Mercosur bloc against US on spying, Snowden

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Associated Press

Posted on July 13, 2013 at 2:04 AM

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) — South American presidents took a strong stance on Friday against alleged U.S. spying in the region during a summit of the Mercosur trade bloc.

Regional leaders were outraged this week by reports that a U.S. spy program is widely targeting data in emails and telephone calls across Latin America.

"We emphatically reject the interception of telecommunications and espionage actions in our nations, as they constitute a violation of human rights, of the right of our citizens to privacy and information," Mercosur leaders said in the summit's final statement. "It's unacceptable behavior that breaches our sovereignty and harms relations between nations."

The South American group also defended the right of asylum after Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua recently offered it to NSA leaker Edward Snowden. Washington has put pressure on regional presidents to block Snowden from finding refuge in Latin America.

"We repudiate any activity that could undermine the authority of States to grant and fully implement the right of asylum," the statement said. "We reject any attempt in pressuring, harassment or criminalization of a State over a country's sovereign right to grant asylum."

The fugitive whistleblower said Friday that he wants asylum in Russia and is willing to stop sharing information as a trade-off for such a deal, according to a lawmaker who was among a dozen activists and officials who met with him at the Moscow airport where he has been holed up.

Snowden, who is charged with violating U.S. espionage laws, is believed to be in the transit area of Moscow's main international airport after arriving June 23 from Hong Kong.

The White House criticized Russia on Friday for allowing Snowden to meet with human rights activists, calling it a "propaganda platform."

Whether Russia would be willing to take Snowden up on his request is unclear. It is also unclear if he could fly to any of the Latin American countries that offered him asylum without passing through the airspace of the U.S. or its allies.

Some European nations allegedly refused to allow Bolivian President Evo Morales to fly through their airspace on his way home from Moscow last week amid suspicions that Snowden was on board.

Morales has blamed Washington for pressuring European countries to refuse his plane to fly through their airspace and has warned that he could close the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia.

"We have become one with Evo and his people. This could have happened to any of us," Argentine President Cristina Fernandez told other leaders at the Mercosur summit. "There are new, more subtle ways of colonialism than the ones we encountered centuries ago."

The Mercosur countries condemned France, Spain, Italy, and Portugal for their alleged involvement in the plane incident and said they would recall their ambassadors from all four European nations for consultations about what happened.

Mercosur also lifted its suspension on Paraguay as a bloc member starting Aug. 15. Member nations suspended Paraguay's membership last year after it impeached and ousted then-President Fernando Lugo. Paraguay is among South America's poorest nations and half its trade is with fellow Mercosur founding members Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. Venezuela is also a member of the group.

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