British Foreign Secretary William Hague and his Ecuadorian counterpart, Ricardo Patiño, met in London on Monday to discuss the unresolved asylum case of the Australian journalist and founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange. One year ago, Assange, 41, sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces allegations of sexual assault and rape. Assange denies the charges and says that he fears he will be extradited to the United States to face additional charges for publishing thousands of confidential government documents on his website.
Patiño confirmed that the Ecuadorian government will continue to provide refuge to Assange inside the embassy. According to a press release from the British Foreign Office, Hague and Patiño “agreed to keep channels of communication open, but made no breakthrough on Julian Assange.” Any solution would have to fall within the laws of the United Kingdom. The British government has repeatedly said that Assange will be arrested if he decides to leave the building, and has spent almost $5 million dollars in around-the-clock guarding of the embassy.
During his visit to London, Patiño also met with Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy, where Patiño declared to the press that there will be no changes in the refugee’s circumstances. Ecuador granted protection to Assange last August, saying that the government feared for Assange’s safety because the journalist believes he might face the death penalty in the U.S. if he is extradited.
According to Patiño, Assange is willing to stay inside the Ecuadorean embassy for five more years. Patiño added that Ecuador would also consider granting asylum to Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old computer analyst who provided The Guardian with top-secret National Security Agency (NSA) documents. “If he applies to our government, then of course we shall analyze the situation,” Patiño said.
Top stories this week are likely to include: the OAS meets for the 43rd General Assembly in Antigua, Guatemala; Chinese President Xi Jinping visits Mexico and the United States; the U.S. Senate will soon debate immigration reform; the UK and Ecuador foreign ministers may meet to discuss Julian Assange; Indigenous settlers protest in Mato Grosso, Brazil.
OAS General Assembly in Antigua, Guatemala: The 43rd General Assembly of the Organization of Americas States (OAS) will be held this week in Antigua, Guatemala, with agenda items to include the future of the hemisphere’s fight against drug trafficking and the election of three new members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina and several other hemispheric Heads of State have proposed a discussion on revising the hemisphere’s policies against the criminalization of marijuana; an OAS report published in May described several scenarios for dealing with the drug trade, including legalization. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will represent the United States before the Assembly, which meets from June 4-6, with the IACHR election to be held during the afternoon plenary session on Thursday, June 6.
Chinese President Xi Jinping Visits the Hemisphere: Chinese President Xi Jinping will travel to Mexico on Tuesday to discuss increasing trade ties between the two countries. China’s relationship with the previous Mexican administration was strained after then-President Felipe Calderón received the Dalai Lama in 2011. Mexico's new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, visited China in April in an effort to improve relations between the two countries. President Xi has also visited Trinidad and Tobago and Costa Rica, and will end his regional tour in the United States this weekend.
U.S. Senate to Debate Immigration Reform: U.S. Senator Charles Schumer predicted on Sunday that the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill will pass the Senate by July 4. The full Senate is expected to begin debating the reforms by June 10, with floor debate possibly beginning this week. The bill needs at least 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, but supporters of the bill are hoping to attract about 70 votes. Meanwhile, a group of legislators is working on its own bill in the House of Representatives, but has not yet formally introduced the legislation.
UK May Enter Talks with Ecuador over Julian Assange: Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño has asked to meet with British Foreign Secretary William Hague to discuss the future of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange when he visits London on June 16. Assange has been living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since June 2012. Assange faces extradition to Sweden to face sexual assault charges and fears that he will be extradited to the U.S. to face additional charges for the release of secret diplomatic cables.
Hundreds of Indigenous Brazilians Protest in Mato Grosso: Members of the Terena tribe seized a rural property in Mato Grosso state on Saturday that they say is part of their ancestral territory. Tribal members were forcibly evicted from the territory, known as “Sidrolândia,” on Thursday during a confrontation with police, and one member of the tribe was killed in the standoff. On Saturday, members of the tribe met with property owners and representatives from Brazil’s Conselho Nacional de Justiça (National Justice Council—CNJ) to reach an agreement over the conflict, but were not successful. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has said that reaching a solution is a priority for the Brazilian government.
Although the Ecuadorian government granted political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange yesterday morning, the British government has refused to allow him safe passage out of the country. The UK Foreign Office said that it would remain committed to extraditing Assange to Sweden, where he is accused of sexual crimes. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement, “Under our law, with Mr. Assange having exhausted all options of appeal, the British authorities are under a binding obligation to extradite him to Sweden. We must carry out that obligation and of course we fully intend to do so.”
Tensions began escalating on Wednesday ahead of yesterday’s announcement, when the UK Foreign Office cautioned that it had legal standing to lift the embassy’s diplomatic status under Britain’s Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act and arrest Arrange. Ecuador, in turn, accused the UK of threatening to “assault” the embassy—a charge that the UK denied. Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino upbraided the warning, calling it an “explicit type of blackmail.” Hague replied that the act of harboring Assange, an alleged criminal, is not “a permitted function under the Vienna Convention.”
Assange, who has been at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since June 19, called yesterday’s decision a “significant victory.” Assange fears that, should he be extradited to Sweden, the Swedish authorities will turn him over to the United States where he is wanted for charges related to WikiLeaks’ publication of State Department cables.
In November, Americans turned on their computers, fired up their Internet connections and gravitated to wikileaks.org. The nation was appalled at coverage by virtually all national media telling the tale of a series of diplomatic cables leaked from different U.S. embassies in the world.
Immediately questions were raised about the U.S. military’s excessive use of force, national security, foreign relations, and a number of other matters included in the first wave of cables reaching the public eye. Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the State Department (with the help of Interpol) set out to try to silence Assagne.
But the response was starkly different in Mexico. Two days after the first WikiLeaks came out communications were released on U.S.-Mexico relations, the violence problem in Mexico and our armed forces’ internal debacles, as well as President Hugo Chávez’ involvement in supporting former presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador in the 2006 elections.
Some U.S. colleagues immediately contacted me commenting on “the hard hit” Mexico was taking from Assange’s open communication and free speech antics. However, Mexicans did not start tweeting or commenting on facebook and other social media sites about this. The usual suspect bloggers were mildly impressed and Mexico’s government reaction to the leaks was as agitated as a couple of turtles taking a nap.