Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Mixed Messages From Ecuador on Assange’s Asylum Request

Citing unnamed officials familiar with the matter, the Guardian reported yesterday that the government of Ecuador has decided that it will grant WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s request for asylum. Nevertheless, Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa dismissed this report Tuesday afternoon via Twitter, saying that a final decision had not yet been made.

In a television interview with Ecuadoran public television on Monday, President Rafael Correa said that a verdict on Assange’s asylum bid could be expected this week, and that it would come after a meeting with Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño, which is scheduled for today.

This is not the first time that authorities have promised to issue a final pronouncement on the matter, however. On June 20, the day after the WikiLeaks founder fled to Ecuador’s London embassy, Deputy Foreign Minister Marco Albuja assured reporters that the government would reach a decision in 24 hours. Still, this latest announcement appears to be more reliable. President Correa repeated his promise on Tuesday to BBC Mundo, and Patiño also tweeted a confirmation of today’s scheduled meeting late last night.

Much of the reporting on Assange’s petition has centered on the irony of his appeal to Ecuador. The Correa administration has earned a reputation as hostile to independent media in the country, which clashes significantly with Assange’s image as a free speech and transparency advocate.

But the main obstacle to the WikiLeaks director’s request for political asylum in Ecuador is the difficulty he would face in leaving the country, as UK police have authority to arrest him the instant he leaves embassy property. As Patiño told Reuters recently: "It's not only about whether to grant the asylum, because for Mr. Assange to leave England he should have a safe pass from the British (government). Will that be possible? That's an issue we have to take into account."

Leaving the UK may not be entirely out of the question, however. International law experts have offered a variety of ways in which the Ecuadoran government could legally slip the WikiLeaks head out of Great Britain, including classifying him as “diplomatic baggage” or naming him a United Nations ambassador.

Ultimately, fleeing the country may not even be necessary for Assange. If he is granted asylum he could potentially remain in Ecuador’s embassy indefinitely. While this would be an unusual measure, it is not without precedent. Hungarian Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty, an outspoken critic of the then pro-Soviet government of Hungary, lived in the American Embassy in Budapest for 15 years, from 1956 to 1971.

News Briefs

  • Over the weekend The Daily Beast reported that Mitt Romney’s chosen running mate Paul Ryan has received several foreign policy briefings from former Assistant Secretary of State Elliot Abrams. Abrams is best known for pleading guilty to covering up the Iran-Contra scandal in 1991 and working to deny the most publicized atrocity committed by the government during El Salvador’s civil war, the 1981 El Mozote massacre. Greg Weeks points out that Romney himself has several right-wing Latin America policy advisors (like the Heritage Foundation’s Ray Walser), and suggests that a Romney victory in November could cause foreign policy towards the region to be dominated by “Cold Warriors” openly hostile to leftist governments.
  • Cuban Triangle notes that Ryan’s views on Cuba were not always in line Romney’s current support of the embargo. In 2002, Congressman Ryan argued in favor of unrestricted travel to the island, saying “travel is a device that opens closed societies.” Univision reports that Romney visited Miami on Monday in order to assure the Cuban-American community there that his vice president pick had “changed his position after meeting with South Florida Cuban lawmakers Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart.”
  • Fidel Castro turned 86 on Monday, and while state media published commemorative essays in his honor, the Cuban leader made no public appearances. The AP suggests that this is yet another sign of Castro’s diminished role in the country.
  • In a continuation of his attacks on the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) for allegedly buying votes in July’s elections, leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador appeared at a press conference in Mexico City on Tuesday with a pig, a sheep and several chickens. Lopez Obrador claimed to have evidence that the PRI promised the farm animals to rural Mexicans in exchange for their votes. The AP gleefully reports that “the pig was the most vocal of the group.”
  • The LA Times’ World Now blog with a look at the politicized nature of homicide statistics in Mexico. While the administration of President Felipe Calderon claims that homicides linked to organized crime fell 15 percent in the first half of 2012 compared to the same period last year, independent analysts say the figure has actually risen by 10 percent.
  • During a conference at a university in Medellin on Tuesday, Colombian ex-president Alvaro Uribe claimed that, while in office, he considered ordering a military operation in Venezuelan territory aimed at FARC and ELN guerrillas. According to Uribe, he opted to denounce guerrilla presence in the neighboring country through the Organization of American States instead because he “didn’t have time” to organize a military campaign. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez shot back soon after that rather than lacking time, Uribe simply “didn’t have the ‘cojones’” to launch an attack on Venezuelan soil.
  • Colombian state prosecutors on Tuesday ordered the release of politician Sigifredo Lopez, who had been jailed since May on suspicion of helping the FARC kidnap 11 other local legislators in 2002.
  • The trial against former Argentine president Fernando de la Rua, accused of paying $5 million to four senators in exchange for voting for the elimination of worker protection regulations in 2000, began on Tuesday in Buenos Aires. Clarin reports that former intelligence chief Fernando de Santibanes and former Labor Minister Alberto Flamarique are also suspected of involvement in the scandal.
  • Newly-installed Paraguayan President Federico Franco has indicated that he is considering backing out of a power-sharing agreement with Brazil over the Itaipu Dam, the world’s biggest hydroelectric facility. The dam has been jointly operated by Brazil and Paraguay since its completion in 1984, but tensions between the two countries have risen ever since Brazil endorsed Paraguay’s suspension from the Mercosur trading bloc in response to the recent ouster of former president Fernando Lugo.

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