The step has been taken. Each of them knows what they are facing and what is at stake. And it is a step that has been thought through carefully by the founder of Wikileaks.
Mónica del Pilar Uribe Marín
But still questions arise. Why choose a small country as the place for political asylum? Why offer it, knowing that this asylum-seeker is considered an ‘Enemy of the State’ by a superpower? Why take this step when the consequences of breaking the conditions of bail and house arrest create problems as much for Assange as for the government offering asylum, although in different ways?
And above all, why ask for asylum from a government whose president, Rafael Correa, has been described as a ‘repressor of the freedom of expression’? At least that is what many of the privately-owned media in that country have begun to say, once the new government began to make structural changes. The changes affected the status quo, and the benefits of ‘the privileged’, those who have turned him into Public Enemy Number 1.
But the answers follow logically from the facts. As logical (or predictable) as the fact that Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, has chosen Ecuador as a country of refuge and political asylum instead of another because it is the only country he trusts.
Assange hasn’t thrown the dice randomly. His experience as a journalist, and a year and a half suffering a hard legal battle, being stigmatized even by colleagues who were previously his friends, has taught him (or confirmed) that justice will not work for him. Even though many believe him, and in his innocence and that of Wikileaks.
And that meant that Assange must have been convinced that life imprisonment in the subhuman conditions of Guantanamo, or the death penalty, were what awaited him.
With that sword hanging over him he had no alternative. In view of what happened, anyone with common sense would have done the same. Especially if the greatest power on earth had declared him an Enemy of the State. Everyone knows the consequences, or suspects what they would be.
Reviewing and summarizing the facts that motivated this description, which The Prisma published in three instalments (I, II, III) – written by the Ecuadorian Consul in London, Fidel Narváez, which also allows one to observe the friendly relationship between Ecuador and Wikileaks – everything started in April 2010.
At this time Wikileaks – which was then not so well-known or controversial, and did not have the huge number of supporters that they have today – published a video and other material showing the killing in cold blood of 18 civilians in Iraq, by American soldiers using them in their ‘war games’.
From then on Wikileaks began the cascade of cable leaks, carefully placed in different media, about the barbaric actions of the USA during the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, about international espionage by diplomatic staff, and about financial, military and other matters, which have caused scandal and revulsion from the public.
Since then the USA has considered Assange an Enemy of the State, and has made moves to bring him to US territory. Sweden was the first stop, because two women had ‘suddenly’ accused him of abuse and sexual attacks during one of his visits there, in August 2010. After such accusations, Assange would not only be detained in the UK, (where he was staying), but would be extradited to Sweden to ‘answer the charges’. From there he would be extradited to the USA, perhaps immediately.
In fact at the end of 2010 he was arrested in London. After the payment of an exorbitant guarantee, put up by his friends and supporters, he was placed under house arrest (at the home of his friend Vaughan Smith), and required to wear an electronic tag, and present himself daily at a police station.
Since then, he has been confined, without any charges, expecting at any moment to be sent to Sweden for trial, a trial which colleagues and his team of lawyers have stated would be neither open nor fair.
The government of his own country, Australia, has kept its distance, in order to ‘not get involved in problems’. In other words they have abandoned him.
Hence, after losing a legal battle, and a few days away from being extradited to Sweden, Assange left the address he was required to stay at on June 19th. He went to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to request political asylum, as he considered himself under pursuit and in fear of his life. And he did not announce his intentions, because in doing so he might have been taken by force and sent to Sweden immediately.
One can speculate about the possible reasons, but certainly one of them is that Julian Assange trusts the Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa. And he in turn believes in, defends and supports the work and the ideals of Wikileaks, and hence of Assange – and apparently views him as being politically persecuted.
Assange trusts Correa because of the determined position he has taken on questions of sovereignty and independence for his country, especially in relation to countries like the United States. Because of this Correa will not be intimidated by the pressures expected to come from that country in North America.
And on this point Correa has been factually explicit: he has said ‘No’ to North American bases in Ecuador – goodbye to the base at Manta – and ‘No’ to economic and interventionist influences, and to the imperialist policy of the USA and of international agencies.
In addition he has refused to subscribe to conventional free-trade treaties, plays an important role in Unasur (Union of South American Nations) and ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas), defends the idea and the practice of national sovereignty and autonomy, and supports Latin American unity.
The final point is that two years ago, high-level Ecuadorian officials stated that Ecuador would be ready to receive Assange. And more recently, in an interview with the Ecuadorian president, made by Assange, there was a clear ideological affinity and a degree of friendship and sympathy from Correa for his case. (The World of Tomorrow / The Julian Assange Show – Russia Today).
Because – contrary to what a large part of the privately-owned media in Ecuador would like the world to believe – their government believes in responsible and ethical freedom of expression, without monopolies. (Let’s remember that these media that today are making war on Correa are mostly owned by business groups, especially by the banking industry).
In other words, Ecuador is a safe haven for Assange, because its president has also demonstrated a character that is independent enough not to give in to possible pressures.
The leader, following a clean and coherent course of action has – as an official of the government put it – “an Ace card in his hands”.
This is because, giving a green light to Assange, Correa is confirming that he is a man of character, who respects human rights, and who is not afraid of anything when it comes to defending truth, freedom and independence.
He is also consolidating his status as a figure on the Left, confirming his defence of free expression in the face of power, and re-affirming that he is not afraid of the USA.
Besides this, such a decision will allow his country to raise its profile enormously and beneficially on the world stage, and to play a more active role in the international community. That in turn will consolidate the geo-political role of Ecuador.
Moreover, in positioning Ecuador in this way, he can redouble his efforts to protect its natural resources, by not permitting the irresponsible exploitation of oil. And by keeping out multinational companies who do not contribute what they owe to the country.
So, the decision is more advantageous than problematic, and a ‘Yes’ from him may promote his support among Ecuadorians inside and outside the country. It is already happening there and in neighbouring countries.
And perhaps, most important of all, he is giving asylum to a man who is known for his independence, and for everything that Wikileaks represents in terms of public freedom of information. So the label that the Ecuadorian Right have given Correa, of “repressor of the media and freedom of expression”, will cease to have much effect.
An early confirmation of this is that since the moment when Assange’s decision became known, they have expressed their agreement through the social media. Obviously it remains to be seen what their expectations are, and what manipulation tactics they are using in this respect.
For Assange his move has already amounted to an offence, for having broken one of his bail conditions: by leaving his place of house arrest and not sleeping there. That allows the police to arrest him, if the Wikileaks founder steps outside the diplomatic jurisdiction of Ecuador.
That being the case, the possibilities of his being extradited, either to Sweden or to the United States, directly or indirectly, are open once again.
For Correa the risks are different.
On one hand, his ‘record as a man of the Left’ would be renewed by the fact of having given asylum to a fugitive from ‘justice’, an enemy of the United States accused of espionage and assisting terrorism.
On the other hand, his difficult relations with the USA would deteriorate and political, economic, and diplomatic pressures would soon appear.
Equally his relations – until now good – with the UK would also be affected, just as much as those with Sweden and Australia. And this, as usually happens in international relations, especially when a ‘single zone’ is involved, will not leave his relations with the European Union intact. This point is even more delicate, because Ecuador needs to establish more extensive trade relations with these countries.
On the national stage, his opponents will find a good deal of ammunition to attack him and to accuse him of wanting to isolate Ecuador in the international community.
What is certain is that as much for Correa as for Assange this is a decisive step.
But for both, who have been persecuted, stigmatized and whose lives are in danger, the benefits from this decision are greater that the losses. The gains are fundamentally rooted in the fact that both are fighting for the same things and with the same courage: the right to the truth and for different political and economic choices to those which now exist.
And also rooted in the fact that, in their own fields of work, both have enormous popular support.
(Translated by Graham Douglas – Email: email@example.com)