QUITO, Ecuador — A decision by Ecuador to embrace fugitive Edward J. Snowden would represent President Rafael Correa’s boldest attempt yet to step out from the shadow of the late Hugo Chavez and establish himself as Washington’s leading critic in Latin America.
Correa, 50, has long relished his role as a US adversary, and last year put his anti-American rhetoric to the test by allowing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to take refuge at Ecuador’s Embassy in London.
In considering an asylum request by the former National Security Agency contractor, the stakes are even higher, after Secretary of State John F. Kerry lashed out at China and Russia for granting safe passage to the self-described whistle-blower. Whereas Assange is wanted for questioning in Sweden in rape and sexual molestation cases, Snowden is evading charges under the US Espionage Act.
‘‘For Correa this is a chance for him to pick a fight, which he relishes,’’ said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington. ‘‘He’s no Chavez, but rhetorically he sees himself as a spokesman for the anti-American left in Latin America.’’
Ecuador’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, said Monday that Ecuador is considering an asylum request by Snowden, whose actions he praised. Snowden traveled to Moscow from Hong Kong on Sunday and was booked onto a flight Monday to Havana, though he never boarded the plane.
‘‘The man who is shining light and seeking transparency over acts that affect the fundamental liberties of everyone is now being pursued by those that should give explanations to the government and citizens of the world,’’ Patino told a news conference in Hanoi on Monday.
Snowden has also sought asylum in Iceland and possibly other countries, Assange said Monday.
no word yet
President Obama’s spokesman, Jay Carney, said the United States expects the Russians ‘‘to look at the options available to them to expel Mr. Snowden back to the United States to face justice for the crimes with which he is charged.’’
‘‘The Chinese have emphasized the importance of building mutual trust,’’ Carney added. ‘‘And we think that they have dealt that effort a serious setback.’’
Snowden, a former Booz Allen Hamilton Holding employee, said his life would be in danger if he were sent to the United States, according to a letter that Patino said was written by Snowden and which the foreign minister read at the news conference.
Patino declined to provide a timetable for acting on Snowden’s request, adding that any decision would be made in accordance with Ecuador’s constitution. Ecuador deliberated two months before granting Assange asylum.
Snowden fled to Hong Kong in May and identified himself as the source for revelations about programs to collect telephone and Internet data.
He later said the United States had hacked Chinese and Hong Kong targets since 2009 and had tapped Chinese mobile phone companies to steal millions of text messages, according to the South China Morning Post.
‘‘Be absolutely certain that we will analyze the Snowden case very responsibly,’’ Correa said Monday in a statement posted on Twitter. ‘‘We will make our decision with absolute sovereignty as we believe most fit.’’