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$4.2 billion IMF loan, submission to the US, and vengeance appear to have been President Moreno’s true motives for revoking Assange’s asylum in Ecuador’s London embassy, says Ecuador’s former foreign minister Guillaume Long

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GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network, and I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore.

Following the arrest of Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, one of the questions that has repeatedly come up is why did the government of Ecuador decide to rescind the political asylum and the Ecuadorian citizenship of Julian Assange? Ecuador’s president Lenin Moreno justified the decision in a tweeted video as follows.

LENIN MORENO: Ecuador is a generous country, and a nation of open arms. Our government is respectful of the principles of international law, and the institution of the right of asylum. Granting or withdrawing asylum is a sovereign right of the Ecuadorean state, according to international law. Today I announce that the aggressive and discourteous behavior of Julian Assange, and the hostile and threatening declarations of its allied organizations against Ecuador, and especially the transgressions of international treaties, have led the situation to a point where the asylum of Mr. Assange is unsustainable, and no longer viable. Ecuador, sovereignly, has declared to terminate the diplomatic asylum granted to Mr. Assange in 2012. For 6 years and 10 months, the Ecuadorean people have protected the human rights of Mr. Assange.

GREG WILPERT: Lenin Moreno’s successor Rafael Correa had initially granted Assange asylum in Ecuador’s London embassy in June 2012 when Swedish authorities tried to have him extradited to Sweden for questioning in a rape allegation.

Joining me now to discuss Assange’s arrest from an Ecuadorian perspective is Guillaume Long. He’s a former foreign minister for Ecuador under President Rafael Correa. Thanks for joining us again, Guillaume.

GUILLAUME LONG: Thank you very much for having me on your show.

GREG WILPERT: So we just saw a brief clip of President Moreno’s explanation for why he decided to allow British police to arrest Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy. And in the full clip he goes into more detail, where he accused Assange of having disrespected the embassy personnel, that he was spying on the embassy itself, and that he was intervening in the internal affairs of other countries. What do you make of Moreno’s explanation, and what do you think is behind the decision to surrender him?

GUILLAUME LONG: I think the explanations given by the president himself–you look at the whole video and the explanations over the last few days, it’s striking he’s quite disheveled, and quite incoherent.

I think there are two main explanations for Ecuador’s revoking asylum and what we saw yesterday with the arrest of Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy. The first is clearly Lenin Moreno’s realignment with the United States. There’s been a dramatic change since May 2017, since Moreno came to power, in terms of Ecuador’s foreign policy. Its real, strong, sort of unambiguous alignment with the Trump administration. And you’re seeing changes with regards to his policy towards Venezuela. You’re seeing Ecuador sort of getting out of UNASUR, despite the fact that it’s UNASUR headquarters. You’re seeing almost issues with Chevron Texaco, which is a big issue for Ecuador, and the contamination of the Amazon where it puts them in a very strong position. You’re seeing the Moreno administration moving very close to the U.S. position and going back into the U.S. sphere of influence, and sort of abiding to what is now officially the rebirth of the Monroe Doctrine.

That’s one set of reasons. And the recent allegations of the New York Times that the IMF loan had been conditioned–just below $4 billion, or a little bit over $4 billion IMF loan, agreen between the IMF and Ecuador–was agreed by the United States upon sort of handing over Julian Assange. That’s the one set of the–the first reason. The second reason, I think, is a more sort of personal, I would say even vindictive, reason. Moreno is facing some very serious corruption allegations. They just discovered two bank accounts, one in Belize, one in Panama, held by his brother, where it appears that there have been bribes deposited on those bank accounts. And then money spent by Moreno himself in various parts of the world, including in Spain, where he appears to have bought an apartment.

These are very serious allegations. And recently there was a massive leak. The whole scandal in Ecuador is called the INA Papers, because the offshore company is called INA Investment. And this leak showed through all sorts of leaked emails and chats and all sorts of things, sort of gave more proof and more credence to the accusation, to the corruption scandal. Now, in recent days WikiLeaks tweeted about the INA Papers. I don’t think WikiLeaks is necessarily–I don’t have any information. But knowing WikiLeaks and knowing the way they present their information, WikiLeaks doesn’t appear to be the source of these INA Papers materials. But they tweeted about it and made it sort of even more prominent globally, if you’d like. So I think it’s actually sheer vengeance. You know, it’s a personal thing on behalf of Moreno. And when you hear his sort of reasons that he gives and he talks about this, you can really see that there’s a personal grievance. I think that’s very serious, and it’s very sad, indeed, if this personal grievance put an end to an asylum that was a matter of state and a matter of international law.

GREG WILPERT: Now Moreno says in this clip, also, that it is a sovereign right of Ecuador to revoke asylum. Also, he said that the British government agreed to the condition that Assange would not be extradited to a country where he could face torture or the death penalty. We have a clip here about what he said about this.

LENIN MORENO: In line with our strong commitment to human rights and international law, I request Great Britain to guarantee that Mr. Assange would not be extradited to a country where he could face torture or the death penalty. The British government has confirmed it in writing, in accordance with its own rules.

GREG WILPERT: So what do you think of the legal basis of Assange’s expulsion from the embassy?

GUILLAUME LONG: Well, first, you can’t revoke asylum. That is a fundamental tenet of international law. You cannot give asylum to someone. You can refuse it, and you don’t even have to explain why. You don’t have to give any reasons. But you can, once asylum has been given, there is a principle in international law called non-refoulement where you cannot–and this is recognized in most bodies and instruments of international law, including the 1954 Caracas Convention, of which Ecuador is a member, the convention on political asylum. You cannot rescind or revoke an asylum unless the conditions under which the asylum was given have changed; meaning unless the legitimate fear of political persecution or the fear that the human rights of the person, of the asylee, will be jeopardized, unless that fear has no more grounds.

And in the case of Ecuador, the reason for Ecuador to grant asylum to Julian Assange was fear of political persecution. Was the fear of an extradition request. So this extradition request was reason behind Ecuador’s–potential extradition request was the reason behind Ecuador’s granting of the asylum in 2012. And we’re seeing there is an extradition request. So under no circumstance can Ecuador argue that there’s been a change in or that the situation has been resolved so that there’s no more reason for Ecuador to have legitimate concerns about political persecution of Mr. Assange. So what it is, what Ecuador is doing by revoking the asylum, is actually illegal.

GREG WILPERT: So let’s backtrack a little bit. What were President Correa’s motivations for granting asylum to Assange in the first place?

GUILLAUME LONG: Well, they were–motivations were based upon what international law says about political asylum, the fear of political persecution. When Mr. Assange arrived at the Ecuadorian Embassy in June 2012 he explained what his fears were. They were based on the fact that he felt that WikiLeaks was being persecuted for having published material that exposed some human rights abuses, and some very serious wrongdoings on behalf of the U.S. military. And so it took roughly two months to evaluate the information it had. And Ecuador came to the conclusion that there was, indeed, the possibility of political persecution of Julian Assange for his journalistic activity, and for his activities as a publisher.

And there’s been a whole narrative now trying to portray Assange as a hacker. But in fact, Assange received material from sources, which is what journalists do. He evaluated WikiLeaks, had all sorts of internal mechanisms to evaluate whether these sources were trusted, material quality, whether–and then made decisions as to whether they published or not. And in many occasions the material that was published by WikiLeaks was then also published by mainstream media. WikiLeaks had agreements with the Guardian, the Times, le Monde, el Pais, the German press, and so on and so forth. And in that way Wikileaks very much behaved like a publisher, and the activities were very much journalistic activities.

And so Assange was given political asylum because he was considered by the Ecuadorian state as being a whistleblower. I think this is really important, because in the narrative some of the media, and certainly in the United States’s sort of national security narrative that we’re seeing around Assange today, there’s been a move away from Assange’s rights, which should be protected by the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989, which has to do with freedom of expression, and journalism, and so on, to try to frame it within the legal framework of 1916 Espionage Act, to try to make it, sort of shifting the narrative from freedom of expression to spying. And this is, for us, was for us, as we saw the narrative evolve, a clear case of political persecution.

GREG WILPERT: Now, I believe you actually also had an opportunity to meet Assange in the embassy in London. And so I just wanted to ask–and of course this is probably not an issue that should be a factor in the decision to revoke his asylum–but still, I’d like to know in your encounters with Assange what were the conditions under which he was being held, and what was–what was the relationship like between Assange and the embassy at that time? Because obviously it certainly has soured since then. And there were pretty serious allegations that Moreno has made. But I just want to know, what was your impression of, you know, back then, when you were foreign minister? What was it like?

GUILLAUME LONG: I think Moreno’s allegations are essentially a smokescreen because he has to try and justify this major breach of international law. And the fact that Ecuador has once again become of surrogate state, very submissive to the Trump administration in the United States. I think there’s a lot of contradictory information. You mentioned earlier that the British authorities–that Moreno mentioned that the British authorities had promised not to extradite Julian Assange. We have seen no such document. And I know for a fact those documents don’t exist. There was a letter written last year by Boris Johnson, but he sort of very generally reassures Ecuador that it would not seek to extradite him somewhere where he could face the death penalty. Clearly that’s not enough. I mean, Julian Assange shouldn’t face any treatment, including the treatment that was faced by Chelsea Manning, which was denounced including multilateral institutions as torture, and so on and so forth. So I think there’s a lot of smokescreen there.

As to his conditions within the embassy, they were always very difficult, always very precarious. He lived in a very small bedroom with very little natural light, in a very small embassy with diplomatic personnel. The embassy was virtually under siege. For the first few years there were, I think, 67 police officers outside the Ecuadorean Embassy. A lot of pressure, a lot of, I feel, interference. It was very difficult to make a phone call from the Ecuadorean Embassy. When you were inside there you really felt that it was outside, sort of–well, I mean, the euphemism would be presence and pressure. Then they got rid of the police presence, at least the sort of uniformed police, but still very much monitored. No outside space. Very little fresh air. Which was one of the reasons why Ecuador was not against–and certainly after the Swedish case was dropped, and Mr. Assange still faced this jumping of bail–Ecuador said, well, you know, Mr. Assange would face British justice. If you jump bail it’s usually a minor consequence, it’s sometimes a fine, or a few days in jail, or whatever it is. It would be much better in a British jail in terms of having access to healthcare, and a kind of a patio where you could have fresh air.

The issue was always non-extradition, and getting guarantees of non-extradition. Whenever Ecuador asked for guarantees of non-extradition from Sweden, Ecuador was very clear he could go to Sweden, no problem, but we want guarantees non-extradition. Whenever that was asked the answer was no, you can’t have those guarantees. That was Sweden’s answer for several years, and it was also Britain’s answer once the Swedish allegation, once the Swedish case was dropped. And all this confirmed Ecuador’s suspicion. I think over time Ecuador’s been proven right. We’re back to square one. We’re back to WikiLeaks. We’re back to freedom of expression. We’re back to whistleblowers. And yeah, affirming Ecuador’s suspicions that it was, indeed, a case of political persecution.

GREG WILPERT: OK. Well, we’re going to leave it there for now. Thanks so much. I was speaking to Guillaume Long, Ecuador’s foreign minister under former President Rafael Correa. Thanks again, Guillaume, for having joined us today.

GUILLAUME LONG: Thank you for having me on the show.

GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.

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Gregory Wilpert is Managing Editor at TRNN. He is a German-American sociologist who earned a Ph.D. in sociology from Brandeis University in 1994. Between 2000 and 2008 he lived in Venezuela, where he first taught sociology at the Central University of Venezuela and then worked as a freelance journalist, writing on Venezuelan politics for a wide range of publications and also founded, an English-langugage website about Venezuela. In 2007 he published the book, Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and Policies of the Chavez Government (Verso Books). In 2014 he moved to Quito, Ecuador, to help launch teleSUR English. In early 2016 he began working for The Real News Network as host, researcher, and producer. Since September 2018 he has been working as Managing Editor at The Real News. Gregory's wife worked as a Venezuelan diplomat since 2008 and from January 2015 until October 2018 she was Venezuela's Ambassador to Ecuador.