Ecuador signed a new trade deal with the UK on 15 May. It also signed a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the US on the same day. The US said the MOU marked the “next step” in its “mutual partnership” with Ecuador.
The UK government signed the UK-Andean Countries Trade Agreement in Ecuador on 15 May. This is a “trade continuity agreement” with Ecuador, Peru and Colombia prepared in advance of the country’s departure from the EU. Minister for trade policy George Hollingbery said:
We look forward to further strengthening our ambitious trade and investment relationship with the Andean Countries as we continue to work closely together in the future.
Ecuador also signed an MOU with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) on the same day. The department’s administrator Mark Green said on Twitter that the US is committed to, “helping Ecuador on its Journey to Self-Reliance, capitalizing on Ecuador’s commitment to its own democratic strengthening & development.”
Today’s MOU signing with the Government of #Ecuador is the next step in our mutual partnership. It demonstrates USAID’s commitment to helping Ecuador on its Journey to Self-Reliance, capitalizing on Ecuador’s commitment to its own democratic strengthening & development. pic.twitter.com/PYDdHhTi12
— Mark Green (@USAIDMarkGreen) May 15, 2019
The changing face of Ecuador
Ecuador granted Assange asylum in 2012 on the grounds that he was at risk of political persecution for his WikiLeaks revelations on US and UK actions in war, including evidence of potential war crimes. It feared Assange could face extradition to the US. Assange stayed in the country’s London embassy for seven years under threat of arrest by British authorities if he left the building.
But in 2017, Ecuador elected a new president, Lenín Moreno. And he regularly voiced dismay at Assange’s stay at the embassy. On 11 April, embassy staff let British police into the building to arrest the WikiLeaks founder. Within two hours of announcing it had arrested Assange on a 2012 warrant, the Metropolitan Police revealed it had further arrested him on behalf of the US on an extradition warrant.
It is now in the hands of UK courts to decide whether to grant the US its extradition request.
In addition to US charges related to WikiLeaks revelations, Assange also faces a rape allegation in Sweden. Now that Assange no longer has asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy, Swedish authorities have reopened this investigation at the request of the alleged survivor’s lawyer. Assange’s lawyer has previously insisted that “Julian has never been concerned about facing British justice, or indeed Swedish justice”. It is “American injustice”, she said, that concerns him.
The Canary believes that no allegations of sexual assault or rape should ever become politicised by either side.
A US client state
Many Ecuadorians, meanwhile, have criticised Moreno’s central role in the UK’s arrest of Assange, and his cooperation on the matter with the US. Fidel Narváez was an Ecuadorian diplomat based at Ecuador’s embassy in London between 2010 and 2018. And he told The Canary that Moreno’s decision to hand Assange over was “practically a crime”. He said:
Ecuadorian diplomats opened the doors of their embassy to allow a foreign power in to basically kidnap an Ecuadorian, a journalist, and political refugee.
Narváez also said that Ecuador’s decision to do so was “purely political”. He explained:
Lenín Moreno decided to end with our sovereign international policies that we pursued for 10 years and hand the country over to the US. We once again have US military cooperation in Ecuador. Moreno wanted a loan from the International Monetary Fund where the US has veto power.
All this is part of the Moreno government’s new relationship with the US, where Ecuador is now a US client state.
Meanwhile, Lauri Love, who himself escaped extradition to the US, condemned the UK’s role in Assange’s situation. He told The Canary:
We would not even be in this position today had the UK recognised the political asylum of Julian Assange given by Ecuador and afforded him safe passage out of the embassy. So I consider the UK government or elements in the UK government as having been complicit in Julian’s persecution for these last seven years
But these deals show that, client state or not, Ecuador’s relationship with the countries to which it handed one of its own citizens has only become more beneficial since. It’s extraordinary how well mutually violating people’s human rights can bring countries together.