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US foe Cuba wary of Snowden entanglement

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Cuba has given its backing to Latin American allies who have offered asylum to fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden but is unlikely to risk antagonizing Washington by becoming more deeply embroiled in the intrigue, analysts say.

Cuban leader Raul Castro on Sunday said Havana backed the "sovereign rights" of countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua who had offered asylum to Snowden, who remains marooned in the transit area of a Moscow airport.

Castro's show of support drew a swift response from anti-secrecy website Wikileaks, who challenged the Cuban leader to go further and offer Snowden safe haven.

"If Raul Castro's solidarity on #Snowden is serious, Cuba will publicly offer Snowden asylum," WikiLeaks said on Twitter.

It is a challenge Cuba -- a key transit point from Russia to Latin America -- is unlikely to respond to anytime soon, several analysts told AFP.

While Cuba is a bitter historical and idelogical enemy of the United States, analysts say authorities in Havana do not wish to add to the enmity by involvement in the Snowden imbroglio.

"The Cuban government wants to show solidarity with Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua on the Snowden case, but seems reluctant to go much beyond that," said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue think-tank.

"They do not want to get involved and further complicate their relationship with Washington.

"There are enough difficulties as it is without adding another, very serious one."

Shifter said even allowing Snowden to use Havana as a transit point en route to another destination in the region would be "risky."

"There doesn't seem to be much of an appetite in Havana for getting into a fight with Washington," he said.

"A confrontation now would accomplish nothing and would reverse some of the modest steps that have recently been made in relaxing bilateral tensions."

Anya Landau French, editor of The Havana Note blog which specialises in relations between communist Cuba and its powerful northern neighbor, also questioned whether the Caribbean nation would assist Snowden's possible passage to Latin America.

"I doubt we'll see Edward Snowden turn up in Havana any time soon," she said.

If Cuba hopes to one day see the end of the severe US embargo on relations with the island which has been in place since 1962, it must first extricate itself from the US State Department's list of nations deemed to be state sponsors of terrorism.

Cuba is one of four countries, along with Iran, Sudan, Syria, included on the State Department blacklist.

A 2006 State Department report however noted that Cuban authorities had given assurances they would no longer accept "new" US fugitives, Landau French points out.

"Allowing Snowden to transit Cuba would be a break of faith from that assurance given," she said.

Paul Webster Hare, a former British ambassador to Cuba who is now a professor of international relations specializing in Latin American foreign policy at the University of Boston, believes Havana would be unwilling to risk the long-term diplomatic consequences of granting Snowden asylum.

"It is hard to believe that Cuba would be enthusiastic about offering permanent asylum to a 30-year-old who could...turn into a prolonged embarrassment lasting decades," Hare said.

"Cuba knows better than any of the asylum-offering countries that the grant of asylum may offer some short-term political satisfaction but it ultimately taints foreign policy for years to come," he added, describing Snowden as "diplomatically toxic."

Arturo Lopez-Levy, a Cuban-born academic at the University of Denver, said Castro's government would not want to do anything that risk improving relations with US President Barack Obama's administration.

"Cuba does not want the Snowden case to derail the possibility of real progress in its relationship with the United States in the second Obama administration," Lopez-Levy says.

"On the one hand, Cuba does not benefit by scoring ideological points against the United States; on the other hand, Cuba wants to support its allies. It is a difficult balance, but for the moment it is held well," Lopez-Levy said.

"Cuba wants to stay as far away from the Snowden affair as possible but it is unrealistic to think that Havana will completely abdicate from its role as co-leader (with Venezuela) of ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas)," Lopez-Levy added, referring to the regional grouping of Latin American nations set up by Cuba and Venezuela in 2004.

"If Snowden may transit legally through Havana, but that is not the same as giving him asylum."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130709/us-foe-cuba-wary-snowden-entanglement