The government of Ecuador has stepped back from its support of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, saying it has not granted him asylum and that a travel document purportedly allowing him safe passage to the country is invalid.
For days, Ecuador's leftist government has been blasting the US over what it describes as "pressure and threats" in the Snowden affair, going as far as to renounce $23m in annual US aid and instead offer Washington $23m per year to fund "human rights training."
But in a press conference on Thursday, Fernando Alvarado, secretary of communications for Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, told the Associated Press that Snowden's status in Ecuador is hardly assured, contrary to earlier claims by WikiLeaks.
The former CIA contractor has not been granted asylum, Alvarado said, adding that for Ecuador even to process an asylum application, Snowden would need to be physically in the country or in one of its embassies – "and he isn't."
Snowden's exact whereabouts are unknown, as he hasn't been seen in days. But he is believed to be holed up somewhere within the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport, consulting with lawyers from WikiLeaks as he ponders his next move.
The US government has revoked Snowden's passport, limiting his travel options considerably. Yet while he was a no-show on a flight to Cuba on Monday, he was believed to be making his way to Ecuador under a travel document issued by that country's London embassy.
The Spanish-language news service Univision leaked a copy of that document on Wednesday, which asks that other countries "give the appropriate help" to Snowden as he heads to Ecuador "for the purpose of political asylum."
But during Thursday's press conference, Betty Tola, Ecuador's secretary of political management, said the document had been issued without the authority of the government in Quito, the Andean nation's capital, and that it therefore "has no validity."
The lack of valid travel documents could be a serious roadblock for Snowden. Some Russian officials have suggested that the NSA PRISM leaker could request asylum in that country – which, if granted, would at least allow him to leave the airport – but the tense political relationship between Russia and the US makes that option unlikely.
On Thursday, President Obama cautioned Russia and any other country considering granting asylum to Snowden to "recognize that they are a part of an international community and they should be abiding by international law."
Whether the President's comments have cooled support for Snowden in Ecuador – which uses the US dollar as its legal tender – is unclear. When asked about the matter on Thursday, Ecuador's President Correa said only, "It's a complex situation, we don't know how it'll be resolved." ®