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2013-07-09

Exclusive: Ecuador’s Foreign Minister on Snowden, Assange & Latin American Resistance to U.S. Spying

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Amidst new revelations of U.S. spying in Latin America and ongoing diplomatic tensions over the asylum efforts of Edward Snowden, we are joined by Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño. Speaking from Quito, Patiño addresses the confusion over Ecuador’s ties to Snowden’s asylum bid after initially granting him a temporary travel document but later calling the action a "mistake." Patiño also comments on the diplomatic fallout over the forced landing in Austria of a plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales following rumors that Snowden was on board. And Patiño gives an update on Ecuador’s efforts to resolve the standoff over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who remains holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy as the British government refuses to allow his departure to Ecuador after receiving political asylum. [Click here to watch/read this interview in Spanish]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

Editors’ Note: Due to technical problems, the translation during the show was not complete/correct. This is a corrected version.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to one of the countries where NSA leaker Edward Snowden is seeking asylum: Ecuador. The country’s president, Rafael Correa, said Ecuador cannot process Snowden’s request until he reaches Ecuadorean soil or one of its embassies. Correa recently reported he received a call from Vice President Joe Biden urging him to reject Snowden’s asylum bid.

PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: [translated] What a difference between Vice President Biden and those poorly raised congressmen and senators threatening the country. It was a very friendly, even cordial, conversation. Of course we discussed the topic of Snowden, for which he communicated a very courteous request from the United States that we reject asylum. I told him what the Ecuadorean position is. Vice President, thank you for your call. We very much appreciate the United States. We have not gone in search of this situation. We are not anti-U.S., which is what certain negative-thinking members of the media have said.

AMY GOODMAN: President Correa followed up by saying Russia is now in control of Snowden’s fate. In a public message to Snowden, Correa also urged the whistleblower to "keep your spirits high," adding, quote, "knowing that you acted in accord with your conscience can give you peace," Correa said. Meanwhile, here in the U.S., Democratic Senator Robert Menendez said welcoming Snowden "would severely jeopardize" U.S. relations with Ecuador. Correa’s government followed up with a dig at the Obama administration by offering to donate millions of dollars for human rights training in the United States on matters of "privacy, torture and other actions that are denigrating to humanity," Correa said.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Ecuador has already granted asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has spent over a year in its London embassy awaiting safe passage. WikiLeaks is assisting NSA leaker Edward Snowden in his asylum bid to over 20 countries, including Ecuador. Earlier this month, Ecuador claimed it had discovered a hidden listening device in its London embassy where Assange is residing. A small microphone was reportedly found in its ambassador’s office during a security sweep in June.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we go directly to Quito, Ecuador, where we’re joined by Ecuador’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño.

Foreign Minister Patiño, we welcome you to Democracy Now! Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua have offered Edward Snowden political asylum. Will Ecuador also offer him political asylum?

FOREIGN MINISTER RICARDO PATIÑO: [translated] Well, we are very happy that this has happened, that three countries of the ALBA have offered Edward Snowden asylum. We believe it is necessary to protect the life of this person. Ecuador, as has been said, is studying the request by Edward Snowden. We have not yet made a decision on this matter, but it is also important that various countries are considering it, not only Ecuador.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to the Ecuador’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño. Juan?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Foreign Minister Patiño, your reaction to the bugging devices that were found in your embassy in England?

FOREIGN MINISTER RICARDO PATIÑO: [translated] Well, it is lamentable that espionage continues to be so shameless in all parts of the world. Moreover, in the context of this massive violation of the right to confidentiality and privacy in communications and conversations – which we have learned of through the revelations by Mr. Snowden – it turns out that we have had an espionage microphone in the room in which our ambassador in London receives his guests and where he was going to receive me in coming days. So, well, we have asked the British government to cooperate with Ecuador to find out who was receiving the information that was being obtained from our embassy illegally.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Foreign Minister Patiño, also, the recent events that occurred with President Evo Morales, when his—when his plane was forced to—was not allowed to pass through the airspace of several European countries, what has been the reaction in your country and in Latin America to this affront to the Bolivian president?

FOREIGN MINISTER RICARDO PATIÑO: [translated] There has been a very strong, a very compelling response from all Latin America, not only from each of the countries, but also from the Secretary General of the OAS. I have greatly appreciated such a timely and forceful reaction from the Secretary General of the OAS. Today the Permanent Council is meeting, as it must. There cannot be another violation: in addition to the violations entailed in massive espionage is the fact that the president of a country was practically detained, his life put in danger, when he was traveling through European skies, as part of an effort to hunt down a person who finally denounced this flagrant massive violation, that is, there has been one violation on top of another. Ecuador has demanded and the countries of Latin America have demanded, first, an explanation; second, apologies from the countries that committed this abuse; and third, that there be an end to the persecution of persons or countries that in an absolutely legal manner and abiding by the provisions of international law may offer asylum to Mr. Snowden, because that is not violating the law, offering asylum is complying with a provision in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that establishes that all citizens of the world – not because someone is considered an enemy of the United States does he or she cease to be a citizen of the world – all citizens of the world, all of us, have the right to request and enjoy the asylum that we can obtain anywhere in the world. You, I, any of us at any moment may be persecuted for political reasons, and we have the right to receive asylum.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño. We are having a little problem being able to hear his voice, so we’re doing the best we can right now. Let me ask you, Foreign Minister Patiño, about the case of Julian Assange. You had meetings with Britain’s William Hague about his fate. Can you explain what will happen to Julian Assange? He has—he is in the Ecuadorean embassy for more than a year now in London.

FOREIGN MINISTER RICARDO PATIÑO: [translated] Well, the matter is in the hands of the British government; unfortunately, we have also had to retain attorneys. Initially we presented the legal justification to give Mr. Assange asylum. No one has denied our legal arguments. But second, and considering that the laissez passer that should have been given to the government of Ecuador for Mr. Assange to be able to leave our embassy – we have had present legal arguments that would allow and require the United Kingdom to offer the laissez passer to Assange. We have asked Mr. William Hague: What are you waiting for? For Mr. Assange to grow old in our embassy, for him to die in our embassy? Is that what is expected? Or is it expected that the international conventions will be respected, the conventions on asylum, the right to asylum, the right of a sovereign country to offer asylum and also the right of a person to enjoy asylum. We have told the United Kingdom that when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted there was discussion of whether us human beings have the right to request and receive asylum, and the United Kingdom insisted through its officials that the Declaration should provide not only the right to request and receive asylum, but also the right to enjoy asylum. Because of the United Kingdom, we find the word “enjoy” in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. What Mr. Assange is experiencing is not the enjoyment of asylum, but rather he is suffering a situation of involuntary confinement and his human rights are being impaired and violated every day. I hope the United Kingdom understands someday that it is making a very serious mistake that is causing a violation of the human rights of a person who deserves to be free.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Foreign Minister Patiño, to follow up on the Assange matter, could you share with our audience here in the United States the—some of the substance of the conversation between Vice President Joe Biden and President Correa? How did the discussion arise? And what were some of the things that Vice President Biden said?

AMY GOODMAN: About Snowden.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: About Snowden, yes.

FOREIGN MINISTER RICARDO PATIÑO: [translated] Well, only indirectly, President Correa has said so publicly, that the Vice President asked him to consider not giving Mr. Snowden asylum. President Correa answered two things. First, he recalled that for years the United States has not carried out its obligation to Ecuador, its reciprocal obligation with Ecuador to extradite many corrupt bankers – who had a detrimental impact on the direct interests of millions of Ecuadorians – who provoked a large-scale financial crisis more than 10 years ago in Ecuador. He reminded him – because one must make reminders at the appropriate moment – that the United States has not carried out this commitment to Ecuador. And second he told him that when we finally analyze Mr. Snowden’s asylum application of course we will consider the opinion of the United States, but that Ecuador, in the exercise of its sovereignty and independence, will make the decision. Nonetheless, the President has considered [his conversation with Biden] to have been a cordial call, fortunately it was not a phone call that was anything but cordial. And he has recognized the nature of the call and has said clearly those two things. First, that the United States is not abided by its obligation to carry out the extradition that Ecuador has requested for many years of certain fugitives of justice. They are not about to be tried, no, they have already been convicted by the justice system at all levels. And second, that Ecuador respectfully listens to the opinions of the United States, but it is Ecuador that will decide, in the exercise of its sovereignty, on the asylum application by Mr. Snowden.

AMY GOODMAN: Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño, President Correa said giving the travel document to Edward Snowden that allowed him to leave Hong Kong was a mistake on the part of the consul in London. Does he still feel that way? And why is it that Nicaragua, Venezuela and Bolivia have outright offered asylum, but Ecuador hasn’t, which I think has surprised many, since it did grant political asylum to Julian Assange?

FOREIGN MINISTER RICARDO PATIÑO: [translated] What President Rafael Correa said is that it was a mistake for the official to have issued a laissez passer without having sought authorization to do so from his superiors, but he did not say that it was a mistake for Ecuador to become involved. What he has said is that it was a mistake, a mistake by a diplomat, to have proceeded in that fashion. And with respect to the other issue, we need to clearly understand that when a person suffers political persecution and his or her life is at risk, his or her safety, we have to consider it necessary to give priority to that situation – saving the lives of persons. This happened in the dictatorships – which we know were supported by the CIA – for a long time in Latin America, in Chile, in Argentina, in Uruguay, the people did not have a laissez passer, they didn’t have a passport, they didn’t have anything. And nonetheless, given the dangerous situation, given that their lives were endangered, there were many people who went to other countries to protect their lives. This has been done at every difficult moment in world political history, and we believe that it is a matter for which a solution can be found among countries that are willing to protect the life of a person who is being persecuted.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño, the latest revelation that’s come from the NSA documents released by Snowden on spying on Latin America, not only on military matters, but on energy and oil matters, your response?

CASSANDRA SMITHIES: We’re having trouble with the line.

AMY GOODMAN: I think he’s having trouble hearing us, and we’ll have to end the interview because we’ve come to the end of the hour. But we want to thank Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño for joining us from Quito, Ecuador.

Our interview with Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Democracy Now! correspondent in Cairo, we’ll conduct after this broadcast, and we’ll post it at democracynow.org. Special thanks to our translator, Cassandra Smithies.

[Click here to watch/read this interview in Spanish]

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