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

Democracy Now*

Ricardo Patiño, foreign minister of Ecuador.
Ricardo Patiño, foreign minister of Ecuador.

HAVANA TIMES – 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]

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] We’re very pleased that these countries have granted asylum to this person. We have not issued a statement with regard to the request of Snowden, but certainly we will study it.

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] It’s unfortunate that spying is so prevalent throughout the world still. It’s a massive violation of the right to privacy and to communication and freedom of expression and our conversations. The hidden microphone that we found in our embassy in London is certainly a grave occurrence, and we are requesting that the British government collaborate with us in the investigation of what information has been obtained with this hidden microphone.

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 energetic response. Furthermore, the secretary general of the Organization of American States has also issued a strong statement. So, in addition to global spying and all the violations to international law that this constitutes now, we see yet another grave violation. It’s really a flagrant violation. And so, what we’re seeing is a snowballing of violations of international law, and there has been no explanation of this violation. And the norms of international law are being completely discarded. Of course, Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is also being violated. The citizens of the world have the right to enjoy freedom of expression and communication wherever they are in the world.

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 issue is in the hands of the British government. Unfortunately, we have really taken on a role of advocates or lawyers and have provided extensive, substantiated arguments in favor of asylum being granted and respected. We’ve also had to provide the legal arguments that allow and, furthermore, force the British government to provide safe conduct to Julian Assange. So we’ve asked Mr. Hague what he expects. Does he think that Julian Assange will just grow old in our embassy? There are international conventions on asylum and the right of sovereign nations to grant asylum, so we’ve told the United Kingdom that it’s a question of human rights and that persons have a right to request and receive asylum. And the British government needs to acknowledge that individuals have the right to request, receive and enjoy asylum. So, Julian Assange, by no means, is enjoying the right to asylum. He is suffering, and his rights are being violated daily. So this is a grave mistake and constitutes the violation of Julian Assange’s human rights.

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, President Correa has made statements publicly with regard to that exchange. Vice President Biden asked President Correa not to grant asylum, and President Correa pointed out that the U.S. has not complied with its obligations to extradite corrupt bankers to Ecuador, and that caused a very grave financial crisis. So President Correa reminded Vice President Biden that that was the case. Sometimes it’s important to remind each other of such matters.

And, secondly, of course, we respect the opinions of the United States with regard to the asylum request of Snowden, but Ecuador will exercise its sovereignty in evaluating the asylum request. Suffice to say that it was a cordial exchange, and President Correa highlighted the cordial nature of the call, but did table the fact that Ecuador has been requesting the extradition of these bankers for a number of years, and that Ecuador is happy to hear the opinions of the United States on a variety of issues, but will make its own decisions.

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] Can you hear me? I did hear the question. There was—the line isn’t very good. I can answer the question.

President Correa said that it was a mistake of an official to have provided a safe conduct without requesting his higher-ups permission to do so, but he didn’t say that it was a mistake to do it, in and of itself. It was just a question of procedure that was mistaken. When a person is persecuted politically and their security is at risk, we need to give priority to saving the life of the person that’s being persecuted. And we know that the CIA—there were people in Chile and the Southern Cone countries that were in danger, who didn’t have passports or travel documents, and whose lives were at risk and in danger, and these people were taken to other countries to protect their life. And that is well known. That’s happened in grave situations in the course of the world’s history, and we know that there are solutions that can be offered by countries that are willing to save the life of those that are 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.

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