Ecuador Leader Thumbs Nose at US, Trying to Help Snowden with Asylum

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Another country where Edward Snowden appears to have supporters is Ecuador. As I mentioned earlier, the South American nation says it's considering Snowden's request for asylum. This is the same country that's sheltering WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange inside it's embassy in London. Ecuador's foreign minister has hinted that his government is inclined to help Snowden even at the risk of angering the United States. Reporter John Otis is following the story from Bogota, Colombia. He says Ecuador's leftist government has a history of clashing with the US.

John Otis: President Rafael Correa, he was first elected back in 2007. He expelled US military bases from Ecuador. He was also very friendly with Venezuela's Hugo ChÃ? ¡vez and now that ChÃ? ¡vez has died, Correa kind of sees himself as an emerging leader of the left-wing block in Latin America, and, of course, there's the connection with Julian Assange whom he offered asylum to about a year ago.

Werman: We're talking a story with international dimensions though. I mean does Correa have this intense interest in jabbing the US in the ribs? And why?

Otis: Well, Marco, Correa is a very popular president. He just won a landslide re-election back in February. Ecuadorians really like him. He's probably the most popular president in about 30 years and sort of playing the left-wing leader and the guy willing to strike out at the United States and defy what Washington wants, that plays well at home. Ecuadorians really like Correa. A lot of them agreed with his decision to offer asylum to Julian Assange and I think if Snowden ends up in Ecuador many Ecuadorians will approve of that decision as well.

Werman: So it sounds like what you're saying is that it's not so much what Ecuador might get out of this apparent cooperation with Snowden and Assange, it's really about Rafael Correa.

Otis: In a lot of ways I think it is. Rafael Correa is also trying to play himself up as a leader of free expression when, ironically, at home it's just the opposite. His government has been brutal towards the media in Ecuador. The government, in fact, just ten days ago, passed a new communications law that sets out all sorts of new restrictions for journalists in Ecuador. So it's really not at all a bastion of freedom and expression in Ecuador.

Werman: When you were in Ecuador recently did you have any personal experience with this tough approach to press freedoms there?

Otis: It doesn't so much affect international journalists, but local journalists have a very hard time doing any sort of investigative reporting. They're being sued for libel and thrown in jail. Correa berates the press at every opportunity. He calls them scoundrels and assassins. And, again, there's been a whole array of new legal measures to clamp down on any sort of serious reporting in Ecuador. It's really a very serious situation. He's done much more in Ecuador in the course of four or five years than ChÃ? ¡vez did in Venezuela in the course of fourteen years against the press.

Werman: What do Correa's critics in Ecuador have to say about him and his whole kind of involvement in the WikiLeaks Assange and now apparently Snowden business?

Otis: The critics in Ecuador pretty much go along with the United States line that they shouldn't allow Snowden into the country because he's wanted for espionage in the United States. They see it as complicating the already tense relations between Ecuador and the United States. The United States is Ecuador's leading trade partner and they're worried that Ecuador will lose trade preferences with the United States as well. Correa's critics would like to see a smoother relationship with the United States. The two countries recently just re-established full diplomatic relations after Correa had kicked out the United States Ambassador a couple of years ago and they'd like to keep things going on a smoother track.

Werman: Do you see that happening now?

Otis: It looks difficult. Correa said on Twitter this morning that he was gonna make the decision about Snowden based on total sovereignty for Ecuador.

Werman: You mentioned his tweeting. He seems to be tweeting, President Rafael Correa, fairly regularly about the Snowden case. Is he relishing this?

Otis: Yeah, Marco, I think Correa is relishing this because it puts him back in the international headlines and it also makes him stand out as THE left-wing leader in Latin America willing to stand up to Washington.

Werman: All right. John Otis in Bogota, Colombia. Thanks for giving us the angle on Ecuador here. Appreciate it.

Otis: Thanks a lot, Marco.