Tariq Ali: Why Latin America backs WikiLeaks

Supporters of left-wing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at a rally for his re-election, July.

British-Pakistani author, journalist and activist Tariq Ali chaired a rally outside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London on August 19. The rally came before WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange's widely publicised speech. Ali also gave two speeches. In the second, he spoke about why it was that Assange and WikiLeaks had found support in Ecuador and Latin America more generally — and highlighted the revolutionary movements that have swept the continent to challenge US corporate domination. You can watch a video of this speech here. It is transcribed below.

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I think one aspect of this [situation] that has not yet been dealt with. And it needs to be understood — especially in the Western world. Why is it that an Australian citizen, facing prosecution from a European country, decides to appeal for asylum to a South American republic?

And the reason for that is that for the last 10-15 years, huge changes have been taken place in South America. And these changes are very interesting.

For a whole while, as many of you will know, South America was governed by military dictatorships, of one sort or another — backed by the United States and its European partners — and allowed to do whatever they wanted.

They were taught how to torture [by the US], they were taught how to kill, and they carried on doing it until the changes began. And the changes began for social and economic reasons, it should be pointed out.

The changes began when the people in Venezuela — who were the first — said enough! Enough of International Monetary Fund regulations, enough of World Bank rules. We don't like neoliberalism, we don't like the way our oligarchs are running our country, we don't want to live in a world where everything is privatised, where there is no public sector — that is what started it off.

And there have been more elections in Venezuela than anywhere else in the world since that time. Referendums, campaigns, won by the Bolivarians [as the revolutionary movement headed by President Hugo Chavez is called]. There is a new constitution, in which the population has the right, if it so wishes, to collect a petition so an elected president can be recalled way before the next election is due.

And that Venezuelan model, in different ways, spread. It spread to Bolivia, it spread to Ecuador, it spread for a while to Paraguay [where elected president Fernando Lugo was overthrown in a parliamentary coup in June by forces aligned with large landowning interests], to Honduras [where left-wing president Manuel Zelaya was overthrown in a 2009 military coup]. It had a huge impact in Brazil.

And so we don't have the world of the West now in many South American countries. What do they do? They have oil wealth, they have other sources of wealth.

They don't allow this wealth to go to the fat cats. They don't allow it to go to bankers. They spend it on free education. They spend it on hospitals. They have created new universities free of charge for poor kids.

They refuse to follow the Western model where everything is privatised — including the armies and including the police force here. Everything is being privatised. The train services here are privatised, in South America they are trying to construct a new one.

And so, these social — radical social democratic governments in South America are today — in my opinion — offering more social and human rights to their citizens than the countries of Europe, leave alone the United States.

And that is why Julian Assange applies for asylum to Ecuador, because this is a country which is determined to be independent. It has asked the American military base in Manta to leave the country. And when the United States objected, Rafael Correa, the president of Ecuador, said, "OK, if you want a base here, let’s have equality. Why can’t we have a military base in Florida?"

To even ask the question is considered crazy. And there was no agreement. Out went the base.

Ecuador has a new constitution that defends human rights. [There is] a serious attempt to defend the ecology of the country. Social spending has doubled.

And, for me, human rights mean nothing unless there’s social rights, as well, for the ordinary people of a country. The two go hand in hand.

And it is these changes in South America that have now come to the fore in a big way by this one event.

But that is why Julian Assange appealed to Ecuador for asylum, and that is why I think in this week that lies ahead he will receive the backing of a large majority of the South American continent [the Union of South American Nations — which unites the governments of 12 South American nations, voted to endorse Ecuador's decision on August 19].

And the Europeans, European governments and European citizens, if they wish to, could learn a lot from South America today. Just change your gaze.

The gaze of Europe is constantly fixed in the direction of North America. They should just shift it to South America, and maybe conditions in the lives of ordinary people who live in Europe would be improved as a result.

Instead, despite this huge social and economic crisis, they go on as if nothing has happened. Well, for them, nothing has happened. For ordinary people who live in this country, whatever their class, their creed, their colour, they suffer. And they react angrily sometimes.

South America offers the beginnings of a model against that.