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Julian Assange, infamous for founding the Wikileaks website in 2006, a non-profit media organization whose goal is to share important and confidential information on an international scale, has caused quite the global stir. From bringing to light publications such as, Cablegate, Spy Files and secret files on Guantanamo bay prisoners, amongst many, many others; Assange has undoubtedly made a significant impact issue of freedom of information. It also cannot be denied that the Wikileaks founder has had a substantial effect on US-Ecuador relations. Following a request by Swedish police, since early December 2010, Assange has been subjected to a European Arrest Warrant, regarding an allegation by two Swedish women of sexual result. Denying these charges on all fronts and claiming the accusations to be politically motivated, Assange turned himself in to the London authorities. After countless attempts to appeal the warrant, the High Court dismissed his plea on November, 2nd 2011. Assange thus wrote a letter to the president of Ecuador asking for asylum in fear that if he were extradited to Sweden, he would then be extradited to the US, where the penalty for espionage is death. Since being granted diplomatic asylum by the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on June 19th 2012, relations between the US and Ecuador have hit an all time low. The question remains whether Ecuador’s boisterous decision to grant the Wikileaks founder asylum has had a negative impact on Ecuador’s political and economic health?

The importance of Ecuador to the US lies in the fact that Ecuador was the USA’s 40th largest goods trading partner in 2011, with the US being Ecuador’s biggest; a total of $15.7billion goods was traded in that year alone. The small oil-producing country is also strategically important to the United States regarding illegal narcotic trade, as is it placed between Colombia and Peru; both of the world’s largest producers of the coca leaf, which is then converted into cocaine. Prior to the election of the current president, Rafael Correa, the US regarded Ecuador as “a staunch US ally against narco-trafficking and terrorist violence”. The country is not only a major transshipment point for illegal drugs bound for the US, but a point of refuge for Colombian armed groups seeking to escape their internal conflict and strife. Not to mention somewhere to refuel, resupply and transport drugs. Since the establishment of the US Forward Operating Location in the port on Manta in 1999, it has been seen to be a critically important aspect in the regions counternarcotics efforts, part of Plan Colombia. In addition to this, Ecuador was the USA’s 11th largest supplier of crude oil imports in 2012, according to the US Energy Information Administration. In light of this, it can be seen that US-Ecuador relations rests on a foundation of highly important and strategic political and economic interests.

To jump to the notion that since granting Assange asylum last year, Ecuador has topped the USA’s enemy list, is somewhat melodramatic. Though it cannot be denied that since granting Assange asylum in 2012, relations between the two countries has hit a bump. The impact of Assange has not been as immense as one might have previously suspected. Especially given the fact that relations between Ecuador and the US have been strained since the election of President Correa; a man unwilling to bow down to America’s agendas. Since his election, President Correa has not only expelled the US ambassador to Ecuador following the release of a diplomatic cable by Wikileaks, which revealed the ambassador’s critical view of Correa’s administration. The US, in turn, responded by removing Ecuador’s ambassador to the US. Though diplomatic relations were restored, such actions highlight the increased tension between the two nations. It also did not help that President Correa has also allied Ecuador with China and Iran, causing concern, unsurprisingly, with policy makers in Washington. Together with being a large critic of the United State’s, Plan Colombia and joining the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas – an alternative to US-led trade partnership. Ecuador granting asylum to assange was merely another addition to the list.

Rather, it may be suggested that granting asylum to the Wikileaks founder has given President Correa the opportunity to present himself as a defender of free expression and public transparency. In standing up to the US in this way, President Correa, despite mounting a bid to restrict press freedom in his own country, has gained himself a political boost; at least in Ecuador. Frankly, it may be suggested that President Correa’s consideration of granting the NSA whistleblower, Snowden, has had a larger impact on US-Ecuador relations. With the expiration of the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act and the US Generalized System of Preferences Program on July 31st, 2013, which brought both countries billions of dollars in trade. And the Ecuadorian governments voluntary relinquishment of US trade preferences following pressure from Washington to not to grant Snowden asylum. It is, arguably, clear that though US-Ecuador relations is speedily degenerating; Assange was simply the adding of salt to an already open wound.