The Gunboat Diplomacy Trap: How Ecuador Used Assange to School the Brits

U.S. and British diplomats should read up on Latin American history before they try to strong-arm regional governments and their embassies.

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Erick Ilaquize / Reuters

Ecuador's Foreign Affairs Minister Ricardo Patiño addresses the media during a news conference to announce his government's decision over Julian Assange's case at the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Quito, Ecuador, on Aug. 16, 2012.

Judging by the Stonehenge-to-Sgt. Pepper spectacle of the London Olympics’ opening ceremonies, Brits take jolly good pride in knowing their history. But here’s an early 20th-century episode that Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service apparently forgot: the Venezuela Crisis of 1902, when British and other European warships blockaded and bombarded the South American country’s ports to force it to pay foreign debts. It was a classic instance of “gunboat diplomacy,” and it’s the sort of thing that Latin Americans, given the centuries of often ugly foreign intervention they’ve experienced, certainly tend to remember.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa remembers it so well, in fact, that he sucked Britain into a diplomatic blunder this week. For much of the summer, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who’s wanted in Sweden to answer charges of sexual assault, has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid extradition – not just to Sweden but possibly also to the U.S., where he could face trial for espionage. The leftist Correa professes to admire Assange for releasing thousands of classified U.S. diplomatic cables (one of which gave Correa a pretext for booting a U.S. ambassador out of Ecuador last year). On Wednesday, as Correa moved closer to granting Assange political asylum, frustrated U.K. authorities reminded Ecuador, in writing, of a British law that revokes an embassy’s diplomatic immunity if it’s judged to be harboring a fugitive.

MORE: Assange’s Special Asylum: Why Ecuador Isn’t Nice to Anyone Else

But that simply opened the door to accusations from Ecuador that the Brits were threatening to storm the embassy – shades of 1902! – if it didn’t hand Assange over. It also gave Correa, who’s been accused of offering Assange sanctuary as a way to deflect attention from his petulant crackdowns on freedom of expression back in Ecuador, enough of a diplomatic upper hand to go ahead and give the WikiLeaks leader political asylum on Thursday. “No one is going to terrify us!” Correa tweeted. He succeeded in evoking the ghosts of gunboat diplomacy – and in turning the subject from an extradition case, if not Ecuador’s possible flouting of international law, into a heroic standoff between a defiant underdog and an imperialista power.

MORE: Out of Ecuador: Another U.S. Ambassador Bites the WikiDust

It was just the latest example of how absent-minded governments in the developed world can still be when dealing with developing regions like Latin America. That’s especially true in countries like Ecuador and Venezuela, where leaders are apt to exploit a national sense of vicitimization. When a coup briefly ousted socialist Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in 2002, the Bush Administration, wittingly or not, gave the world the impression that it supported the putsch against a democratically elected head of state – even though Washington had to know what a raw nerve the history of yanqui-backed coups in Latin America was (and is). A popular uprising against the coup leaders restored Chávez to power – and ever since, the anti-U.S. firebrand, who looks set to win yet another term this year despite battling cancer, has been able to use Washington’s missteps in that episode to leverage his political power and increasingly authoritarian governance.

The Obama Administration hasn’t always performed adeptly south of the border, either. In 2009 it decided to move U.S. counter-drug operations in South America from Ecuador to bases in Colombia. But it didn’t consult the other South American governments about the possibility that the Colombia-based mission might also include counterinsurgency, even beyond Colombia’s borders. This despite the fact that those countries share historically founded anxieties about U.S. military involvement on their continent. Washington’s naive failure to allay those fears drew an angry earful from even moderate governments like Brazil’s – and dropped yet another gift into the lap of Chávez, who in typically hyperbolic but politically effective fashion declared that the U.S.-Colombia pact had “loosed the winds of war.”

Little wonder, then, that Chávez keeps going to that well, especially now that he’s finally facing strong opposition in the October election. Last weekend he announced that authorities had detained a former U.S. Marine who tried to enter Venezuela illegally from Colombia – an American “mercenary,” Chávez insisted, bent on fomenting anti-government unrest before the presidential contest. U.S. diplomats were finally allowed to visit the man on Wednesday, but so far there’s little evidence to back up Chávez’s “mercenary” charges.

Still, this week’s British slip-up was a reminder of how easy it remains for First World countries to set off the Third World’s gunboat diplomacy sirens. It also recalls how easy it is for leaders like Correa – who, given the condemnation he’s received from international human rights groups for criminalizing journalists and other critics inside Ecuador, is the unlikeliest of patrons for a free-speech champion like Assange – to use that noise as convenient cover. These are the sorts of things we expect our diplomats, especially in a foreign service as elite as Britain’s, to take into account before they move  the chess pieces. Correa isn’t likely to checkmate London in the end; Assange still faces arrest if he leaves the embassy. But for a moment, at least, Ecuador’s president has schooled the Brits in history.

MORE: Correa’s Clemency: Why Critics Say Ecuador’s Correa Is Still a Threat to Press Freedom

81 comments
westway775
westway775

Padgett conveniently forgets the lessons which the UK taught Argentina, during the Falklands War. Bottom line: Assange is wanted for questioning in Sweden, and Britain quite rightly intends to deliver him to the Swedish authorities.

dermutt
dermutt

Ecuador is the "imperialista power", one of the many hangovers of the Spanish empire, South America isn't called "Latin America" for nothing.  I know American's both North and South find it difficult to remember this when they are squatting on their stolen land lambasting the British for their evil imperialism.

billsimpson
billsimpson

Those dumb ass Brits should have let him 'escape' to wherever. They act like they still rule the world, when they don't even have a navy anymore. The clowns in Washington aren't much brighter. They are trying to help China take over the world faster that they already are.  

Selena5
Selena5

As a British person, I can advise that the general view voiced in the UK (by commentators, including former diplomats and the general public) is that the government made a ridiculous mistake in appearing to threaten to withdraw the embassy's status under some obscure statute which hardly anyone had ever heard of. It handed a massive propaganda victory to Correa, and was  quite unnecessary. Assange himself has little support, as he is perceived as self-aggrandising and seedy. He has alienated many of his original supporters by his high-handed actions. He is wanted in Sweden on charges of sexual assault. Had the US wanted to extradite him, it would have been easier to do from the UK than from Sweden. The UK has a one-sided extradition arrangement with the US, which is hugely unpopular here, and under which UK citizens have been extradited to the US based on no real evidence against them. The EU treaty, which Sweden has invoked, is also unpopular here.

dpeasehead
dpeasehead

I'm confused. The self-righteous British allowed  the murderous Pinochet safe passage and freedom while, more recently, their equally hypocritical American cousins rolled out the red carpet for the return of the blood thirsty tyrant and long-term American ally, Baby Doc Duvalier to Haiti. And we're to believe that the actions of Mr. Assange, and of Latin American leaders such as Mr. Correa and Mr. Chavez are the problem? 

dollyrama
dollyrama

Good for Ecuador, tell these bullies to fcuk off.

Kasbohmc2
Kasbohmc2

I love how Tim Padgett believes the British were "schooled" by the South Americans.  Does he think one of the premier Western nations (that used to have a worldwide empire until from the 1700s-1950) would allow itself to be 'schooled?'  Is he really so naiive to think that British intelligence did not contemplate every possible angle of the issue before acting?  Give me a break.

Furthermore, a case of 'getting schooled' doesn't occur if the schooling party plays the namby-pamby part of the victim (i.e. 'Woe is me!!').  The Ecuadorian government exploited uninformed anxieties inherent in their native population to portray the Brits as big, bad bullies.  That's the lamest and oldest trick in the book, and not demonstrative of a country schooled in formal diplomatic tactics.

It's lame that the Ecuadorian government had to resort to grade school crybaby antics to get the support of its population.  This is not the British getting schooled by a second-rate country (I'm not aiming for political correctness here - read the statistics on Ecuador; it's not a first-rate country). 

This is also a case of Time.com over-reaching in its goal to stretch a story as much as possible.  It seeks to tell of Assange, and yet at the same time to play up the political correctness card by saying a small South American nation got the upper hand over the racist Western European nation.  No one's buying it...

Douglas Yapú
Douglas Yapú

No esperaba menos de una revista como Times. Una vez mas ha quedado demostrado a quien pertenece este tipo de medios de "comunicacion"

CideHamete
CideHamete

You don't have to go back to the 1902 Venezuelan blockade. I am from Venezuela, and that incident doesn't even come to mind when thinking of the Assange case.

In October 1998, Spanish magistrate Baltasar Garzón indicted Augusto Pinochet for human rights violations and Pinochet was arrested in London. Latin Americans widely supported the indictment, given the recent memory of his bloody 1973 coup and his bloody regimen in Chile. Then, in March 2000, the Britain government granted Pinochet safe passage to leave the country for health reasons.

That's what Latin Americans remember now: So, Britain grants safe passage to a former dictator whose reign of terror is well-documented, but refuses it to someone who many see as a journalist doing his job: uncovering and releasing information. That is seen as a double standard, as aiding and abetting a criminal while persecuting a journalist. And that is precisely the message many Latin American are sharing on social networks as the flagrant proof that Britain has no interest in real justice in the Assange case.

That is why people who dislike both Correa and Chávez still support Assange's petition for asylum (your article make it sound like people are buying Correa's and Chávez's arguments; I doubt that's the case). 

What is unnerving to Latin Americans is an argument like the one used by "The Native Son" below: "He is hiding behind the skirts of a non-developing [this is either an error or malicious wording] country to avoid answering charges in Sweden, a rather civilized country." The assumption behind this is that there are two standards: one for "advanced" countries and one for developing countries. Which is precisely what Latin Americans resent, because, in practice, that is often the case.

chromatius
chromatius

"Washington’s naive failure to allay those fears". 

Are you joking? There was nothing naive in this; well, excepting those of your readership gullible enough to believe it.

Not that the decision-making had much to do with the elected administration.

Hank Rodgers
Hank Rodgers

I have absolutely no sympathy for Bradley Manning, who violated his military oath, rather than waiting until he had been discharged, and is, essentially, thus a traitor. HOWEVER, Assange is simply a "uber-journalist" who has and is revealing a great, and very enlightening story. More power to him.

Albin
Albin

Brits storming the embassy would likely solve the problem:  Ecuador would quite justifiably remand Brit diplomats on its soil into custody, and there would have to be a prisoner exchange.

JabbaTheCat
JabbaTheCat

The biggest question is whether the Ecuadoran embassy in London is large enough to contain Ass-ange's ego?

Poliphobic
Poliphobic

Could I respectfully advise all you who comment here and freely refer to the "Brits" ,or even"England", that it is the British government who are , as usual, making a pig's ear of everything and are in no way acting in accord with public opinion.

Indeed it is widely held here that the bunch of hopeless corrupt incompetents who constitute said government are in fact only doing what your government has ordered them to.

I, like many others in UK, congratulate Ecuador.

This whole thing could have been avoided so easily had the motives been pure.

Eileen Fleming
Eileen Fleming

Please GOOGLE:

Before Manning and Assange: There was Vanunu Mordechai

I am Eileen Fleming for US HOUSE and I approve of all of my messages.

dot2dotnews
dot2dotnews

Great article. If Assange makes it to Ecuador, he won't be "cussing" his hosts. Correa's government is only happy entertaining Julian so long as he continues to slete the West. I wonder how Ecuadorian journalists Correa has jailed will fare with this? 

SiDevilIam
SiDevilIam

Gun diplomacy, now and then, is a tool in developed countries like the Great Britain and their former colony, United States of America.

Just for a minute, forget Ecuador's case of granting an asylum to Julian Assange. Julia Assange has been accused of grave crimes against the mighty Empire, aka USA.

So was Osam bin-Laden. Knowing the fuss about Osama's imminent danger to the safety and security of America and Obama's role in assassinating that old man, out of business, out of power and out of luck, living peacefully in Abbottabad, a garrison town, a suburb of Islamabad, the capital of America's long time friend and a staunch ally in fighting the (Muslim) terrorism, Pakistan, I wonder if, as a last attempt to win the election for the second term, Barack Obama would storm the Ecuadorean Embassy in Kingsbridge, London to do away with poor Julian and take credit for his assassination as well.

Such moral degradation is no different than dictatorship.

...and I am Sid Harth@webworldismyoyster.com

gh79
gh79

Basically it seems Austerity has meant that the people with brains have left the British Foreign office for the private sector and the idiots are in charge.

Chris Icarus
Chris Icarus

I've been busy learning the Equadorian national anthem and ordering fine Equadorian wines and other expensive luxury goods from that bastion ( one of the last remaining ) of free speech . Equadore does it for me, bless 'em.

Julian Gallego
Julian Gallego

Applause for Ecuador, the world is not the same that it was the last century, a bunch of countries which our bribed politicians sold to the anglo-saxon empire, latinoamerica is not for sell anymore... we gained conscience and as long as we have it we'll stand for it against the arrogant and decadent empire. Our next logical step is to close the north american bases in my Colombia and tell'em with the same mood they use with our immigrant brothers in the US "Go home"

dermutt
dermutt

YOU are the imperialists, return your lands to their rightful owners.  hypocrite.

MACV
MACV

Wow!  The lengths the U.S. Government will go to to get ONE GUY.

"In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act." - From the Novel '1984' some of you should read it. And after you finish that novel try reading Sinclair Lewis' novel "It Can't Happen Here" the Karl Rove playbook! We are becoming the New Nazis!

Gary Christensen
Gary Christensen

Gary Christensen TV 10 News, Costa Rica

www.garychristensenshow.com

Assange and Diplomatic immunity???? Hold your horses.

In Costa Rica the defacto President Oscar Arias with his secret (wikileaks) "US vetted" CIA Presidential Police - La DIS amp; multinational corporations control all media and the court system.

The DIS and the US threaten and attack all here in Costa Rica and intimidate journalists in the US who attempt to disseminate Oscar Arias Presidential cartel extortion, blackmail, violence against women,human rights abuses and beatings (torture) of thousands upon thousands of innocent citizens.

It is a state apparatus of extortion, violence, terorrism, beatings and constitutional and human rights violations.

The Costa Rican Presidency has threatened us and other journalists with jail sentences should we reveal corruption, persecution, intimidation, embezzlement of public funds, violence, abuses against women and Constitutional violations.

"New law imposes a sentence (between four to eight years) in prison to those who obtain “secret political information”.

http://www.nacion.com/2012-07-...

Death Threats by Government of Oscar Arias (INS) against ANEP

http://bit.ly/M5kw9d

Cato Institute, Washington D.C.

The Mafia: “Institutionalized Organized Crime" The PLN and (the Government of OscarArias, the US, Laura Chinchilla http://bit.ly/HI4LTY

Please see petiton and sign http://chn.ge/NM8u9k

Foundation for Human

Rights http://bit.ly/JjEXUi

The "ultra repressive" Presidential Police la DIS of Oscar Arias an arm – un apendice

of the C.I.A.

"beatings"

"raids"

"threats"

"violence"

Gary Christensen TV 10 News

tma_sierrahills
tma_sierrahills

Residing in the Ecuadorian embassy wouldn't be that bad if it weren't for the frolicking burros. 

Hoop Ojoop
Hoop Ojoop

LOL.  Ecuador slips further into 3rd world status and TIME magazine claims that they taught the Brits a lesson.

J.Gabriel VB
J.Gabriel VB

Correa is a great president, he fights against the Ecuador´s media because they are corrupt.  I hope people who read all the bad things that international and local media say about president Correa

investigated a little bit of everything good that has been done by the

Ecuador and why he is supported by more than 75%  and loved by the citizens of their country.

ProwdLiberal
ProwdLiberal

United States and UK are acting like INTERNATIONAL THUGS! in Assange's case.

The world should unite against these two criminal countries. Instead of apologizing and paying reparations to Iraq for invading a country based on LIES  and nothing but LIES, they are shamelessly going after Assange with vengeance as he exposed the LIES and atrocities committed by these two countries. I am surprised that Obama's administration is appeasing the right-wing rednecks in this country by going after Assange.

Rahul Singh
Rahul Singh

my

classmate's sister earned $17617 the previous week. she works on the

internet and bought a $463100 home. All she did was get blessed and use

the steps shown on this link http://www.tiny9.com/u/3470

Rahul Singh
Rahul Singh

just as Anna implied I cannot believe that a mom able to profit $7382 in 4 weeks on the computer. have you seen this page LazyPay7.com

denis8989
denis8989

Britain passed this law in 1987  "the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act"  , after a shooting in 1984 in which a Libyan diplomat opened fire on demonstrators from  his  London embassy, killing a British police officer. UK did not make the law last night it has been in effect since 1987 and every embassy in London is or should be aware of it. the UK did reminded the Equadorians what options are available. 

Jasper Eastman
Jasper Eastman

“No one is going to terrify us!” 

Do you really think Correa would have said something different if the "Venezuela Crisis "had never happened?  Do you think Correa is some genius who set this "trap" and then waited for the Brits to fall in?  I think not.  There is no "Gunboat Diplomacy Trap" here.

Web Design Vizag
Web Design Vizag

That's not the tradition that makes us proud to be Americans. You forgot to torture him first!

kanobi
kanobi

yep. all the good things we have, freedoms and rights, are reserved for people who abide by them, not for those who are hellbent on destroying them. otherwise the good could never win over the evil. 

but don't despair, afterwards all proper disclaimers, denials, and apologies will be duly issued, and everybody will be happy, because the wolf will have eaten (got what he was asking for) and the sheep is still in one piece.

SRSwain
SRSwain

This Assange business will blow over in no time at all.  The flakiness of the news cycle will take care of that.  The Foreign Office will resile from their little gaffe.  And the Ecuadorians will soon tire of Assange, who will become a liability, given his meddlesome proclivities.

MACV
MACV

..... and they will welcome us with open arms ... and the war will pay for itself.

Hmmmm, who said that?

Web Design Vizag
Web Design Vizag

Despite all the mealy-mouthed posturing by England and Sweden, the fact is they're eager to serve their US masters. They collude to extradite Assange to Sweden on very flimsy charges and pretexts, who will in turn hand him over to the USA, where they have already convened secret tribunals against Assange, and plan to lock him in solitary, waterboard him, then execute him. England usually doesn't extradite people if there's a chance this will result in the death penalty, but they seem eager to ignore this here.

Belisarius85
Belisarius85

You've discovered our evil plan! We're ruined! RUINED!

Steve Reid
Steve Reid

I think that Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of Watergate fame should both show up at the Ecuadoran embassy in Washington and ask Ecuador for political asylum just to demonstrate how ridiculous this situation is.  

the_sons_of_lot
the_sons_of_lot

Ecuador's Leftwing president, Rafael Correa, Want's Chevron out of Ecuador.

 

Chevron has admitted that it had dumped more than 15 billion gallons of "produced water" into the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest. "Produced Water" is ten times saltier than ocean water. In Ecuador, it equates roughly to 2% pure crude oil, meaning that Chevron had admitted dumping more than 30x the amount of oil spilled in the infamous Exxon Valdez disaster.

 

Yet the Valdez disaster (like the BP situation in the Gulf) was still an accident -- in Ecuador, the disaster was deliberately planned by Chevron as a mechanism to save costs.  

 

Ecuador is also sueing BP for Violating the Rights of Nature in a class action suit with other indigenous people of the region.

 

This is an in your face, scorched earth policy by Ecuador to get these abusive oil companies out of Ecuador and Assange is all a part of that plan.

 

The two lawsuits range from $24B to $27B each. Almost one year's profit.

 

The last President of Ecuador didn't do anything. These actions of Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa will help in his pending reelection bid and Assange is the icing on the cake as a symbol of free speech and open government.

http://thechevronpit.blogspot....

kanobi
kanobi

ecuador is a welfare nation which is totally dependent on on u.s. foreign aid and loans which this country keeps defaulting on, billions of dollars. so what's 25 billion more. 

it's about time chevron came home. we can use those jobs here in these hard economic times. fortunately romney's plan for energy independence will cut all the commie dictators off the dole. now they say keep your dirty money, we don't need it, instead of simple thank you, but when they start starving again, the whole charade will repeat itself.

Mark Hagerman
Mark Hagerman

There's no need for extradition, or a trial. Assange has published information deemed secret by the U. S. gov't; in view of this, the appropriate response is to do nothing until he relaxes his guard, then kill him, wherever he might be.

kanobi
kanobi

exactly. besides, what if mr. assange edited all this info to suit his agenda. are our governments now subservient to some pervert who has sex with sleeping people what piece of info he gives us, and trust it, like the one ecuador acted on?

Lamont Helvetic
Lamont Helvetic

I assume then that you are in favour of holding beauty pageants for

young boys and awarding the 'winners' to local paedophiles? All paid for

with US tax dollars, of course.

And you also support the illegal monitoring of US citizens via 'trapwire'?

(both Bach-bazi and trapwire were uncovered by Wikileaks)

Assange is guilty of journalism. He is doing what the corporate news programs (Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS, et al.) will not do.

Besides, sanctioned killing without trial by government agents with no accountability is probably not the best idea.

 

kanobi
kanobi

revealing state secrets is called espionage. history teaches us it's not good for your longevity. don't try this at home.

Lamont Helvetic
Lamont Helvetic

 Many things that are moral and courageous are not good for your longevity. 

quatra
quatra

I guess GB also has an embassy in Quito (for Americans and many Brits, Quito is the capital of Ecuador). 

SRSwain
SRSwain

Since when is Quito not the capital of Ecuador?  It was the last time I was there in 2006, and a lovely place it was.  I recall meeting the US Ambassador there, at her residence.  Hmmm.

the_sons_of_lot
the_sons_of_lot

@SRSwain

Heather Hodges?  This is how Assange and Correa became friends.

On April 4, 2011, the Spanish newspaper El Pais reported that Ms. Hodges

had expressed concern over Ecuador's National Police being corrupt via a

cable dated July 10, 2009, which was exposed by Wikileaks.

She warned that their National Police Commander, Jaime Aquilino

Hurtado, might be involved in illegal activity. According to the New York Times,

this involved "his possible involvement in schemes to extort bribes

from a taxi union, steal public funds and ease trafficking of

undocumented Chinese immigrants."

She also recommended the United States

revoke Hurtado's visa. It was also noted that President Rafael Correa

may have known about Hurtado.

On April 5, 2011, Ecuador expelled

Ms. Hodges from the country after she failed to give the Ecuadorian

government a satisfactory explanation of accusations made public in the Wikileaks diplomatic cables.[