meeting of Green Party parliamentarian Christian Ströbele with the American in Moscow in early November, many politicians and celebrities in Germany responded to the visit by demanding that the country grant him asylum.
Government spokesman Steffen Seibert, however, announced the government's rejection of the demands, pointing to trans-Atlantic alliance priorities.
Brazil and Germany have been particularly affected by NSA eavesdropping. Communications of both Brazilian President Rousseff and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were intercepted by the surveillance agency. In October, both countries introduced a common United Nations resolution to strengthen protection of private data in the digital age.