Fidel Narváez, the Ecuadorian Consul in the UK, finds himself today in the eye of the hurricane. And the media don’t seem to be helping him much.
Last week he decided to issue a safe-conduct permit in his name for the ex-NSA agent Edward Snowden to allow him to enter Ecuador, and thus slip through the hands of the USA, which is seeking to arrest him in connection with documents leaked by him a few weeks ago.
Dated June 22nd the document allowed him to enter the South American country.
Despite this, Ecuador stated to the press that it had not “authorized the issue of any safe-conduct pass or asylum document that would permit his transfer” to the country.
President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa said Narvaez gave the document to Snowden “exceeding his authority in doing so” and due to the consul’s apparently “desperate” concern that Snowden could be arrested. And added: “He will be punished.”
What is clear is that Fidel Narváez did take this step, and his intentions, motivated by a commitment to defend freedom, do not seem to have been understood.
In relation to these events, The Prisma is publishing separately here an article written by the Consul himself a couple of years ago, which seems to foretell the current situation.
Lessons in dignity for Ecuadorian diplomacy
BY Fidel Narváez
The story of Nicholas Winton, known as the British Schindler, took 50 years to come to light in 1988, when his wife told the story to the media.
Winton succeeded in organising the transfer from the then Czechoslovakia of 669 children, many of whose parents died in Auschwitz.
Recently, at a distance of 70 years from the outbreak of World War II, in the present Czech Republic, the Prague newspaper Mladá Fronta published a revealing article by Mnislav Zelený on Nov. 9th 2010, entitled: The Czechs also saved many Jews, or the three Czech Winstons”.
It describes how hundreds of people managed to escape a certain death, and find refuge in Ecuador, thanks to the visas granted by the Ecuadorian Honorary Consuls and Vice-Consuls of that time in Czechoslovakia.
The three ‘Czech Wintons’ who risked their own lives to save others were: Ernst Fuchs, the Ecuadorian Honorary Consul in Prague from 1929; Jiří Vondráček, appointed Honorary Vice-Consul in 1936; and Karel Linhart Honorary Vice-Consul from 1938.
But their brave actions are practically unknown in Ecuador.
It could easily be assumed that they were only carrying out their duties, and that Ecuador, the country they represented whose policy was one of openness and welcome towards those seeking refuge, had facilitated their transit. But such assumptions are not always correct.
From the superficial investigation so far, it emerges that at a particular moment, ‘our Consuls’ had to deal not only with the Nazi occupation but also with the attitude of their own Foreign Ministry, which makes their actions even more admirable.
Zelený highlights especially the actions of the Honorary Consul, Ernst Fuchs who personally proposed a plan to set up a colony of ‘agricultural experts’ to settle in Ecuador. Fuchs had arranged for 100 million Czech Crowns (at that time worth 10 million dollars) to be sent to the government in Ecuador.
When Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939 and put the Government in Prague under Nazi control, Fuchs again wrote to the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry, this time emphasizing the urgency of the situation, stating that he was in a position to guarantee 3,000 people, each of whom would invest 3,000 dollars in the project.
The most unexpected episode in this story happened on April 12th 1939 when the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry sent an instruction to all the Consulates of the region to stop issuing visas for people of Jewish origin, with immediate effect.
The directives from the Foreign Ministry established an explicit prohibition against the issuing of visas for ‘persons of the Jewish religion or of Jewish race’, which is to say that even Jewish people who had converted to another religion could no longer be conceded an Ecuadorian visa.
Ecuador thus in fact bowed down before the anti-Semitic laws of Nuremburg, and succumbed to the worldwide pressures of Hitler.
Despite this Consul Fuchs and Vice-Consul Linhart decided to risk everything by not accepting the savage instructions from Quito, and to continue issuing Ecuadorian visas, or in other words to continue saving lives. On April 18th another message arrived from Quito revoking their diplomatic status.
It is assumed that Fuchs had Jewish nationality because his previous application for a diplomatic passport from Quito had been refused. The futures of both men thus became uncertain. On April 28th Vice-Consul Linhart was to send a forceful letter in his own handwriting to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Quito, complaining about their treatment by the Ecuadorian Government, and defending the issuing of visas to ‘persons of non-Aryan race’. At the same time he also complied with orders from Quito by handing over the Consulate to the other Vice-Consul Joseph Vondráček.
A month later on Jun 2nd ,and again on June 26th it was Vondráček’s turn to write letters to the Ministry in Quito defending the actions of the Consulate in the face of a scandal, which in the press was supposedly compromising the prestige of the consular office.
Vondráček insisted for humanitarian reasons in not preventing the transit of Jews to Ecuador, and requesting that visas issued by him be honoured and recognized. The new Vice-Consul would later even demand that in future visas should be issued free of charge.
The Ecuadorian Consulate in Prague, through the actions of these three honourable men, had delivered around 500 visas by March 1939, which means that including children between 1500 and 1800 lives had been saved. After April 12th visas were granted to Jewish people in defiance of the shameful instructions from the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry.
Mnislav Zelený however points out that there were also other Ecuadorian Consuls in Europe who risked their careers in not accepting the instructions from Quito. This was the case with the Consul José Ignacio Burbano in Bremen, and Manuel Antonio Muñoz Borrero in Stockholm. These two Ecuadorian diplomats were also removed from their posts like the honorable Consuls in Prague.
Muñoz Borrero has been nominated by the descendants of those whose lives he saved to be a member of the Just among the Nations, a programme in Israel to recognise and honour those who, without being themselves of Jewish origin or religion, offered help to the victims of Nazism.
The history of the greatest human tragedy of the last century, which left several tens of millions of victims, is certainly not closed and will continue to surprise us. Oskar Schindler, despite being a controversial figure, has been completely accepted historically.
In Britain, Nicholas Winton has been honoured with the title MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire), and declared a British Holocaust Hero. The Czech Republic has decorated Winton with the highest honour for those who contribute to Human Rights, the Tomáš Masaryk Order; later he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and a planet discovered by Czech astronomers in 1998 even carries his name.
Mnislav Zelený is calling with all justice for the recognition by his country of the three Czechs, for ‘having decided to save the honour and pride of the Czech nation’, after his country surrendered to Nazism.
I believe that in acting for Ecuador they also tried to save our ‘Good Name’, as it is usually called in diplomatic language. Between ‘legality’ and Justice they opted in our name for Justice. ‘Those who save one life are as if they saved the whole world’, in the celebrated phrase of prayer from the Babylonian Talmud, and without any doubt it reflects the essence of this case.
(Translated by Graham Douglas)