Monday, August 20, 2012

Why Did Correa Grant Asylum to Julian Assange?

In the wake of Ecuador’s decision to grant asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, many commentators agree that the move has more to do with President Rafael Correa’s anti-US stance than with the merits of the case itself.

An op-ed in the NYT says that the decision is closely tied to Western Hemisphere politics, and has little to do with Ecuador’s relationship with the UK. For Haverford College’s Anita Isaacs, the decision is “an attempt by Mr. Correa to settle old scores with the United States, display his political prowess in the run-up to Ecuadorean presidential elections next year and make a power play for a leadership role on the Latin American left.”

Isaacs relates the move back to Ecuador’s anger after WikiLeaks released cables in April 2011 in which the then-US ambassador accused Correa of having appointed a corrupt police chief on purpose. She also points out that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s illness has created an opening for a leftist president to take on a regional leadership role, which Correa is making a play for.

The Wall Street Journal concurs, arguing in dramatic language that Correa is “doing his best to join the axis of world rogues,” and that his motivation is to join forces with a “fellow enemy of Western democracies.”

A piece published on Upside Down World takes a similar view, but from the opposite side of the political spectrum, arguing that Correa’s decision is a “stand against neo-colonialist politics,” and speaking approvingly of the president’s repeated confrontation with US interests in the hemisphere. The article quotes Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research as saying that the criticisms of Correa as cracking down on press freedom are a gross exaggeration, and argues that “Most of the foreign press has chosen to ignore the principled positions of Correa, diverting attention to issues like press freedom.”

As noted in Friday’s post, the Global Post has argued that the decision may have more to do with Correa’s wish to present himself as a protector of press freedom than with anti-US feeling.

Assange made a speech from the balcony of Ecuador’s Embassy in London on Sunday, accusing the US of carrying out a “witch hunt” against him, and claiming that there was an FBI investigation in progress, reports the NYT.

Meanwhile regional body UNASUR issued a statement criticizing the UK’s threat to enter the embassy and arrest Assange, but did not give its endorsement to Correa’s position, as the AP reports.

News Briefs

  • The Miami Herald’s Andres Oppenheimer reports that Uruguay’s proposal for the state to sell marijuana “may not be that crazy.” President Jose Mujica revealed in an interview that the government will subcontract a private firm to manage the business, which for Oppenheimer removes the risk that the move would create a “inept, state-run bureaucracy filled with government cronies” that could be corrupted by the drug trade. Mujica told him that the bill has a 50-50 chance of passing, but that he hopes it or a similar proposal will be adopted soon.
  • Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe claimed that the government of Juan Manuel Santos is negotiating with the FARC rebel group in Cuba, calling it “incomprehensible,” reports Colombia Reports. The Santos administration has denied holding talks with the guerrillas, though it has made moves towards creating the legal framework for such a process. La Silla Vacia has a piece saying that Santos is increasingly adopting Uribe’s style in his dealings with the public, sending out Tweets in first-person style, giving interviews to community radio stations, and being photographed riding a horse -- though, as the site points out, the downside was that the horse was being led with a halter harness.
  • Belize has threatened not to pay its debts unless 45 percent is written off their value or it is given a 15 year freeze on paying, reports the WSJ. The country announced its intentions in a note posted on the website of its central bank on August 8, shocking analysts and investors, according to the newspaper. The WSJ argues that Belize may have been encouraged by the “Greek effect” to take a tough line with creditors.
  • The Washington Post reports on the falling murder rate in Mexico’s Ciudad Juarez, noting that the new calm in the one-time world murder capital may be due not to the government’s security efforts but to Sinaloa Cartel kingpin “El Chapo” consolidating his control over the city. InSight Crime makes the same argument in a piece which says that while Chapo’s victory is the most disheartening explanation for the decline in killings, it is also the most plausible.
  • Mexico has replaced all 348 federal police assigned to guard Mexico City airport, bringing in officers who have been carefully vetted, following a deadly shootout between police in June, reports the AP. Two officers involved in the case are still on the run, and released a statement claiming that the dead men had been trying to force them to join a drug trafficking ring.
  • The governor of a Venezuelan state said that Cuba’s inefficient management of a key port has contributed to food shortages, reports the Miami Herald. Carabobo Governor Henrique Salas Feo said that since Puerto Cabello port was put under the management of a Venezuelan-Cuban company in 2009, the delay in imports entering the country has gone from 72 hours to 30 days.
  • Also from the Miami Herald, a report that the Spanish politician who was driving during the car when dissident Oswaldo Paya was killed will go to trial in Cuba on August 31.
  • The Central American Court of Justice (CACJ) has ruled against the Salvadoran Constitutional Chamber in its clash with the government, declaring that the body’s decision that the government’s selection of Supreme Court magistrates was illegal was itself illegal. As Tim’s El Salvador Blog reports, the ruling was rejected by the chamber, and did not seem to have an effect on the positions of the parties negotiating over the constitutional crisis.
  • In Puerto Rico, voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would have ended automatic entitlement to bail and reduced the size of the legislature, reports the AP.
  • Simon Romero at the NYT reports on a boom in psychoanalysis in Argentina, where the number of practising psychologists went from 145 per 100,000 in 2008 to 196 last year, dwarfing the figure of 27 per 100,000 in the US.