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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 / November 30, 2010

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.

Lennart Preiss/AP/File

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Mexico City

It's a rare day when Ecuador can out-Chávez Hugo Chávez.

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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.

"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.”

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