July 1, 2013

Ecuador flower growers in Snowden shock

MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN, The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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A man harvests flowers on the Valleflor flower farm in Pifo, Ecuador, Saturday, June 29, 2013. A week after National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden began his flight across the globe, every passing day without him making progress toward Ecuadorean asylum makes the prospect look less likely. But the men who grow roses, asters and delphinia in the thin air of Ecuador's sun soaked highlands are deeply concerned that, whatever happens to Snowden, they may turn out to be the most unlikely collateral damage from the geopolitical wrangle over his fate. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

AP

Now, the flower industry has turned its focus to its own government, which it desperately hopes won't offer asylum to Snowden.

A small group of U.S. senators explicitly threatened trade retaliation if Ecuador harbors Snowden. And on Saturday, Vice President Joe Biden asked Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa to turn down any asylum request.

"We can't put the interests of 14 million Ecuadoreans at risk because of a 29-year-old hacker whom we don't even know," Descalzi said. "This gentleman doesn't mean anything to us."

The business impacts of the Snowden affair have infuriated Ecuador's main business groups, who accuse the government of putting ideology before commerce.

The decision to renounce the Andean Trade deal was "permeated by political and ideological motives," said Roberto Aspiazu, chairman of a coalition of Ecuador's largest industries. The country's business sector is calling on the government to manage the relationship with the United States "with the utmost care," he said.

The government said it planned to compensate business damaged by the loss of U.S. tariff benefits and has painted its decision in terms of the nation's sovereignty versus U.S. threats.

However, Correa told The Associated Press in an interview Sunday that his government was not thinking about renouncing the GSP trade benefits that would affect rose exports, along with a host of other Ecuadorean products, because those benefits had not been subject to U.S. threats.

"If they threaten us, we'll take the appropriate decisions. Ecuador doesn't accept threats from anyone, we don't allow blackmail and our sovereignty isn't for sale," Correa said.

When asked how he feels about the whole situation, Jaramillo, the head of the flower association, thought before responding with a single word: "frustrated."

"One isolated issue shouldn't create so much damage," he said.

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AP writer Gonzalo Solano contributed to this report.

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