Why Snowden Picked Ecuador

Given his anti-U.S. record and his desire to succeed the late Hugo Chávez as the leader of Latin America’s populist-left coalition, there is good reason to expect that Correa will approve Snowden’s request. However, while Correa is known for his “anti-imperialist” rants and frequent denunciations of U.S. foreign policy, Ecuador still has a dollarized economy, and it still sends 45 percent of its exports to the United States (mostly oil, food products, and flowers), making America its largest trade partner. Since the early 1990s, Ecuador has benefited from U.S. trade preferences that are scheduled to expire on July 31. Thanks to these preferences, 23 percent of Ecuador’s U.S.-bound exports are exempt from tariffs. If Correa shelters Snowden, he will obviously jeopardize his country’s trade status.

Either way, the idea of Correa as a champion of civil liberties is laughable. Outside of the Communist regime in Cuba and the Chávez regime in Venezuela, no other Latin American government has conducted such an aggressive and sustained campaign against opposition media outlets. Freedom House now classifies the Ecuadorean press environment as “not free,” and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has said that Correa’s record on press freedom is “among the very worst in the Americas.” Back in April, three Correa opponents (one National Assembly member and two activists) were sentenced to prison for allegedly “slandering” the Ecuadorean president. Freedom House criticized the sentencing as “a grave violation of free speech rights.” More recently, the Correa-allied National Assembly enacted a controversial media law that will further reduce press freedom. The CPJ called it “a severe blow to freedom of expression,” and the Inter-American Press Association described it as a “grave setback for freedom of the press and expression.”

When the Obama administration took office, it seemed to believe that U.S.-Ecuador relations had soured because of the Bush administration’s incompetence and/or ideology. In reality, the deterioration of bilateral ties was a result of Correa’s hostility toward the United States. That hostility is what prompted Edward Snowden to ask the Ecuadorean government for asylum. With Ecuador’s U.S. trade preferences set to expire, will Correa show his pragmatic side? Or will he once again place anti-Americanism ahead of his country’s best interests?