Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Ecuador and the Free Flow of Information

One of the places Edward Snowden may end up is Ecuador. Since I am probably headed to Quito as the next stop on my world tour, I have been following events there fairly closely.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have mixed feelings about Snowden, and am awaiting further developments before trying to resolve them.

I have no mixed feelings at all, however, about the hypocrisy of Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa. With giving asylum to Julian Assange in Ecuador's London embassy as well as offering asylum to Snowden, Correa is posturing as the great defender of free speech. When it comes to the freedom of Ecuadorians to criticize him, however, Correa takes rather a different stance:
Correa's administration is in the process of rolling out a controversial new media law that restricts press freedoms. The law’s article 47, for instance, creates a Council of Content Regulation with the power to sanction press outlets that fail to report issues the state considers news. Ecuador’s El Comercio newspaper warned the law was a “coup against liberty.” 
Alberto Acosta, a former Ecuadorian minister of energy and mining, summed up the irony in atweet: “My support for Snowden and Assange … what they did would be penalized in Ecuador by the new media law.”
This could bite Ecuador in the butt. Ecuador's current preferential trade agreement with the US is set to expire, and this increases the likelihood that it will not be renewed.
Business leaders fear that giving Snowden asylum could prompt the United States to take retaliatory measures, with a preferential trade deal set to expire at the end of July unless Washington renews it. 
"We don't have the luxury of taking the wrong steps," the head of the Ecuadoran Business Committee, Roberto Aspiazu, told AFP. 
"What would we gain from giving political asylum to Snowden -- confirming Ecuador's international image as an anti-imperialist country? I don't think we need that." 
The United States is Ecuador's main trade partner, buying 40 percent of the Andean nation's exports, or the equivalent of $9 billion per year. 
Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said Tuesday that the US State Department had contacted his ministry about the case.

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