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.
A U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks today, dated November 16, 2008, from then-U.S. Ambassador to Colombia, William B. Wood, reveals that former President Alvaro Uribe authorized “clandestine cross-border operations against the FARC in Venezuela, while trying to avoid a repeat of a crisis generated by the capture of FARC official Rodrigo Granda in Caracas in 2003.” Ambassador Wood’s cable contradicts official statements by Colombian officials that Mr. Granda was seized on Colombian territory and appears to support claims by Venezuela that Mr. Granda was captured in Caracas and then transferred to Colombia.
The cable also reveals Uribe’s strategy for dealing with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was based on efforts to “manage Chávez as opposed to confront him” for both economic and security reasons. This strategy included Uribe’s agreement to peace talks with ELN guerillas, facilitated by Mr. Chávez, because it was “better to have Chávez inside the process than outside causing problems.”
The release of the 2006 cables follows correspondence released in December 2010, in which Mr. Uribe told U.S. Admiral Mike Millen that he was “prepared to authorize Colombian forces to cross into Venezuela, arrest FARC leaders, and bring them to justice in Colombia.” The accounts contained in the cables also stand in contrast to current Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ efforts to restore diplomatic ties with Venezuela last August, after over a year of tensions that included trade embargos and accusations that Chávez supports Colombia’s rebel groups in Venezuela.
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.
From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Waiting for the WikiLeaks Shoe to Drop in Latin America
WikiLeaks continues to reveal U.S. government cables, which The Miami Herald says are “fueling a wave of rumors and resentment in Latin America.” A few hundred of the 251,287 confidential cables have been released so far, leaving many countries waiting for the other shoe to drop. For example, 2,836 of the cables are relevant to Mexico, but it’s not clear yet when the records will go public.
Still, news relevant to the hemisphere has been trickling out , with some of the latest documents revealed on December 1 showing that the “United States saw big opportunities in helping Brazil boost its military capabilities as a way of ‘supporting U.S. interests,’” according to AFP. Other leaks range from topics such as Bolivian President Evo Morales purported sinus tumor to a description of the interim government that led Honduras after the 2009 coup as “totally illegitimate” to Cuban spies advising the Venezuelan government in what one diplomat called an “Axis of Mischief.” Global Voices looks at blog coverage of a range of leaked cables relevant to the Americas.
Speaking to The Christian Science Monitor, AS/COA Senior Policy Director Chris Sabatini said “I think most of what is going to be found will embarrass other leaders but will not do much to embarrass U.S. leaders.”
Many of the 250,000 diplomatic documents and cables leaked on Sunday by whistleblower site WikiLeaks address U.S. relationships with Latin American heads of state. And while U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is characterizing the leaks as “an attack on the international community” as well as on American foreign policy interests, Ecuadorian Ecuadorian Deputy Foreign Minister Kinto Lucas has extended an invitation to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to come to Ecuador.
On Tuesday, Lucas told Ecuadorinmediato, “We are ready to give him [Assange] residence in Ecuador, with no problems and no conditions… We are going to invite him to come to Ecuador so he can freely present the information he possesses and all the documentation, not just on the Internet, but in various public forums.”
Venezuela, Argentina and Honduras are the subjects of some of the most noteworthy leaked documents concerning Latin America.
One document was issued one month after the 2008 military coup in Honduras. In the cable, U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens calls the ouster of former President Manuel Zelaya “clearly illegal,” and the de facto government of Roberto Micheletti “totally illegitimate.”
Venezuela is the subject of 2,300 of the leaked cables, most of which concern President Hugo Chávez. In a 2009 cable, a French official named Jean-David Levitte called Chávez “crazy” and said that "Brazil was not able to support him anymore." Levitte goes on to say that "Chávez is taking one of Latin America's richest countries and turning it into another Zimbabwe.” The Venezuelan President responded on Monday evening: “Somebody should resign ... I'm not saying [President Barack] Obama, but they should do it out of shame ... It is their empire left naked.”
Argentina was the subject of 2,200 cables. In one exchange in late 2009, Secretary Clinton questions the mental state and decision-making of both President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her late-husband, former President Néstor Kirchner.
The whistle-blowing website has also reportedly obtained 2,836 U.S. documents concerning Mexico, but most of those have yet to be released.
WikiLeaks also revealed that the U.S. offered millions of dollars worth of incentives to countries like Slovenia and Kiribati in exchange for taking detainees out of Guantanamo Bay. In an interview with the BBC, Amb. John Negroponte, who has served as U.S. ambassador to Mexico and Honduras, said today that the release of WikiLeaks cables “will damage [the U.S.’s] ability to conduct diplomacy.”
The recent release of hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables by Wikileaks will undoubtedly focus the greatest attention on U.S. policy in the Middle East, but it could also shake things up in Latin America. Already, one of the leaked diplomatic cables has revealed the United States embassy’s assessment of the Honduran coup as a conspiracy against President Zelaya by the Supreme Court, Congress and military.
The summary reads as follows:
The Embassy perspective is that there is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch, while accepting that there may be a prima facie case that Zelaya may have committed illegalities and may have even violated the constitution. There is equally no doubt from our perspective that Roberto Micheletti's assumption of power was illegitimate. Nevertheless, it is also evident that the constitution itself may be deficient in terms of providing clear procedures for dealing with alleged illegal acts by the President and resolving conflicts between the branches of government.
The cable then offers a detailed legal analysis of the coup. It acknowledges that there was reason for concern that Zelaya might have acted—or subsequently act—illegally, and that the Honduran constitution is plagued by ambiguity on matters relating to impeachment. But it finds that the lion’s share of accusations against Zelaya were either based on supposition or fabrication. The cable then concludes that the Congress lacked the authority to remove Zelaya, as his removal from power would require court proceedings and due process. His capture by the military and removal from the country was also completely unjustified.
This cable is both remarkable and it is not.
First, what is not really news: that Ambassador Hugo Llorens, the U.S. State Department and the Obama administration knew that what took place was a coup. Lest it go unsaid, the Obama administration categorically rejected Zelaya’s ouster all along. Hugo Llorens, then-U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and all the other State Department officials involved in this matter were quite clear about the illegality of Zelaya’s ouster and the illegitimacyof Micheletti’s de facto government.
But this cable is still remarkable for its tone and its level of detail. By using the language of “conspiracy” and systematically debunking the arguments made by coup supporters, the cable makes the wrong of Zelaya’s removal abundantly clear. Today, the revelation of the Llorens cable is the top headline in Honduran newspapers, where it will hopefully advance public debate within the country about last year’s crisis.
The cable also undermines the arguments made in an influential Law Library of Congress Report, which argued that Zelaya’s removal from power (though not from the country) was legal. Conservatives in the United States used this report to claim that Zelaya’s ouster was really just Honduras’ version of a legal impeachment. Republicans in Congress kept pushing this line, using it as a tool to pressure the State Department and place holds on presidential appointments.
This pressure made the Honduras affair a headache for the Obama administration, which tried to wash its hands of the matter by prematurely stating it would recognize the November 2009 elections. Meanwhile, there was little pushback from within the Obama administration on the details of the events leading to the coup.
The leaked analysis by the embassy offers such a systematic rejection pro-coup case, but it was never advanced publicly. Had the administration made public such an assessment of the Honduran coup—and its implicit rejection of the LLC report—it would have provided a useful tool for refuting the spurious arguments made by conservatives. Instead, as summer 2009 drew to a close, the position that the coup was a defense of the rule of law gained traction inside the Beltway.
This dealt a blow to both the chances of Zelaya’s restitution and defenders of democracy in the Americas more generally.
*Daniel Altschuler is a contributing blogger to www.AmericasQuarterly.org. He is a Copeland Fellow at Amherst College and a doctoral candidate in Politics at the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. His research focuses on civic and political participation in Honduras and Guatemala.