Today marks 100 days since the Wikileaks founder requested asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning on sexual assault and rape allegations.
The Ecuadorean government is not backing down on what they see as a fight for human rights, free speech, and state sovereignty against imperialist powers.
The Britain has threatened to arrest Mr. Assange should he leave the embassy, citing its obligation to fulfill the Swedish extradition request, while Ecuador has remained strong in its support of Assange, creating a diplomatic gridlock between the three nations.
Many question why the Latin American nation continues to advocate for the controversial whistle-blower, as the affair has brought much negative attention to Ecuador’s own human rights and freedom of speech record, as well as having strained the country’s relations with not only Britain and Sweden, but the United States, its largest trading partner.
“The Ecuadorean government expected a quick resolution when they granted Assange asylum,” says Latin America analyst James Bosworth. “Instead they’ve got a stalemate with no end in sight.”
By granting Assange asylum, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa also stands to further his domestic and wider geopolitical aspirations.
“He is trying to convert himself into an anti-American leader in the world,” says Dr. Blasco Penaherrera Padilla, who served as Ecuador’s vice president from 1984 to 1988. “With the upcoming elections, the longer [Assange] stays there, the better it is for Correa.”
While the move to grant asylum was intended to show Mr. Correa’s strength regionally, his unwavering support for Assange has also left him vulnerable with key international partners.
“The biggest threat to Ecuador is that Assange says or does something really undiplomatic while staying as a guest in [its] embassy,” says Mr. Bosworth.
In this diplomatic stalemate, Ecuador could also stand to lose economically as interest groups in the US have called for Congress to let trade preferences expire. These preferences sustain thousands of jobs for Ecuadoreans – some estimates have put the number of jobs at immediate risk at 40,000.
While the situation could have lasting detrimental effects on Ecuador’s relations with Britain and the US, it seems the country’s global political message is taking center stage in its diplomacy.
“We are going to insist in our conversation with [British Foreign Secretary] William Hague that they provide a safe passage as a way to not only resolve the deadlock between our two countries but also to protect the human rights of Mr. Assange,” Ecuador’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, said Wednesday night, following Assange’s address to an Ecuador-sponsored meeting at the United Nations via satellite.
Mr. Hague and Mr. Patino met today in New York to discuss the dispute, despite the British official’s skepticism regarding a quick solution.
“We agreed that we would continue to talk, and we will continue to talk about this issue with the government of Ecuador. But I see no sign of any breakthrough,” Hague told reporters at the UN.
By fervently championing for Assange, Correa has engendered so much international publicity and scrutiny, and garnered so much support from regional bodies like the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, whose members include Venezuela and Bolivia; the Union of South American Nations; and the Organization of American States (with the exception of Canada and the US), that backing down now could come off as weak and hypocritical.