Perhaps most baffling is the fact that the U.S. and Europe had already seen something like this play out last summer. It was then that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who had released thousands of classified U.S. diplomatic cables, showed up at Ecuador’s embassy in London. He hoped to avoid extradition not just to Sweden, where he faced sexual assault charges, but possibly to the U.S. as well. Leftist and anti-U.S. Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa hemmed and hawed about giving Assange asylum — until British authorities made the blunder of reminding Correa that U.K. law revokes an embassy’s diplomatic immunity if it’s judged to be harboring a fugitive.
That was all Correa needed to hear: He accused the Brits of practicing imperialista gunboat diplomacy in the service of Washington. Feeling global opinion shift in his favor, Correa used what he called London’s threat to storm his embassy as justification for going ahead and granting Assange asylum as the only honorable thing for Ecuador to do. (Assange, however, is still holed up in the embassy building.)
What the Brits failed to remember then, and what the U.S. and its European allies seemed clueless about last week, was the centuries of often ugly foreign intervention that Latin American countries have experienced. The Latin American left exploits that resentment at every opportunity — and it will certainly get stoked when world powers so much as appear to be pushing around the President of South America’s poorest nation (its first indigenous head of state to boot) on the flimsy basis of a rumor that he’s ferrying a U.S. fugitive at 40,000 feet.