Washington's options for punishing tiny Ecuador for sheltering fugitive NSA leaker Edward Snowden are few, experts say, and using them would backfire internationally.
The range of possible US moves is pretty narrow, said Peter Eisner
, a former correspondent for The Associated Press and Newsday in Latin America and co-author of former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega's memoirs.?
"They could decrease the size of the embassy staff, maybe cancel educational and cultural stuff," but not much else, Eisner said.
US-Ecuador relations are already bruised from the sanctuary Quito's London embassy has provided WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange.
President Rafael Correa
's opposition to Washington on other issues, such as refusing to renew the US lease on an Ecuador air base, has played well with domestic and regional audiences, who harbor a deep traditional antipathy to past US imperialistic practices in Latin America.
In 2009, Quito gave a top US diplomat 48 hours to leave the country after Washington blocked funding for an counter-narcotics program because Ecuador demanded control over it.
Two years later, in April 2011, Ecuador expelled the American ambassador after a classified diplomatic cable surfaced revealing her suspicions that Correa knew about rampant corruption in his national police.
"Ecuador's president has his populist streak and indeed he is in an existential fight with traditional media, but he was freely elected, and just won a strong majority in Ecuador's congress," says John Dinges
, a Latin America expert and former Washington Post correspondent who recently visited Quito.
In addition, "Correa has brought unprecedented stability to a notoriously unstable country," added Dinges, an author of three books on Latin America and a professor of journalism at Columbia University.
"Any attempt to crack down on Ecuador in reprisal for giving asylum to anti-secrecy renegades like Assange and Snowdon will be strongly opposed by the rest of Latin America," Dinges said. "It will be seen as US intervention, and Latin American most easily unites around non-intervention, such as telling the United States to keep hands off."?
Likewise, foreign oil companies in Ecuador can not be expected to welcome any disruption in economic relations.
Both Dinges and Eisner also predicted that any move by Washington to punish or marginalize tiny Ecuador would also likely be unpopular with U.S. citizens in Ecuador, whose pleasant climate, beaches, low prices and peaceful environment has made it has become a popular retirement destination for Americans.
Snowden was still in the international zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport Monday night, according to reports, but may have already departed for Cuba en route to Ecuador. France 24 TV's correspondent in Quito said she expected "the asylum case will be finalized and that it is just a matter of time before it is approved."
The former CIA and NSA contractor "has already received assistance by the Ecuadorean government [in Moscow]," she reported.