Special for USA TODAY
CARACAS, Venezuela -- Edward Snowden's reported escape itinerary through Latin America -- from Havana to Caracas to Quito, Ecuador -- reads like a list of the last bastions of anti-Americanism in the region.
Ecuador is an especially sensible pick for someone trying to stay out of the reach of a U.S. extradition request.
President Rafael Correa, 49, of Ecuador has long followed in the footsteps of the Castros in Cuba and the late Hugo Chávez in Venezuela as a harsh critic and adversary of Washington.
He regularly rails against so-called U.S. imperialism and capitalism, even though he obtained a doctorate in economics from the University of Illinois.
Since his election in 2006 and re-election in February, he has been boosting the economy through government spending on housing, roads, bridges, schools and hospitals while allying Ecuador with anti-American leftists such as Venezuela and Cuba.
Correa's belligerent attitude toward Washington plays well with his home crowd, apparently, given his electoral success. In a move that many here applauded, he defaulted on foreign loans he said were "illegitimate."
He has described himself as "left-wing -- not from the Marxist left, but rather a Christian left."
Correa's rhetoric has often been strong and impulsive. In 2007, he said that Ecuador must be allowed a military base in Miami if the United States was to maintain its own air base on Ecuador's Pacific coast. Two years later, the last troops left the base in Manta in what Ecuador's government called a recovery of sovereignty.
In 2011, Ecuador expelled U.S. Ambassador in Quito Heather Hodges over the contents of a WikiLeaks-released cable. Washington retaliated with a similar move. Ambassadorial-level relations were repaired between Quito and Washington in May.
However, the United States is Ecuador's top trading partner with some 45% of exports heading to the United States. That could harm the economy if the USA decides to retaliate should Snowden show up there. Ecuador is heavily dependent on oil exports.
Correa's opponents accuse him of dictatorial policies, which makes the country an interesting possible choice for Snowden, who claims he is in favor of transparency.
The media is under various government pressures to report what Correa wants. Correa has described the private media as his "greatest enemy" and a major obstacle to "reform." He derides his adversaries in his weekly radio and TV shows.
In 2011, three executives and a former columnist from an opposition newspaper, El Universo, were sentenced to jail and fines for allegedly libeling Correa. He says his aim had been to fight the "dictatorship of the media," and he later pardoned them.
In 2012, Reporters Without Borders criticized Correa for the shutdown of several broadcasting outlets that were critical of the government.
Ecuador granted asylum to WikiLeaks' Julian Assange, who remains in the country's embassy in London where he is under extradition from Sweden on rape charges. It is Wikileaks that has been assisting Snowden in avoidaning extradition to the USA on charges of espionage.
Contributing: Associated Press, BBC