Venezuela has reason to fear increasing irrelevance as North America becomes more energy independent. This makes Iran crucial. Mr. Maduro may be trying to establish himself as a leader as committed to the anti-American cause as was his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, who had a strong personal bond with former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He also needs to establish his own place in South American politics.

Reaching out to Mr. Snowden is a way to send a message to the world that notwithstanding Secretary of State John Kerry’s feeble attempt at rapprochement with Caracas last month, post-Chávez Venezuela has no intention of changing the course of the Bolivarian revolution. Rather, as the economy of the once-wealthy oil nation deteriorates, Mr. Maduro is signaling that Venezuela wants to become an even more loyal geopolitical ally and strategic partner of Russia and Iran.

Mr. Maduro’s presidency is still viewed as illegitimate by roughly half of the Venezuelan electorate, who voted for challenger Henrique Capriles in April. The official rate of the currency known as the “strong bolívar” is 6.3 to the dollar. But a shortage of greenbacks has forced importers into the black market where the currency trades at somewhere between 31 and 37. There are price controls on just about everything, producing shortages of food and medicine. Even so, inflation is now hovering at around 35%, which means that some vendors are skirting government mandates.