About That Leverage We Had Over Ecuador in Snowden Case... Never Mind

Just call him Rafael... Chavez.

Ecuador's leftist president, Rafeal Correa, signaled that he's the next Latin American strongman-in-chief as he very publicly dismissed what Washington thought it held as leverage over Quito in making sure that NSA leaker Edward Snowden wouldn't find refuge in the same country that granted asylum to WikiLeaker Julian Assange.

And yet Ecuador is still on the books to receive tens of millions of dollars in aid from Washington -- though it wants to bounce some of that back in a "human-rights training" grant.

"Our government will not reward countries for bad behavior. If Snowden is granted asylum in Ecuador, I will lead the effort to prevent the renewal of Ecuador's duty-free access under GSP and will also make sure there is no chance for renewal of the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act," Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said on Wednesday.

"Trade preferences are a privilege granted to nations, not a right. I urge President Correa to do the right thing by the United States and Ecuador, and deny Snowden's request for asylum," he continued.

"The Obama Administration must let Correa know that his actions will have consequences and the Administration must not renew the trade preferences with Ecuador that expire next month," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).

No worries. Ecuador backed out of the 1991 treaty on Thursday, renouncing "in a unilateral and irrevocable way these trade preferences," Communications Secretary Fernando Alvarado said at a press conference.

"Ecuador reminds the world that tariff preferences were originally granted as compensation to the Andean countries for its fight against drugs, but soon became a new instrument of blackmail," Alvarado said.

The State Department brushed off Ecuador's move.

"In terms of the trade relationship with Ecuador, I mean, those are really congressional, unilateral trade preferences granted by the U.S. Congress to Ecuador," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said on Thursday. "So I’m not sure that you can really withdraw from them one way or another, but we are Ecuador’s largest trade partner representing 35 percent of Ecuador’s total trade. That’s somewhere in the range of a $10 billion economic relationship, and so we are an important economic partner of theirs. And Congress has, going back since, I believe for a number of years, had these unilateral trade preferences."

Prodded by reporters at the daily briefing, Ventrell tried to carefully walk around Quito's nose-thumbing move and cautioned the media not to read too much into it. "Where we can have a positive economic relationship, that’s a good thing," he said. "But I’m just not going to characterize the reaction."

In a country where Correa has promised to build "socialism of the 21st century," the government vowed to compensate producers of broccoli, tuna, and flowers who would be hardest hit.

Correa slammed "the insolence and arrogance of certain American industries that have lobbied to remove the tariff preferences for the Snowden case."

To top it off, Ecuador offered the U.S. a $23 million grant so that we can conduct human rights training.

"Ecuador ofrece 23 millones anuales a E. Unidos para capacitar en respeto a D. Humanos, evitar torturas, ejecuciones extrajudiciales y otros," tweeted Ecuador's foreign minister Ricardo Patiño Aroca.

Correa got a public pat on the back for the double snubs from Hugo Chavez's successor in Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, during a ceremony at Miraflores Palace.

Praising his Ecuadorean "compañero" for being "brave" in the face of the U.S., Maduro said Correa could "count on us to go together for all the support they need."