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Even In Snowden-Friendly Brazil, Asylum May Be 'Bridge Too Far'

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Should they or shouldn't they? That's the question Brazilians are asking themselves after Edward Snowden's "open letter" lauding Brazil's role in protecting privacy rights and alluding to his hand in uncovering spying on their president.

"Today, if you carry a cellphone in Sao [Paulo], the NSA can and does keep track of your location," wrote Snowden, 30, who is living in temporary asylum in Russia. "They do this 5 billion times a day to people around the world."

Last month, a group of Brazilian senators came out in support of the former NSA contractor. And even Luis Roberto Barroso — a judge on Brazil's highest court — spoke in his defense.

"He gave an unequivocal service to governments around the world and U.S. citizens," writes Hélio Schwartsman in Folha de Sao Paulo. " ... I am of the opinion that, if he asks, asylum should be granted."

But not all columnists agree. Reinaldo Azevedo wrote in the right-wing Veja magazine's blog: "Snowden is a traitor to his own country. ... What does Brazil gain by giving him shelter?"

"It is very unlikely asylum will be given," says Pedro Arruda, a political analyst at Sao Paulo's Catholic University. "President Dilma Rousseff has already expressed herself. Or rather, her silence has given her opinion."

Brazil's government has indeed been circumspect. It says that Snowden has not formally asked for asylum, so it hasn't considered the matter — hardly rolling out the welcome mat.

Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center, says Rousseff already showed her displeasure by postponing a state visit to the U.S. Rousseff also is pushing United Nations action on global Internet privacy issues.

Several months ago, Rio de Janeiro-based journalist Glenn Greenwald reported in the Brazilian media that the NSA was spying on Rousseff's personal emails and on the state oil company Petrobras. The allegations were based on documents Greenwald got from Snowden.

Rousseff "obviously was very upset about the revelations, but values Brazil-U.S. relations and knows how important it is to cultivate that relationship," Sotero says, "especially in that moment that Brazil is starting to face some tough economic [issues] and needs to integrate its economy with advanced countries, especially the United States."

Julia Sweig, director of Latin America studies for the Council on Foreign Relations, says while Snowden is a popular figure in Brazil, his fate is not at the top of the agenda.

"I don't think the Brazilian public is, by and large, looking to pick a big public fight with the United States," she says, adding that asylum for Snowden would be a "bridge too far" for Brazil.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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