Both Venezuela and Cuba want to get their hands on the 85-year-old Posada, accused of orchestrating the 1976 terrorist bombing of a Cuban airliner in which all 73 on board died.
The U.S. government has for years refused a Venezuelan extradition request for Posada, a Cuban-born Venezuelan citizen who lives in the supportive Cuban exile community of South Florida that applauds his longtime mission to kill former Cuban President
U.S. administrations back to the Nixon era have turned a blind eye to — and at times encouraged — Posada's anti-communist militancy, partly to court the Cuban exile constituency that can sway swing-state Florida in presidential elections.
But faced with the prospect of bringing former NSA contractor Snowden to justice and putting an end to the embarrassing disclosures of U.S. government surveillance, President
Even if Venezuelan President
Maduro is one of three Latin American leaders to offer Snowden asylum and an escape from the diplomatic no-man’s land in which he has been living for 18 days at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. Presidents
Like Venezuela, Cuba has unresolved diplomatic issues with the United States. Four of five Cubans convicted of espionage in 2001 remain in U.S. prisons serving long terms for spying on anti-Castro exile groups like those aligned with Posada. Getting back the "Five Heroes," as they are known in Cuba, has been a cause celebre for the Castro regime. Also, the Cuban government holds U.S. citizen Alan Gross, convicted two years ago of illegally importing and installing telecommunications equipment in Cuba without government approval.
Although the possibility of trading the four remaining spies for Gross has presumably been considered, the
Experts familiar with the thorny relationships between Washington and leftist-ruled Latin American countries see Snowden's security in Venezuela as potentially short-lived.
"The first thing he has to ask himself about any country he's considering for asylum is what do they want from the United States and what leverage does the United States have over them," said Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst on Latin America at the National Security Archive, an independent documentation research center in Washington.
Venezuela wants Posada extradited, said Kornbluh, who has extensively researched the Posada case. "But on the other hand, coming to a deal with the United States for a swap like that would undermine the nationalist credentials of a country that stood up and agreed on principle to let him come."
The open question, Kornbluh said, is how much Maduro wants to move toward the political center and court better U.S. ties to shore up an economy in crisis despite enviable oil wealth.
Charles Shapiro, a former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela who is president of the Institute of the Americas, says he takes the Latin American leaders at "face value" in their offers of asylum. What is more perplexing, he said, is how Snowden could travel from Moscow to Caracas without the plane entering U.S. or allied airspace.
White House spokesman
Miguel Tinker Salas, a professor of Latin American history at Pomona College, sees little prospect of Maduro swapping Snowden for Posada. But he points out that Maduro won a narrow victory over opposition candidate Henrique Capriles in an April election to succeed President
Snowden would be better served taking asylum in Bolivia, Tinker Salas said, as Morales appears more firmly in power and less susceptible to U.S. pressure than the other Latin American leaders who have put out the welcome mat.
Snowden was offered asylum by Morales on Saturday as the Bolivian president vented his outrage over an incident last week in which four European countries denied his plane entry into their airspace because of rumors that Snowden was on board.
"That was a slap in the face of everybody in Latin America" that has spurred a fresh anti-imperialist frenzy in the region, said Daniel Hellinger, an international relations professor at Webster University in Missouri.
"There is little doubt that it will set back relations between Venezuela and the United States, which had been showing signs of improvement," Hellinger said. "I do not think Maduro will use Snowden as a pawn at all. More dangerous for Snowden is the prospect, given the close election in April, that Maduro might be recalled within a few years."