Moving Abroad

Which Country Should Snowden Live In?

Three Latin American countries have offered refuge to leaker Edward Snowden. How to choose? A side-by-side comparison.

Kin Cheung/AP

As of Saturday, three countries have offered asylum to Edward Snowden: Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Bolivia. For the last week and then some, Snowden has been biding his time in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport, waiting to hear back from governments he's asked for protection. Now that he's gotten some offers, where would he be best off? A side-by-side comparison.

Signature Dish

Nicaragua: The name of the country's traditional dish, gallo pinto, translates to "spotted rooster." But there need not be meat in this meal, whose main components are just beans and rice. Often added to the mix are onions, sweet peppers, and garlic.

Venezuela: They may look like simple corn pancakes, but Venezuelan arepas are the basis for pretty much any combination of foods you can think of. The cornmeal cakes, which can be grilled, fried, or battered, are found all over South America. But only in Venezuela are they split in half and filled with cheese and meat.

Bolivia: Remember the first time you saw quinoa on the shelf at Whole Foods 10 years ago? Well, they've been eating it in Bolivia for millennia, in everything from simple stews to tamales.

WINNER: For staying ahead of the curve, Bolivia wins this one.


Nicaragua: Over the past 10 years, nightclubs have been springing up all over Nicaragua's capital city of Managua. Unfortunately, lots of older favorites are fading. Good luck finding a regular party spot.

Venezuela: If Snowden is a party boy, then Caracas is the city for him. Its ethnic diversity means there are clubs offering every type of music imaginable, and most don't shut down for the night until 4 a.m. or even noon the next day.

Bolivia: Sucre, one of Bolivia's capitals, is crawling with students looking for a good time. Its signature nighttime offering? A vast selection of peñas, which are basically combination restaurants-bars-dance clubs. What's more, many offer Andean music and folk dancers in traditional costume. Of course, there are lots of other options if that's not Snowden's scene.

WINNER: If Snowden wants to get a taste of the culture and start his partying at dinner, Bolivia is the place to be.


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Nicaragua: When you hear the words “Corn Islands,” great beaches may not be the first thing to spring to mind. But these islands feature three of Nicaragua's best beaches: Picnic Center for swimming, Long Beach for diving and hiking, and Little Corn Beach for relaxation.

Venezuela: Mochima National Park offers coral reefs for an unforgettable snorkeling experience and fresh oysters pretty much everywhere you look. Plus, you can make friends with a giant lizard.

Bolivia: If Snowden wants to relax by the ocean, he's out of luck here. Bolivia is landlocked.

WINNER: Awesome as giant lizards are, if Snowden wants variety, then Nicaragua's his best bet.

Famous Faces

Nicaragua: Would you believe Mick Jagger's ex is from Nicaragua? A former actress and model, Bianca Jagger now occupies herself with social- and human-rights advocacy.

Venezuela: That ’70s Show actor and yo'-mama joker extraordinaire Wilmer Valderrama. Moving on.

Bolivia: Although he wasn't born there, Bolivia's most famous temporary resident was Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara. After he tried to incite revolution there, he was executed by CIA-assisted Bolivian authorities.

WINNER: If Snowden is a human-rights advocate, then rubbing elbows with Bianca Jagger seems the obvious choice.

Human Rights

Nicaragua: Although Nicaragua continues to struggle with issues of poorly run prisons and sexual violence, it is working toward ending domestic violence: the country passed its Integral Law Against Violence Against Women in June.

Venezuela: Although it's hard to find documentation of Venezuela's human-rights record since President Hugo Chávez passed away, the country does continue to have problems with prison violence and police abuse.

Bolivia: The good news: Bolivia also passed a law against violence against women. The bad news (especially for Snowden): it's also been having some freedom-of-expression problems lately.

WINNER: For trying to fight back, we'll give this one to Nicaragua.

Privacy Laws

Nicaragua: Considering his position, privacy-protection laws are probably high on Snowden's list of things to look for in a host country. And although it has a long way to go, Nicaragua passed a Law of Protection of Personal Data last year. Among other things, the law created an office to monitor and regulate how nonfinancial companies and the government use personal data.

Venezuela: As of yet, Venezuela doesn't have a comprehensive legal framework for data protection. But since Snowden's own actions have gotten many countries rolling on the action, not all hope is lost for the South American nation.

Bolivia: The nation's ministry of transparency tries to ensure access to public information and to fight against the potential for corruption. But for now, Bolivia's focus is there and not on individual privacy protection.

WINNER: Bolivia, for now.

Coolest Animal

Nicaragua: Nicaragua boasts not one, but two species of everyone's favorite armored mammal, the armadillo. Best known for their leathery shells, some species can roll into a ball when threatened. And those that can't roll up? They just jump up to four feet in the air. We're not sure how well that works as a defense mechanism.

Venezuela: The country to the south takes us in a pretty weird direction by offering the capybara. Closely related to the guinea pig and weighing in between 77 and 150 pounds, these creatures are the largest rodents in the world. The semiaquatic mammal is sometimes hunted for its meat and hide. It also produces a grease used in pharmaceuticals.

Bolivia: Although there are several big cats native to Bolivia, none is bigger (or more threatening) than the reclusive jaguar. The spotted felines live mainly in dense rainforests and prefer to kill prey with a single bite—to the brain. As if it weren't cool enough, the jaguar's top speed is 50 miles per hour. Needless to say, it's at the top of the food chain.

WINNER: Sorry, Venezuela and Nicaragua, but the jungle cat is hard to beat.

Job Prospects

Nicaragua: Now that he's been fired by Booz Allen, Snowden will need to find work. Nicaragua has a not-bad 7.4 percent unemployment rate, which is a good start. However, Nicaragua's GDP per capita is just $3,300, and Snowden doesn't fall neatly into its main employment sectors of agriculture, industry, and service.

Venezuela: At 8 percent unemployment, Venezuela looks a little less promising for people looking for jobs. But its $13,200 GDP per capita blows Nicaragua's out of the water.

Bolivia: The southernmost country's GDP is higher than Nicaragua's at $5,000, and its unemployment rate is the lowest of the three at 5.5 percent. But if those numbers look good, look closer: nearly half its population lives below the poverty line.

WINNER: Based on sheer numbers, we'd encourage Snowden to go for Venezuela.

Strip Clubs

Nicaragua: Snowden's girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, is a stripper, so we thought it was important to consider her career prospects as well. The Diamond Club in Managua prides itself on being the classiest strip club in all of central America. According to its website, the exclusive strip center "does not cater to the lower echelons of customers."

Venezuela: Although Venezuela has as many strip clubs as the next haven for whistleblowers, what really sets it apart are its practice spaces. In fact, it's the only place we've heard of where pole dancers are given space by the government to rehearse their art al fresco.

Bolivia: Be careful when you're trying to find nighttime entertainment in Bolivia. You might think you're going to a "nightclub," but here, that's actually a euphemism for a brothel. That operates as a strip club. Or maybe you're just getting a three-for-one deal?

WINNER: Mills can find classy strip clubs anywhere. But where but Venezuela can she have so much choice in rehearsal space?