Wednesday, June 20, 2012

WikiLeaks Founder in Legal Limbo as Ecuador Studies Asylum Request

Ecuador is analyzing a request from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for asylum, after Assange spent Tuesday night in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Last week Britain's Supreme Court rejected Assange’s appeal against his extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted on sex crime allegations. Assange’s decision to spend the night in the Ecuadorian Embassy violates the terms of his house arrest, meaning he could be arrested again, Scotland Yard said Wednesday. The Guardian has live coverage of the ongoing saga.

In its official statement, Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry said its evaluation of Assange’s request would “take into account respect for the rules and principles of international law.” Assange has thanked Ecuador for studying his petition. One source told the Telegraph that Assange is in “good spirits” and has received a “generous and welcoming” reception at the Embassy.

Ecuador has never actually formally offered residency to Assange. In 2010, Ecuador’s deputy foreign minister issued a statement that invited Assange to visit Ecuador, and offered to process a request for residency if Assange wanted to do so. Residency would be offered to Assange “without any kind of trouble and without any kind of conditions,” the deputy minister said. But Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Ricardo Patiño were both quick to say that this offer had not been approved by the highest levels of government. At the time, Correa described it as a “spontaneous” statement.

Many media outlets have cited the fact that Assange interviewed Correa on his TV talk show last April (the interview was aired in May) as evidence of the “friendly ties” between Assange and the Andean country. Correa was the only Latin American president to appear on the show so far this year. One source told the AP that during this taping, Assange received an offer of asylum, although it is not clear whether it came from Correa himself. At the end of the interview, Correa told Assange, “welcome to the club of the persecuted.”

BBC Mundo notes that while Assange is widely seen as a promoter of press freedom and openness of governments, Correa has fought a bitter battle with the press inside his own country.

Salon’s Glenn Greenwald argues that Assange’s main interest is to avoid being extradited to the US, if he ends up in Swedish custody. This likely drove him to take the risk of breaking the terms of his house arrest. The US State Department has issued no formal statement on the afffair, with one spokesperson describing the matter as “a business between Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Ecuador.”

Ecuador was one of the world governments most affected by WikiLeaks’ publication of thousands of US State Department cables. Ecuador expelled its US ambassador from the country in response to a July 2009 cable, in which the ambassador described top-level police corruption and wrote that Correa was aware of it yet did nothing.

News Briefs
  • President Hugo Chavez has a sizeable lead over opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles according to the latest numbers released by polling company Datanalisis, with 43.6 percent of voters favoring Chavez, versus 27.7 percent for Capriles. But as Reuters notes, Venezuelan polls have a mixed records of providing accurate numbers, although Datanalisis is considered one of the more reliable ones.
  • In other election news, poll numbers from Mexico’s Reforma newspaper show Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Enrique Peña Nieto extending his lead to 42 points; meaning there is now a 12-point gap between him and rival Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. A previous Reforma poll, from May 31, had only a 4-point difference between the two candidates. Reuters also has some general analysis on why the PRI may soon be back in power, although it is unlikely that the party will win a majority in Congress. During an interview with BBC Mundo, former president and National Action Party (PAN) member Vicente Fox said that he would be supporting the PRI during this election because he “doesn’t want Mexico to turn into Venezuela.”
  • Before traveling to the Rio+20 conference, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stopped briefly in La Paz, Bolivia, and met with President Evo Morales. The AP reports that the two leaders signed a “memo of understanding” in which Iran committed anti-narcotics aid to Bolivia. The AP called it the “first military cooperation” agreement between Bolivia and Iran. After the UN summit in Rio de Janeiro, Ahmadinejad will reportedly meet with President Chavez in Venezuela.
  • British Prime Minister David Cameron approached Argentine President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner during the G20 summit and told her that she should “respect” the wishes of the Falkland Islanders who want to remain under British rule. Fernandez reportedly attempted tried to hand Cameron a pack of documents, consisting of all the UN resolutions issued on the Falkland Islands, which Cameron refused to accept, reports Mercopress.
  • 100 days after the Church reportedly helped negotiate a truce between El Salvador’s warring gangs, gang leaders say they are interested in reaching a “definitive cease-fire,” reports the AP.
  • Just the Facts shares a map made available at a Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing in the House of Representatives, showing the most common routes taken by suspicious sea and air traffic heading to the US from South America.
  • Southern Pulse with a new field report looking at gang dynamics in the conflicted city of Acapulco, arguing that the city represents the future of Mexico’s drug conflict, in which super-power criminal gangs are responsibility for the majority of the violence, rather than the big cartels. The report includes an interactive Google map showing which city neighborhoods are occupied by gangs like the Independent Cartel of Acapulco, and which areas are in dispute.
  • The mayors of Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo, as well as a representative from Mexico City, signed an agreement pledging to mutually increase sustainable development projects in their cities, reports EFE. Mayors from 40 of the world’s largest cities are currently meeting in Rio de Janeiro, in an event parallel to Río+20.
  • Latin American News Dispatch has a slideshow of an exhumation being carried out in the military garrison in Coban, Guatemala. A forensic team has discovered the remains of 63 people believed to have been killed in a massacre carried out by the military in the early 1980s.
  • Panana has withdrawn hotly two debated bills that spurred two days of violent protests across the country, reports EFE. One bill included Martinelli’s appointments to the Supreme Court, widely seen as an attempt to ensure that majority of the Court’s 12 judges share Martinelli’s political sympathies. The other controversial bill would have allowed the selling of state shares in utility companies. Critics say this would leave Panama deeply in debt.
  • Reporters Without Borders says that two local radio stations in Bolivia were attacked with explosives, in a town suffering a wave of aggressive protests against a foreign mining company. Several Bolivian journalists this year have been injured or assaulted this year while covering social conflicts, one indication that the government needs to provide better insurance schemes for the media workers who cover high-risk events, Reporters Without Borders states.
  • The Council on Hemispheric Affairs profiles Ecuador’s Intag region, where residents have refused to allow foreign mining companies to develop projects in the area. While the area remains poor, many communities are surviving on small-scale agriculture and tourism projects which have arguably brought greater benefits to locals than a mining company would have, the article argues.
  • The New York Times’ geography blog on the history of Ecuador’s borders, noting that capital city Quito was originally supposed to be the seat of government for an Amazonian territory larger than 500,000 miles.
  • The Council on Foreign Relations’ Shannon O’Neil challenges a recent Foreign Affairs article which argued that Brazil’s rising economic power will soon grind to a halt. O’Neil states that Brazil has invested enough in social programs and other economic reforms, so that its economy is now no longer so vulnerable to hiccups in the global market.

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