The hunt for Edward Snowden took a twist Monday, with the ex-spy missing a flight he booked from Russia to Havana. But while Snowden’s location is unclear, the likely destination is Ecuador, where he had formally requested asylum. But why would this strange marriage work?
Does Ecuador want Snowden?
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Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino spoke favorably of his asylum request, stating it was “to do with freedom of expression and the security of citizens around the world,” and attacked the U.S. government over human rights abuses. Further, Wikileaks founder and fellow wanted man Julian Assange suggested that acceptance was a formality following a meeting with Patino.
What is the role of Wikileaks?
Assange, under effective house arrest at the Ecuadorean embassy in London, claimed to have secured a “special refugee travel document” for Snowden, issued by Ecuador. The Wikileaks chief has a longstanding relationship with both Snowden and Ecuadorean officials, shown in a warm interview with President Rafael Correa on Russia Today last year. It is rumored that Snowden holds more government secrets that Wikileaks could publish.
How do the Ecuadoreans benefit?
Along with Venezuela and Cuba, Ecuador has one of Latin America’s most anti-U.S. governments and defiance against the "empire" is also a populist move. Correa and Assange claim to share a "common enemy," and the president is keen to show strength after a comprehensive election victory. Further, harboring whistleblowers will improve Ecuador’s reputation on human rights.
Does Ecuador have a good record on free speech?
No. A new law was passed this year making it easier to prosecute reporters for criticizing the government, and Correa has sued and shut down critical media. Ecuador ranks 119 on the Press Freedom Index.
What can the U.S. do?
Not much judging by the case of Assange, who is still protected after a year of the U.K. government attempting to arrest him. Ecuador has an extradition treaty with the U.S. but this does not cover political cases.