Remember when Barack Obama didn’t want to spend his valuable time dealing with “a 29-year-old hacker,” and didn’t want to be put in a position where he needed to be “wheeling and dealing” to get Edward Snowden back? As an important world leader, Obama has better things to do. Good news — he’s found someone with nothing better to do:
Rafael Correa said he had a “friendly and very cordial” conversation with Biden, and told the vice-president that Ecuador hadn’t sought to be put in the situation of deciding whether to harbor an American fugitive. Correa said Ecuador can’t consider the asylum request until Snowden is on Ecuadorean soil.
Correa isn’t terribly interested in dealing with 30-year-old leakers, either, especially when they haven’t set foot on Ecuadorean soil yet. His message — don’t call us, we’ll call you. Oh, and while we’re discussing extradition, Correa said, how about working on the request Ecuador has open with the US now?
“The moment that he arrives, if he arrives, the first thing is we’ll ask the opinion of the United States, as we did in the Assange case with England,” Correa said. “But the decision is ours to make.” …
Correa, in a weekly television address, praised Biden for being more courteous than US senators who have threatened economic penalties if Ecuador doesn’t cooperate.
At the same time, Correa rebuked the Obama administration for hypocrisy, invoking the case of two bankers, brothers Roberto and William Isaias, whom Ecuador is seeking to extradite from the US.
“Let’s be consistent,” Correa said. “Have rules for everyone, because that is a clear double-standard here.”
Never heard of the Isaias brothers? According to an Ecuadorean court, they’re the equivalent of a Ken Lay or a Bernie Madoff. The two live in Miami and have since 2000, fleeing Ecuador after the collapse of Filanbanco the year before. The failure cost Ecuador over $8 billion, and the two men were sentenced in absentia to eight years in prison.
Why hasn’t the US extradited the Isaias brothers? We do have an extradition treaty with Ecuador, and it seems unlikely that embezzlement, theft, and/or fraud wouldn’t be covered by it. An independent audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that the brothers falsified financial statements in 1998 to hide the bank’s pending failure, so it’s not as if these are unfounded allegations. The US has refused to extradite the pair for some reason, which might have provoked Correa’s embrace of Julian Assange when the US wanted him arrested over the Wikileaks publication of sensitive military diplomatic communications.
Speaking of whom, Assange made an appearance today on ABC’s This Week, criticizing Biden’s effort as “not acceptable,” in contrast to Correa’s remarks. Assange made it clear that he’s taking over the case from Ecuador, which might be an unpleasant surprise to Ecuadoreans:
The really ominous part of the interview came when Assange was asked whether or not he possessed Snowden’s NSA documents: “Look, there is no stopping the publishing process at this stage. Great care has been taken to make sure Mr. Snowden cannot be pressured by any state to stop the publication process.”
But there are serious problems with the Julian Assange Takeover, and they are quickly boiling up. Last week, Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa slowed down Snowden’s asylum process because he was worried that the WikiLeaks leader was taking over the role of his country’s government. The Guardian reported that Correa killed a temporary travel document that would have helped get Snowden out of the Moscow airport where he has reportedly been staying for the last week. In leaked communications, Ecuador officials seemed bitter by how much attention Assange was taking, with a Ecuador’s U.S. ambassador telling a presidential spokesman “I suggest talking to Assange to better control the communications. From outside, [Assange] appears to be running the show.” …
And tensions over Snowden and Assange in Ecuador aren’t just at the governmental level. With the Obama administration threatening to keep in place tariffs on rose imports from Ecuador, flower growers in the country have a direct financial interest in the outcome of Snowden’s flight. “We can’t put the interests of 14 million Ecuadoreans at risk because of a 29-year-old hacker whom we don’t even know,” Gino Descalzi, who employees 280 people in the rose business, told the AP. “This gentleman doesn’t mean anything to us.”
Correa’s pleasant public response to Biden might be a signal to Assange as to just who’s actually running the show in Quito — a warning that Assange might be getting too big for his britches in the London embassy. Snowden might want to look for other options and keep Assange at arm’s length, although if he’s transmitted the stolen data to Wikileaks, it’s probably too late for that.
Correa, for his part, may be worried about the impression that Ecuador is making on the world, thanks to the Assange-Snowden circus. Investors Business Daily explains exactly how Correa’s government appears to those who might want to put capital in play in South America:
Most nations would kill to have Ecuador’s free-trade privileges with the U.S. Ecuador, however, has decided to scrap them for the fun of tweaking the U.S. over the Edward Snowden issue. It’s gone full banana republic.
The radical-socialist South American country announced its decision to scrap its tariff-free trading pact with the U.S. Thursday, in response to a warning from a U.S. senator that its arrangement — granted in 1991 in exchange for its help in the war on drugs — would be jeopardized if the country granted National Security Agency renegade Edward Snowden asylum there.
It was unprecedented. Nobody gives up free trade, particularly under the agreement Ecuador has, which means free trade without reciprocation.
If Correa is willing to cut off his nose to spite his face over Snowden, why would anyone put valuable capital in play in Ecuador — especially when they could choose neighboring Peru or Colombia instead, which also have free-trade pacts? Forty-five percent of Ecuador’s exports come to the US, but a fresh set of tariffs will make those products a lot less competitive. That’s a high price to pay for the Isaias brothers and a short-term thumb in the eye of the Obama administration. It’s irrational and personal, two qualities that scare investors off. If I were Edward Snowden, I wouldn’t bet on that outcome … and maybe Julian Assange might want to consider that, too.