We present the third and final part of this series concerning one of the most important phenomena of recent times, and which clearly shows the need for, and the hidden interests of those who do not want, its existence.
In Ecuador, the Wikileaks effect has been significant and has had worldwide resonance despite the fact that the cables sent from Ecuador have still not revealed extraordinary secrets.
Of more than 250,000 leaked documents, written in more than a hundred countries, 1,392 cables originate from Quito. A substantial amount of the accounts and official reports carry the signatures of responsibility of the various ambassadors assigned to Ecuador between 2004 and 2009, the period corresponding to the time of the leaks.
Three big events mark the first repercussions of Wikileaks in Ecuador: 1. As a result of the publication of a leaked cable, considered to contain offensive content about Ecuador, the US Ambassador was declared persona non grata in the country, 2. The Ecuadorian Vice-Chancellor publicly welcomed Julian Assange to Ecuador and, 3. The Ecuadorian Chancellery proposed a possible agreement with Wikileaks to make all information concerning Ecuador freely accessible to the public.
Regarding the first event, it is necessary to note that the first important publication of cables concerning Ecuador was made by the newspaper El País of Spain, which, together with other European newspapers and the New York Times, formed part of the initial agreement with Wikileaks for the processing and publication of the leaked material.
So it was that on 4 April 2011, El País printed the content of cable ID 216141, dated 10 July 2009, in which appears the proposal by the Embassy to revoke the United States visa to the person who had been the chief of Police between April 2008 and July 2009.
The ambassador exposes an extensive series of corrupt practices throughout the police career of the official in question and the consequences that these would bring for co-operation with the USA. In this regard, it declares that, “His corrupt activities have been so widely spoken of in the highest ranks of the national police, that some embassy officials believe that President Correa had to have known of them when he appointed him [as chief of police].” These observers believe that the President would have wanted a chief of police who was easily manipulable.
What is exposed in this cable is certainly extremely serious, despite the media analysis made by El País, which centred exclusively around examination of the accuracy of the comments, omitting the analysis on the repercussions that the information which Wikileaks put forward, particularly about implicating a diplomatic representative of a friendly country, referring to him as a President who tolerates corruption, and that about an embassy of another country handling detailed information on activities – illegal or not – of personnel of the armed forces of the country in which it operated.
This shows that relations, direct and discrete, with institutions and police personnel, had been maintained up until the dates of the cables, although in February 2007, two US civil servants were expelled from Ecuador, precisely because the Ecuadorian government did not tolerate contacts at the edge of the civil power between the Ecuadorian police and the USA, or the blackmails – resulting from them -which were intended to condition American “technical co-operation”.
Likewise, there has been little discussion in the media on the fact that the American Embassy knew for so long about these serious abnormalities, alerting the authorities of the host country and then waited three days so that the civil servant in question would leave his official charge before withdrawing his visa.
The Ecuadorian Chancellor asked for an explanation from the US Embassy, but when faced with the eloquent answer of “no comment” on 6 April 2011, with dignity and strength, he asked the accredited ambassador to leave Ecuador. An event which originated from the Wikileaks revelations and which sent a message to the world that Ecuador was currently enjoying a different kind of political management to that of years gone by.
At home, however, as was to be expected, the media criticism was not directed at those who exceeded their responsibilities, but against those who stopped them. It is useful to quote the editorial published by the newspaper The Guardian concerning the implications of Wikileaks, “Before the civil servants of the US government point their accusing fingers at others, they should first and foremost have the humility to reflect on their own role of flooding the global intranet with their opinions.”
After a reciprocal measure on the USA’s part (the expulsion of the Ecuadorian Ambassador in Washington), in Ecuador all kinds of bad consequences were predicted. The analysts predicted a drop in the commercial exchange between the two countries, the non-renewal of the ATPDEA tariff preferences and a consequent increase in unemployment, the loss of protection for Ecuadorians living in the USA and no appointment of ambassadors for a long time, amongst other things.
However, only five months afterwards, the new ambassadors had already been appointed, Ecuadorian exports had grown, unemployment was at its lowest in decades, and showed a decrease even before the ratification of the ATPDEA.
The second significant fact was the statement by the Vice-Chancellor of the Republic to the media, in which he welcomed Julian Assange, editor-in-chief of Wikileaks, to Ecuador, as if it had been requested.
The Ecuadorian diplomat made reference to the importance of Assange’s journalistic work and to the possibility that it might make known all the leaked material concerning Ecuador. This statement spread around the world precisely because it happened in the context of condemnation and political persecution on the part of the US establishment, and of its Western allies, against Wikileaks and Assange in particular.
Thanks to Wikileaks, Julian Assange has turned into an icon of anti-establishment activism that is credited with having exposed, like no one before, the most amazing sample of evidence of abuse of military, economic and political power.
His work has allowed him a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, as well as the designation of Man of the Year by readers of TIME magazine.
By the same token, he has the solidarity of an enormous list of personalities like Lula da Silva, Noham Chomsky, Slavoj Žižek, Michael Moore, John Pilger and Ken Loach, amongst many others, those who understand that house arrest, as well as the retaliation against Wikileaks – ranging from governmental censorship and cancellation of banking services through to computer attacks, all of which have been condemned by the UN Commissioner for Human Rights – have an essentially political background. On the subject of Wikileaks, Ecuador has marked another precedent at international level, through its Chancellery, on being the only country in reaching an agreement with this organisation so that related information is available and freely accessible to anybody.
The Ecuadorian government took a diplomatic initiative whose successful result shows the absolute transparency with which Ecuador tackled a subject that has been treated with suspicion in other countries.
However, one thing to remember is that Wikileaks normally uses written media with the highest circulation in each country for the publication of the cables.
It chose this method basically because the volume of information was unmanageable for one single organisation, especially if editing of the content is required before publication, meaning the protection of names of people who could be at risk as a result of sensitive information, according to the internal legal situation of each country, and also because it is necessary to select the information of greatest importance with the aim of publishing it gradually according to the priorities of local interests, as to publish all the material in one go would make the individual impact of each document lose weight.
On 2 May 2011, a few days before a referendum in Ecuador, at the request of the Chancellery, Wikileaks proceeded to post all “unclassified” cables relating to the country online, reserving the publication of “confidential” and “secret” documents. As such, it left a clear statement that later on, however, was distorted by the local press in Ecuador,
“Several organisations have maintained that we should speed up the possibility of these documents being made available to the public, due to the importance of the referendum (on 7 May past). We agree that this is an important political time and as such, the people of Ecuador should have as much information as possible. Therefore, we have published all documents in our possession with ‘unclassified’ status online (on our website), without exception.”
In this way, it avoided information, which originally was in the hands of two local media (to which Wikileaks had originally commissioned its analysis and publication) being handled in a discretionary manner, selecting which cables to publish and when to publish them according to their interests. Thus the Chancellery offered the greatest possible transparency, allowing citizens unrestricted access to material that is of historical and political interest for the whole country.
At present, all cables concerning Ecuador can be found on the Wikilieaks website.
To the annoyance of some and the relief of others, we should not expect any major surprises from the Wikileaks cables originating in Quito. The question that arises then is, “What is the importance of Wikileaks if it tells us what we already knew anyway?”
The left-wing philosopher, Slavoj Žižek, said that: “[…] the system determines even how it is allowed “to violate” the rules, always within the same system. Wikileaks has changed its own methods of how to “violate” the rules and, therefore, it is a challenge in itself for the system”.
According to the Slovenian philosopher, although we are not aware of anything new, Wikileaks gives us a different sense of awareness. In a simile loaded with irony, very much in the style of Žižek, he describes the Wikileaks effect as, “It is not the same when a husband discovers his wife has been unfaithful, he just knows and as such, he lives uncomfortably with the situation.
It is a very different matter when somebody brings him a very raw video of his wife in an intimate act with one of her lovers. The information is not new. The feeling is, however, very different.”
The scenes of helicopters firing on unarmed civilians while they are surrendering in the face of an imminent attack, or those who unfortunately were passing by, as if they were scenes of fiction straight out of Hollywood, certainly brings a different feeling.
The cables recount the stories of thousands of civilian victims, registered in the secret documents of the war, but never reported either in the press or in official “statistics”, not even as a collective number, much less as individuals. The feeling is different now because the perpetrators themselves are betrayed and we can see in crude detail what we knew beforehand.
Ecuador’s position and its Chancery in response to the Wikileaks revelations, came together by a global consensus among civil society which demands total transparency from its leaders, who have been consistent with a foreign policy which no longer accepts a President, or a Chancellor, consulting with a foreign ambassador on decisions in their own country. Finally, a sovereign position which has only been possible since this new civilian diplomacy.