Hundreds of Ecuadorans marched on Monday in support of the government’s decision to grant asylum to WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange in a saga that could help Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa win re-election.
Ecuador is outraged at Britain for threatening to enter its embassy in London where the Australian anti-secrecy campaigner — faced with extradition to Sweden for questioning over rape and sexual assault accusations — has taken refuge.
There is also a wider power game at play between Ecuador and the bloc of left-wing Latin American governments it belongs to, and the US.
Correa supports Assange’s claim that he is at risk of being sent to the US for punishment over WikiLeaks’ 2010 release of a deluge of US diplomatic cables and secret army documents.
“We’re here to support the timely and correct decision to grant asylum to Julian Assange and also to reject the hostile reaction of Great Britain in cahoots with United States,” Betty Wanda, a 28-year-old lawyer, said among a crowd outside the presidential palace in Quito on Monday.
Correa is already very popular and appears to be drawing more support with his stance on Assange. He has portrayed the standoff with London as a principled struggle between a small nation against a “colonial power.”
In power since 2007 and widely praised for building roads, hospitals and schools, the 49-year-old Correa is expected to run for re-election in February next year.
There have been small protests outside the British embassy in the Andean nation’s highland capital, and graffiti has sprung up showing support for Correa.
Ecuador might take the case to the International Court of Justice, but would first try to convince London that it should allow Assange to travel to the South American country or give him guarantees he would not be extradited to the US.
“We’re states with responsible governments that can negotiate directly about this problem. We have always been open to negotiations with the British and Swedish governments,” Correa told state-run TV on Monday night.
However, Correa’s government says there have been no talks since Aug. 15.
The ALBA bloc of left-wing Latin American governments, founded in 2004 by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and then-Cuban president Fidel Castro, and the UNASUR group of South American nations have both given Ecuador strong backing in the dispute over Assange.
“If there’s something that many people agree with, it is the dislike, even the visceral hate of ‘the empire.’ The anti-American sentiment brings us together, the phobia of everything that is or may be ‘gringo,’ and, by extension, European,” columnist Fabian Corral, who is often critical of Correa, wrote in Ecuador’s El Comercio.
The information released by WikiLeaks laid bare Washington’s under-the-table power-broking around the world. The leaked cables on Ecuador included accusations that Correa’s government turned a blind eye to police corruption, and he responded by expelling the US ambassador.
Correa is a feisty leader who never shies away from a fight, be it with international bondholders, oil companies, local bankers, the Catholic Church or media organizations that criticize his policies.