WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has recently faced a hostile media campaign – from the Guardian in particular. And this has come just as a power struggle in Ecuador threatens to push him out of the country’s embassy in London, leaving him exposed to possible extradition to the US.
To analyse the effect that Ecuadorian politics have had on Assange’s struggle, The Canary spoke to an independent journalist who has written extensively about Ecuador. Joe Emersberger is a writer who focuses on Western media coverage of Latin America, and whose articles have appeared at FAIR and Counterpunch. And in an interview with The Canary, he discussed both the former Ecuadorian government which gave Assange asylum in the first place and the current government which has since turned against the WikiLeaks founder.
The government that gave Assange asylum… but is no more
It was under former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa that Assange gained asylum. The Nation described Correa’s time in power as a “left-wing success story”. Indeed, the centre-left government significantly reduced poverty and inequality during its time in power. And despite continued US interference, it successfully saw off at least one coup attempt against it.
Summarising Correa’s time in power, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs listed key achievements as:
free health care, free university education, effective anti-poverty programs, democratizing the media, environmental protection, respect for the rights of oppressed groups such as LBGTs and Original Peoples, repudiation of debt gouging by the banks, increasing taxes on the rich, clean elections.
For Emersberger, Correa’s government represented a break from the past. It broke away from decades of neoliberal economic policy, ended many years of political instability, and challenged US military presence in the country. In short, it was a significant shift and a historic moment for the country.
One initiative that Emersberger considered to have been particularly important was that:
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Correa really took on the right-wing private media establishment… He developed public media. He had a weekly show where he could answer… all the attacks on him from the… right-wing media
Criticisms and comparisons
A common critique of Correa’s government, however, was its environmental record. As Emersberger insisted, there was “tension” between developing Ecuador’s economy and protecting the environment; and while Correa made some efforts to ensure the latter, he nonetheless faced opposition on the issue:
Emersberger also argued that some indigenous leaders have taken “some very right-wing positions” – especially under the current government of Lenín Moreno:
And he pointed out that the Ecuadorian right is simply using such positions as a political weapon, saying:
Of course, the right wing is gonna continue to sell oil and mining and resources… they’ll turn their backs on [indigenous and environmentalist groups] when it’s no longer convenient.
He also highlighted what he sees as a key difference between Correa and the high-profile former Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez:
The new Ecuadorian government that’s betraying both Assange and its own voters
For Correa, Emersberger explained, protecting Assange in spite of US opposition was a bold assertion of Ecuador’s sovereignty:
But under Correa’s successor, former ally Moreno, things have changed. Moreno surprised voters and many around the world by moving towards the right and away from Correa. As Emersberger highlighted, it was soon obvious that Moreno was “gonna go 180 degrees against what he had campaigned on”:
Moreno also sought, in a referendum, to “fill the judiciary and all these other regulators with the traditional power brokers – you know, the big businessmen and all those people”:
Controversially meanwhile, the new president “publicly demanded that the [constitutional] court approve all the questions” in the referendum:
Moreno has also marked a significant shift away from Correa’s position on Assange’s asylum. As Emersberger insisted:
He’s more than willing to give Assange up… [he] just wants to minimise the political fallout from doing so.
Hopes for Assange in 2019?
The Canary has consistently reported on accusations that media outlets like the Guardian have been spreading “fake” stories as part of an apparent campaign to link Assange to Russia. Ensuring British citizens have this idea in their heads would no doubt help to make extradition to the US much more palatable, and ensure less of an uproar if it happened. But the fact is that numerous human rights groups are calling for the UK government to protect Assange from extradition; and on 21 December, the UN once again demanded that Britain allow the journalist to walk free.
The power struggle in Ecuador, however, has left Assange in a much less stable position. He no longer has a committed friend in the Ecuadorian government, and Emersberger believes that increasing instability in Ecuador may leave Assange even more vulnerable to the forces seeking to get their hands on him.
For Assange in particular, Emersberger stressed that “he’s in a very dangerous situation”:
The ongoing attacks on Assange are clearly an attack on WikiLeaks – an independent media organisation that specialises in publishing information from whistleblowers that it deems to be in the public interest. So if we value the organisation’s work, we must ensure that political power struggles – both in Ecuador and the UK – do not result in the silencing of Assange and WikiLeaks.
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