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Latin America Or Bust? Why The U.S. Is Going All Out To Block Edward Snowden

The Venezuelan coastline
The Venezuelan coastline
Ana Baron

BUENOS AIRES - Washington’s blatent public pressure to keep Edward Snowden from obtaining political asylum has fed a new wave of anti-Americanism worldwide. It also represents a test for the United States’ bilateral relations with several countries, including Russia and those in its own “backyard.”

What explains the willingness of Barack Obama’s government to pay whatever the diplomatic cost of this scandal?

Snowden has jeopardized the United States’ powerful, electronic espionage system. As a result, the US considers it imperative to make an example out of him so that other young people do not think they can do the same without consequences. Furthermore, it's crucial for Obama to show on the domestic front that the United States’ sphere of influence has not diminished during his Presidency. The bet is that the diplomatic cost will be less than currently predicted.

“The problem is that Snowden, like Bradley Manning (the soldier accused of passing confidential files to WikiLeaks) has put in evidence how vulnerable the US espionage system really is,” one Latin American intelligence agent told Clarín.

This agent, who works regularly with the CIA, explains that Washington is less concerned about Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, because he was not part of the system, and simply received and circulated the information. "The other two were part of system," said the agent. "Now they fear that if they do not manage to catch Snowden others will follow in his footsteps. They would rather be accused of imperialism than have this event repeat itself.”

Intelligence counterparts all knew that the United States had a system of electronic espionage. They’ve known ever since Echelon, a system of global communications interception, was established by the US, Canada, Australia, Great Britain, and New Zealand to gather information on the USSR during the Cold War. Few, however, imagined its magnitude.

“They need thousands of people just to be able to process and translate such a vast amount of information," noted the intel source. "Many are contracted out and are not from within the system, which represents a great challenge to the system’s security. Thus, the message is that anyone who follows Snowden’s footsteps will have a really hard time for the rest of their life.”

Air space issues

The diversion of Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane proves the level of pressure the United States is exerting to prevent Snowden’s escape. Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua have offered him asylum, but will Russia allow him to leave its territory? Will a plane -- with him on board -- have the authorization to transit the necessary national air spaces to arrive at its final destination?

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Los Roques beach, Venezuela - Photo: DamianFinol

“Obama will do the impossible to prevent Snowden from drinking a Coke on a Venezuelan beach, even if that means backtracking on the US rapprochement with Venezuela,” Marc Jones from the University of Texas told Clarín. “Obama has to show his influence and come off as a strong leader in the face of this kind of crisis. The Republicans have already accused him of being weak.”

The anti-espionage rhetoric has been strong in both Europe and Latin America. Still, commercial relations between the European Union and the US were not suspended and Angela Merkel said that the collaboration of the systems of intelligence is key.

The Latin American countries are divided between those who want to maintain strong relations with the US, including Brazil, and those who do not care about putting it at risk, like Venezuela. Nobody really knows how far they are willing to go in either case.

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In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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