Ecuador and Venezuela compete to praise WikiLeaks' Julian Assange

WikiLeaks' trove of 250,000 cables will probably not damage US relations in Latin America, experts say, but some regional leaders are seizing the opportunity to lambast the Washington.

By , Staff writer

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    Julian Assange, speaks at a press conference in London on Oct. 23. The Ecuadoran government has invited the WikiLeaks founder to live in the Andean country.
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It's a rare day when Ecuador can out-Chávez Hugo Chávez.

The Venezuelan president seems to seize every chance to criticize the United States, and he didn't miss a beat by praising the "bravery" of controversial website WikiLeaks – which is releasing a cache of 250,000 classified US diplomatic cables – and calling for the resignation of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

But Ecuador has apparently gone a step further by inviting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to live in the Andean country "without any kind of trouble and without any kind of conditions," according to government statements made in the Ecuadorean newspaper Hoy.

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"We are inviting him to give conferences and, if he wants, we have offered him Ecuadorean residency," Deputy Foreign Minister Kintto Lucas was quoted saying in today's newspaper.

Leak is embarrassing, but not jeopardizing

Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino today stepped back from the offer, saying in a TV interview that the possibility "will have to be studied from the legal and diplomatic perspective," but the quick praise from Latin America's leftist leaders shows how some in the region are enjoying watching Washington squirm over the largest document leak in US history.

Some of the leaked cables, particularly regarding the stress levels of Argentinean President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and the ouster of former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, could be troubling for US-Latin American relations. However, most analysts doubt that American diplomacy in the region is in jeopardy.

"This is a golden opportunity for Hugo Chávez or [Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa]," says Riordan Roett, director of the Latin America Studies Program at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. "Chávez always looks for opportunities to point fingers or laugh at the US.... This is just the usual rhetoric."

“[The Ecuadorian invitation] is an empty, nationalistic, anti-US gesture,” says Christopher Sabatini, editor-in-chief of the policy journal Americas Quarterly in New York, which is published by the Council of the Americas. “Overall I think most of what is going to be found will embarrass other leaders but will not do much to embarrass US leaders.”

In perhaps one of the most damaging cables, for example, Ms. Clinton questions the anxiety of Ms. Fernández, and even asks whether she is on medication. Another details a conversation of a French diplomatic adviser calling Chávez “crazy.”

Chávez's 'ironic' praise

Chávez, nonetheless, praised the leak – since Sunday, 291 of 251,287 cables have been posted on WikiLeaks.org, with the remainder to be released in coming months – and says that the cables regarding Venezuela prove that the US has long tried to isolate him.

WikiLeaks says it has 3,435 documents pertaining to Venezuela, the most of any Latin American country. Only one is thus far published online. That is followed by 3,070 documents on Brazil and 2,896 documents on Colombia. Another 1,621 regard Ecuador, with most coming from the US Embassy in Quito, and 35 classified "secret."

“I have to congratulate the people of WikiLeaks for their bravery and courage,” Chávez said on state television Monday evening. He added, referencing the WikiLeaks revelation that Clinton directed US diplomats to obtain detailed information on United Nations officials and diplomats, “Clinton should resign, it’s the least she can do with all of this spying and delinquency in the State Department.”

Mr. Sabatini calls Chávez's statements ironic, given his track record with freedom of information.

“The irony is just too rich ... Chávez praising WikiLeaks when ... there is no access to Venezuelan documents at all,” he says.

Not all of the cables will be damage-free. One potential impact on bilateral relations, Sabatini says, could come from documents relating to US-Mexico relations, and specifically Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s attempts to clamp down on organized crime, if any revelations of corruption or futility emerge.

WikiLeaks says it has 2,836 documents on Mexico, of which 26 are classified "secret." Another 2,039 cables regard Honduras, most coming from the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa, of which 121 are classified "secret."

The sole cable publicized thus far from the Embassy in Tegucigalpa has already revealed that the US believed that the ouster of Mr. Zelaya in Honduras was illegal, raising questions why, months later, the US eventually came to recognize presidential elections.

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