Why Ecuador Is Sheltering Julian Assange

Just ask Emilio Palacio, a former columnist for Ecuador’s main opposition newspaper, who fled his home country in August 2011 after being sentenced to three years in jail (and being ordered to pay millions of dollars in fines) for “libeling” Correa in one of his articles. (Correa pardoned him last February following an international outcry, but Palacio is staying in the United States where he has been granted asylum.) Or ask his fellow Ecuadorean journalist César Ricaurte, winner of the 2012 Inter American Press Association Grand Prize for Press Freedom. Ricaurte is director of the NGO Fundamedios, which is devoted to upholding freedom of expression. His organization estimates that physical attacks on Ecuadorean reporters increased by roughly 50 percent (from 101 to 151) between 2009 and 2011.

Ricaurte’s free-speech activism has clearly struck a nerve in Quito. Observed an article by the Associated Press:

Just this year, the president has used nine special government broadcasts to pre-empt all regularly scheduled TV programming to condemn Ricaurte. His alleged crime? Telling the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that Correa is a bully who tries to silence journalists he dislikes.

Ricaurte’s other “crime” was to receive funding for his work from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Not surprisingly, Correa is now trying to restrict USAID’s activities in Ecuador and to weaken its efforts to promote genuine democracy.

Attacking USAID reflects the broader mission of his foreign policy, which is to lead an anti-U.S. coalition in Latin America and to expand cooperation with anti-U.S. regimes overseas. Ecuador has been a member of the Venezuelan-led Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (known by its Spanish acronym ALBA) since 2009, and it has also embraced the likes of Iran and Russia. During his 2006 presidential campaign, Correa allegedly received financial support from the Colombian FARC, according to a May 2011 report by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. Earlier this year, Correa boycotted the Sixth Summit of the Americas to protest the exclusion of Cuba. He is fiercely hostile to the United States and eager to partner with its adversaries, including everyone from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Vladimir Putin to Chávez and the Castro brothers.

In 2008 Correa refused to extend a lease agreement that had allowed U.S. military personnel to use Manta air base for anti-drug operations. (At the time, American officers stationed in the Ecuadorean city told the Washington Post that their presence contributed about $6.5 million annually to the local economy.) A few months later, Bolivian president Evo Morales followed suit, announcing the suspension of all Drug Enforcement Administration activities in his country and informing the DEA that it had three months to withdraw all its agents. Both Correa and Morales were copying the example set by Chávez, who expelled the DEA from Venezuela in 2005.