In an interview with independent progressive media outlet Democracy Now! last month, Ecuador's foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, discussed why President Rafael Correa did not attend the United Nations General Assembly then taking place. Patino also discussed the plight of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has spent more than 450 days in Ecuador’s London embassy after being granted asylum last year; and Ecuador’s role in the drama surrounding National Security Agency (NSA) leaker Edward Snowden and his bid to secure political asylum.
The transcript of the interview with Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman is abridged below (Patino's answer's are translated from Spanish).
Why is President Rafael Correa not addressing the UN General Assembly like so many other world leaders?
Correa doesn’t have a lot of expectations about what is said in the meetings of the General Assembly. He attended one General Assembly and addressed the hall, but there were no world leaders in the room at the time to hear what he had to say.
And since he had the experience that he had here in the UN, he was, quite frankly, just frustrated, and he’s not really interested in participating in an event where nobody really seems to be interested in hearing each other.
What about the case of Edward Snowden and what you have learned from the leaks of this NSA contractor, the expose after expose of surveillance inside the United States and outside?
Edward Snowden opened the eyes of the world to an international crime: the NSA’s spying on the whole world. And that’s a violation of international law.
And furthermore, it doesn’t just violate international law, it violates international trust, not just of one’s friends and enemies, as you say. And that, in and of itself, is grave.
In the world, there are not countries that are friends and countries that are enemies. We all deserve respect and shouldn’t be categorised as such.
[Snowden's revelations are] very useful and allow us to correct what’s been going on. And the UN should take take that up. Unfortunately, sometimes the power relations are such that these issues are not addressed. For example, it’s not on the agenda of the UN General Assembly. And that’s unfortunate.
Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, cancelled her state visit to Washington because of the information that has come out, based on the leaks, that she was being spied on, that the [Brazilian] energy company Petrobras was being spied on. Do you think you, here at the embassy in Washington, that Ecuador is being spied on?
Well, I couldn’t tell you. But when I was visiting Julian Assange a few weeks ago in London, in the Ecuadorean embassy, they found a few days before my visit a hidden microphone in the office of our ambassador. And we still haven’t been able to ascertain who planted it. But we can imagine who might have put it there.
The information that Snowden provided indicates that everybody is spied on. And so, one should probably assume that we’ve been spied on as well.
Venezuela has offered Edward Snowden political asylum. Is Ecuador weighing this, like you have Julian Assange?
We are a very sovereign country with very firm positions, and Julian Assange is protected by asylum that Ecuador has provided him with. When the case of Edward Snowden arose, Ecuador was the first country that offered to analyse his asylum request, while many countries immediately rejected the request.
Ecuador considered that it was best not to be alone in this fight, because it’s a very difficult, sticky matter, given the political landscape of the world, and we can’t ignore that fact.
That’s why we spoke with the countries of ALBA [the Bolivarian Alliance of the People's of Our America, an eight-nation anti-imperialist bloc first formed by Venezuela and Cuba, of which Ecuador is a member] and we addressed the issue of Snowden.
We told them that we thought that it was important that other countries also offer a possible asylum to him. And because of that, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia offered asylum to him directly. And we thought that was good, because Ecuador can’t carry the weight of all these issues as if we were a very powerful country. That’s not the case. That’s why we’re pleased that these other countries have offered asylum and made that decision, so that they don’t gang up on us.
And Julian Assange’s fate? He remains in the Ecuadorean mission in London, in the embassy in London. It’s been more than a year.
Yes. And, unfortunately, Britain still has not provided him with safe conduct. I have spoken a number of times with [British foreign secretary] William Hague, and we’ve also provided him with the legal arguments which don’t just allow Britain, but actually compel and force Britain to provide safe conduct, but they continue to refuse to provide it. So, the decision is in the hands of Britain.
Correa recently met with former Cuban president Fidel Castro. Could you talk about Castro's influence on Latin America?
Well, Fidel Castro is an international figure. He is a man who managed to liberate his country from the Batista dictatorship and laid the foundation for a society that is beneficial for all of the Cubans.
Unfortunately, the reaction of the US government was to attack Cuba and to impose a criminal embargo. But the Cuban government, despite these problems, has managed to defend the life and well-being and health of its people.
And not only, it has also offered international cooperation. Despite its economic limitations, it’s offered international cooperation with other countries.
They offered it to Ecuador, in fact. I say it with a certain amount of concern. We would have loved for Europe and the US to offer the thousands of scholarships that Cuba has offered to Ecuadorean students to study medicine. There are 2000 Ecuadorean students who are studying medicine in Cuba.
Other countries only want to train our military personnel. That’s quite a contrast.
So, what is the influence of Fidel Castro? I think it’s a moral influence. I took part in the conversations that Correa has had with Castro. In fact, I was present at the last conversation. And Castro never offered advice to us. We talk about the state of the world and how to achieve better development, how to improve healthcare and protection of our natural resources.
Finally, could you talk about the legacy of former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez?
The legacy of Hugo Chavez is extraordinary. In 1998, when Hugo Chavez took office, the was totally alone in Latin America. There were a lot of right-wing and neoliberal governments, and he would take a really strong stance in international events.
And it was really hard, because he was isolated. Imagine how difficult it is to be the lone voice and have everybody against you. But, little by little, other progressive governments came to power, and now there’s many progressive governments ― Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia, Nicaragua ― many other progressive governments in the Caribbean, as well, that have changed the face of Latin America.
But the strength and power of the discourse and the proposals of Hugo Chavez to create the integration of Latin America is legendary. Also, he contributed to strengthening a Latin American and Caribbean consciousness about the need for greater unity.
And so, that’s why we always speak of Hugo Chavez with a lot of respect and endearment, because he stood with Ecuador when times were tough, like he did with other countries.
He supported our process and contributed to the dream of Simon Bolivar [who led the liberation of much of South America from Spanish rule] and contributed to making that dream a reality.