In Europe, a continent where the judicial system seems very transparent and honest, there are also cases of judicial war. This is possible due to the lack of awareness among the population, and in this lies precisely the strength of lawfare. Proof of this is, for example, the Assange case in the UK.
On the 11th of April 2019, Julian Assange was arrested at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. When in 2012 he took refuge in there trying to avoid extradition to Sweden over a charge of sexual assault, this charge had already been dropped.
Today things cannot be worse for Assange: he not only faces a great smear campaign where the media play an important role, but also the political and judicial powers have united to destroy him. But destroy not only him but also freedom of expression. Today the risk of being extradited to the US is almost a certainty, and there he would be facing a federal conspiracy case, related to one of the largest leaks of government secrets. This mean that he could face the greatest human rights violation that a person can face.
According to Guillaume Long, former minister of foreign affairs in Ecuador, this is a clear case of lawfare: “…which includes both the US and the UK, and probably an absence of any kind of European opposition to this”.
In our previous editions Guillaume Long talked on Lawfare, or how to prosecute democracy and Democracy and lawfare: when the opposition is the media.
For this third and last part of his interview with The Prisma, Long explains how lawfare is taking place in Europe, what strategies the media should use to fight against it and what are the mistakes that progressive governments made and from which Europe should learn.
“I think that when we will come back to power, we will have to be extremely mature and […] wise to not take vengeance using the methods that are now being used on us by the elite. And this will be a real challenge. Not to forget but to forgive, maybe”.
What Europe can learn from the Latin America situation?
First, it should be fully aware of what’s going on in Latin America that it’s a new form of authoritarianism. Secondly, European progressives, should be aware that if they come to govern, and if they enact progressive policies, the vengeance against them will be extremely vicious. We were in government for ten years. They have made our lives hell, our lives will never be like the ones we had before coming to government.
So, European progressives should realize that this is a possibility for them. Even if the fact that the European institutions and European democracy are more institutionalized then in Latin America so that they provide an extra layer of protection, still the vested interests are even bigger. So one thing might compensate the other. They should also be aware that it’s really important to understand that embarking on this journey means embarking on the long run. It’s not just a government, it’s a historical process, a mission that they are embarking on.
They should talk about the mistakes we made. I think this is really important when you are planning to lift people out of poverty, which is one of the Left’s missions. Latin America lifted 100 million people out of poverty, between 2002 and 2012, out of a population of 500 million. Many of those people have been our committed supporters, but others voted against us after ten years of our governments.
One factor may be that we’ve been there too long: people like change.
But also when you told people: “Your children went to school for free, for the first time you have social security and your other child is first generation in university, you are a property owner for the first time in your life, you’ve got the minimum wage”. Why would you vote against the government that gave you this? And the answer was sometimes: “but you are the party of the poor. I’m not poor anymore”.
So this is a lesson for European progressives when they do get into control, they need to have a narrative around the social work that they do. Lifting people out of poverty is just not enough by itself. It has to be something that makes sense in terms of a social contract, the community. We can be giving importance to other things that are not just material wealth. It is fundamental for political purposes, particularly at a time when you’re facing challenges like climate change and violence. It’s about cohesion. It’s about society. It is time for love, time for your family, time for your kids.
We have the perception that lawfare is not being exercised in Europe. Is that true?
I think lawfare happens everywhere in the world just with different intensities. So, what we’re seeing in Latin America is particularly aggressive, while in Europe there are stronger institutions and a stronger democratic tradition. Therefore, it is less likely to happen and to be exposed as such, but there are a lot of cases of lawfare.
Do you have any examples? Some people have suggested that there have been some cases of lawfare in Spain with the Catalan issue. Some people suggested that there have been cases in France, I think there is some credence to be given to this.
In some cases, lawfare is used almost as a positive term. I’ve heard the term being used like “we need to move from warfare to lawfare” almost as if it is something positive. But, the way I’m using the word lawfare it is something which is essentially subverting the course of normal democratic politics in order to stop opponents from being able to participate in the democratic game. I’m sure that has happened in Europe and it has certainly happened in the United States.
How can you explain that – in a continent where justice is very transparent?
We still have a politicization of justice. For example, I’m very concerned whether Julian Assange is going to get an impartial hearing in this country.
I’ve heard that the judge who is in charge of this case is clearly partial. She has a husband that has clear links to the security establishment in this country.
And the security establishment has got clear links to the US security establishment, whose beliefs and interests are contrary to Julian Assange. Is that a form of lawfare? Yes, I think Julian Assange is a victim of lawfare.
It’s a way of scaring journalists all around the world from revealing secrets about the powerful and about the global superpower.
If people were more aware of lawfare, would it still be such a powerful weapon?
No, clearly it wouldn’t. The strength of lawfare, the kind we have been victims of, is that it is very confusing. You have to be a real expert on the ins and outs of the political court case to realise whether the person is being treated fairly by the judiciary, or unfairly. Here we are dealing with something difficult to understand, that requires expert knowledge.
What can the media do?
Honest media can expose this, and make people more aware. This is what we’ve been doing in Ecuador, working with online media a lot, and working with international media.
If that notebook [mentioned in the previous interview] had been published in any other country in the world, the prosecutor who helped to cover up the fabrication of this, would be facing prosecution and should probably be in jail. And yet the next day the local Ecuadorean media ignored it. Anywhere else in the world it would have been front-page news. This is a major scandal. It’s a pact of silence, which is why lawfare has always existed, judicialization has always existed. And you have that in a number of other countries in Latin America, including my own, the impossibility of resorting to democratic politics.
Is there any way their reputation can be restored?
It’s done huge harm to their reputation and I’m sure there’s a hardcore, even if it’s small, of their constituents who will never believe in their innocence. This is because it’s a group of radicalised people who have made it a core part of their belief system.
But I think, little by little, we’re seeing that in Ecuador, people are becoming more and more suspicious after all the court cases. So, little by little, we are having this boomerang effect, which is eventually clearing their names but, for some people, it will be difficult to recover their reputation.