The government of Ecuador won't be bullied by Washington.
U.S. officials and members of Congress had been threatening to take away the South American country's trade privileges if it granted Edward Snowden asylum. "Our government will not reward countries for bad behavior," Senator Robert Menendez, the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had said.
The Ecuadorian government has decided to call the American bluff by unilaterally canceling its trade deal with the United States.
"Ecuador does not accept pressure or threats from anyone, nor does it trade with principles or submit them to mercantile interests, however important those may be," said Fernando Alvarado, the country's communications secretary.
President Rafael Correa has refused to play ball with the United States ever since he assumed office in 2007. Early on, he shut down a U.S. Air Force base in his country. Recently, the focal point of disagreement has been his government's decision to grant WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange asylum, currently holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. But the tension with the United States is more fundamental than that. Correa is part of a left-leaning group of leaders that has challenged U.S. dominance and verities in South America. He has criticized neoliberal economic policies and has pushed for increased control of the oil industry.
"What we've undergone in recent decades worldwide has been totally insane, and all of this is a result of capitalism," Correa told The Progressive in 2009. "The results are plain to see: greater inequality in Latin America; unemployment is higher than in previous decades; we haven't resolved the problem of poverty; we've lost a great deal of sovereignty. And finally, we're facing a crisis that we have not provoked, yet we are the main victims of the greatest crisis since the 1930s."
With a worldview like that, Correa has for long been a target of American ire, even if he has less prominence than the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The Snowden fracas has renewed the attacks on him by U.S. officialdom and the establishment media.
"Taking in Mr. Snowden would allow Mr. Correa to advance his most cherished ambition: replacing the deceased Hugo Chavez as the hemisphere's preeminent anti-U.S. demagogue," the Washington Post intoned. "That all might be worth it if the case were to focus public and congressional attention on Mr. Correa's own repression of free speech -- and his attempt to set himself up as a U.S. foil even while profiting from U.S. trade preferences."
Well, Ecuador has pulled the trade preferences argument from under the Post's feet. And, as Correa pointed out in a response, the newspaper is kind of missing the point.
"They've managed to focus attention on Snowden and on the 'wicked' countries that 'support' him, making us forget the terrible things against the U.S. people and the whole world that he denounced," Correa said.
By signaling that it is willing to put its money on the line, Ecuador has told the Obama Administration that the writ of the United States does not run large in South America.
Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of The Progressive and co-editor of the Progressive Media Project, is the author of "Islam" Means Peace: Understanding the Muslim Principle of Nonviolence Today (Praeger).