Ecuador News

Dispute with Lenin Moreno could put Julian Assange’s London refuge in jeopardy

You might think that the world’s best-known fugitive from U.S. law would want to stay on good terms with the government that is shielding him. But that’s not the way Julian Assange operates.

Julian Assange

The WikiLeaks founder, who has been holed up in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London since 2012, is embroiled in a spat with the South American country’s new president, Lenín Moreno, about Assange’s vocal support for Catalonian separatists.

Moreno, who assumed office in January, has asked Assange to stay out of the constitutional crisis in Spain, prompting this riposte from the self-styled champion of freedom of information:

But Assange, who is wanted in Sweden for alleged sex offenses and potentially in the United States for publishing state secrets, might want to think twice before antagonizing Moreno. The new president seems bent on charting a different course than his mentor and predecessor, Rafael Correa, the brash leftist who first gave refuge to the Australian activist.

Moreno, who is openly seeking to replace Correa’s confrontational approach with “dialogue,” is encouraging corruption investigations of the former president’s inner circle and has largely stopped enforcing a law that once caused human rights groups to label Ecuador’s media the least free — other than Cuba’s — in the Western Hemisphere. He has also described his predecessor as an authoritarian with an “obsession with maintaining power” and has just proposed a plebiscite on limits to presidential reelection that would effectively quash any bid by Correa to return to power in 2021 or anytime thereafter.

Correa has responded with a string of characteristically outspoken attacks on Moreno, calling him a “traitor,” “mediocre” and a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

All in all, Moreno appears to be trying to reposition Ecuador away from Venezuela’s “Bolivarian socialist” axis while modeling himself on impeccably democratic Latin American leftists such as Chile’s Michelle Bachelet and the former Uruguayan leader José Mujica.

That could spell trouble for Assange, whose continued residence in the Ecuadoran Embassy brings Moreno scant domestic political benefits while defining Ecuador as a geopolitical outlier antagonistic to the United States and other major Western powers.

Moreno has publicly stated that he will maintain Assange’s asylum. But he has included a highly specific caveat: “as long as we assume his life may be in danger.” The president has also previously dismissed the WikiLeaks boss as a “hacker.”

Among those who think Moreno may already be wondering how to end the impasse over Assange is César Ricaurte, head of Fundamedios, a Quito-based nonprofit that advocates for press freedom and had numerous run-ins with Correa.

“The situation of Assange in the embassy is unsustainable,” Ricaurte said. “He has converted himself into this great conspirator against the major democracies. I think the government is looking for a way out.”

Ramiro Crespo, a financial analyst in Quito, the Ecuadoran capital, predicts that the president will bide his time, first focusing on winning his war with Correa.

Moreno has approval ratings touching 80 percent but no clear legislative majority, given that his Alianza País (Country Alliance) party is split between Correa supporters and reformists. Correa loyalists also still control the courts and many other public institutions.

“Moreno has to pick his battles and dismantle Correa’s machinery bit by bit,” Crespo said. “He is being cautious. Dealing with Assange is not the priority right now, but Moreno could decide to make a move once he feels stronger.”

Exit strategies could include the president pressuring Assange to leave the embassy voluntarily. He might also seek an assurance from Washington, with whom he has a warming relationship, that capital punishment be ruled out in any potential trial.

Or he might simply suspend indefinitely the WikiLeaks activist’s Internet connection — as Correa briefly did ahead of the 2016 U.S. presidential election — citing his refusal to refrain from political activity.

For now, Moreno has his hands full battling to break his predecessor’s grip on Ecuador’s many branches of power. Assange, however, would be wise to prepare for a new reality in which he can no longer depend on a steadfast protector in Quito.
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Credit: The Washington Post, www.washingtonpost.com

  • Beth

    Re: “You might think that the world’s best-known fugitive from U.S. law”

    Um, he has no outstanding charges in the U.S.

    • StillWatching

      While technically true, those sneaky Americans won’t bring charges against Assange until/unless he is freed and taken into custody by the Swedes and then the U.S. will bring charges and seek to have him extradited. That is complicated by the fact that the Swedes don’t seem to be as interested in pursuing the trumped up rape charges against Assange that they once were, so this has become a Mexican Standoff.

      • Globetrotter

        You have to get out more often. You are wrong. The absurd rape charges were dropped by Sweden months ago…likely the quid pro quo for the Assange help getting Trump elected.

        Does not that make you a “liar”?

        • Beth

          Re: “likely the quid pro quo for the Assange help getting Trump elected.”

          Ridiculous. Do you believe in chemtrails too?

          • Globetrotter

            Let me see….

            1. Trump publicly asks Russia to hack and publish Hillary’s emails.
            2. Russia quickly obliges and turns what they have over to Assange and Wikileaks.
            3. Assange publishes the information.
            4. Trump gets elected

            I guess you are in denial.

  • Jim

    Moreno did not ‘assume’ office in January but you are correct, he must prioritize and pick his battles carefully. But I don’t think anyone in Ecuador give a hoot about Assange except for how much the government wastes on protecting him.

    • edgeof 2

      ” wastes on protecting him ” it’s a position of principal for Ecuador. Assange is a publisher putting out truthful information given to him. Publishing is not a crime…just because the USA doesn’t want the truth heard….who’s next for the USA to suppress.

    • Michael Berger

      Considering how much Ecuador spends on protecting non’productive people from nearby countries who have done nothing in the fight for liberty other than raise the white flag of surrender I say spending money to protect Assange is money well spent.

  • StillAlive

    “But Assange, who is wanted in Sweden for alleged sex offenses”

    Weren’t charges dropped?

  • Cathy

    Assange seems to be afflicted with a similar personality disorder to the US president. He is unable or unwilling to stay out of any spot light–even when it’s clearly not in his best interest

    • edgeof 2

      Wrong – Assange is acting on principals. The USA president is not.

      • Donald

        Learn the difference between “principals” and “principles”

      • tocuencawithlove

        You mean “principles”?

  • Karl R.

    Julian Assange is no longer ”wanted in Sweden for alleged sex offenses”. Those charges have been dropped. This is a terrible piece of reporting, more suited to be written by a troll on a blog than a WAPO article.

    • Beth

      No kidding. I have a subscription to the Washington Post and I’m surprised they published this piece of junk.

    • Harry Sorenssen

      The reporting is accurate. An arrest warrant was never issued for Assange. The Swedes opened an investigation based on the testimony of two women and that investigation remains open in Sweden. If you read their legal report, the Swedish attorneys closed the investigation in Britain due to lack of cooperation from Assange and the Ecuadorian diplomatic staff.

    • StillWatching

      Wrong:
      https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/19/world/europe/julian-assange-sweden-rape.html

      “Should Mr. Assange enter Sweden before August 2020, when the statute of limitations expires for the last remaining allegation, of minor rape, she said, the investigation could be reopened.

  • Kevin Lichtman

    Assange is a hypocrite, probably out of neccesssity. While he justifies exposing dirty secrets of the U.S., and other democracies, he demures the same of Russia (no doubt a greater offender) which likely is an ally in his sourcing of materials and his plan B for future exile.

    • edgeof 2

      Assange is publishing information given to him…what does Russia have to do with it that isn’t just speculation The use of the words hypocrite – dirty secrets – are hyperbole. Assange is remaining true to his principals and you are trying to find a way to undermine him in your personal discomfort. If Assange were looking for another exile as his purpose – why not just shut up. That would be much simpler for him. I wouldn’t relish an exile in Russia or the complexity and risk of that move. Thanks for your opinion – cheers mate.

      • tocuencawithlove

        Please get out your dictionary and learn the difference between principal and principles!

        • StillAlive

          Don’t speak to our elites like that.

  • Globetrotter

    I was musing about this exchange the last few days. Despite the recent proof of Trump Campaign/Wikileaks collusion, I can take no pride in seeing you two look so foolish. Anyone could see the obvious a year ago..except those blinded by a very hard shell of dogma. USA society is collapsing and nowhere can that be seen more clearly than in the content and viciousness of your posts in Cuenca. Sad.

    • StillWatching

      Every morning, I wake up wondering if Julius can get any dumber. Most days that question is answered in the affirmative by night-fall.

      Julius, I’ve been vehemently anti-trump for nearly as long as you have suffered from terminal stupidity. Even hinting that I might in ANY way be a trump acolyte is today’s confirmation of the question I pose in the first paragraph.

      Fondest regards to Mary.