What’s so special about Ecuador?

So, I guess I should talk about Edward Snowden, huh?

Ok, so I’m only tangentially going to talk about Edward Snowden. What I really want to talk about is, why Ecuador? Snowden makes the second person, after Julian Assange, that has sought refuge in Ecuador after leaking classified information to the press. What is there about Ecuador that makes it attractive to those seeking asylum? And what is there about Ecuador that makes them so eager to accept those seeking asylum?

I think the reason this question is so important is because we really don’t hear much about Ecuador in the news here in the US (well, until now). Typically there is a lot of news about Mexico, being our neighbor, or Venezuela, being so vehemently anti-American, or Spain, being in crisis. But you really have to dig to find news and information on Ecuador in the US press. The reality is quite interesting, although not sensational.

 

Ecuador has historically been an unstable country. A quick glance at a list of Ecuador’s presidents tells the story pretty clearly. Ecuador also suffers a slight crisis of identity. Ecuador has formed part of the Inca Empire, the Spanish Empire, and the independent nation of Gran Colombia before becoming its own country. It has lost territory to Peru and lost its own currency to dollarization in 2000.

Things started changing when the current president, Rafael Correa, was elected in 2007. His campaign was based on the idea of “la Patria” (the homeland), an idea which resonated with the Ecuadorean people, as he has now been elected 3 times, most recently in 2013. He has also made anti-imperialism a central tenet of his presidency, which involves harsh criticism of the United States. Despite what I am about to relate, Correa is ENORMOUSLY popular in Ecuador. My host family was very pro-Correa. Posters around Quito proclaimed “Finally we have a president. We have Correa!” and graffiti throughout the country promoted messages equating anti-Correa forces with terrorists.

There is a whole other blog post percolating that discusses why these things always seem to go hand in hand, but. Although Ecuador has an enormously popular president who has accomplished a lot in his two (now 3) terms . . . personal and especially press freedoms have been restricted in the country since his election. Interestingly enough, the most recent display of these restrictions is a law that could make WikiLeaks cables illegal to publish in the very country harboring their leaker. All is not sunshine and roses in the Republic of Ecuador, is what I’m trying to say.

So, to answer: why is Ecuador the mecca for leakers like Snowden and Assange? The answer is not because Ecuador is such a champion of press freedom, but merely because Ecuador is willing to take them in. And why is Ecuador so willing to take in leakers, despite their restrictive press laws? Mostly as a way to say “Up yours” to the US, to be honest. A bit hypocritical? Perhaps. But if you think of it as an illustration of the Ecuadorean government’s priorities it’s telling, yes?

 

The current state of affairs, as we know, is in limbo. Snowden is still in Russia, and Ecuador seemed to be eager to accept him as a refugee, as they were with Julian Assange. However, there has been some internal confusion, which the Wall Street Journal uncovered last week. It seems that although Ecuador wants to take this opportunity to give the US a metaphorical poke in the eye, they don’t want to go whole hog and do so against international law. Internally, many in the Ecuadorean government feel that Julian Assange is far too involved in this process. It remains to be seen how it will all shake out. Personally I think Snowden faces the same fate as Assange – safe in an Ecuadorean embassy somewhere, probably in Russia, but not actually in Ecuador.

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