Regardless of whether you see Edward Snowden as a traitor or a hero, one thing is for sure: He has become a symbol for the discussion of freedom of speech and information. And yet, the man who revealed high level government secrets for the purpose of protecting the American public from what he describes as a potentially tyrannical government, is now seeking asylum in countries with the very type of governments he wished to protect his people against.
China, Russia, Venezuela and Ecuador have all extended their
authoritarian diplomatic hand out to Snowden in an attempt to potentially grant him asylum from the United States’ tight grasp. Now Ecuador looks like Snowden’s most likely next move. The irony of Snowden’s recent strategy is that he is seeking asylum in countries which prove significantly less tolerant in terms of individual rights of free speech than the United States. So while some members of the international community revere Ecuador for supporting Snowden and his fight for freedom of speech, Ecuador itself has had a poor “free speech” track record.
The South American government, home to a petroleum based economy, has been under the leadership of President Rafael Correa, a man criticized for his “assault” on free speech. Media freedom groups and outlets have criticized Correa for his poor record on press freedom and the freedom of speech as he has used government agencies and police forces to shut down media outlets and silence his opponents.
During an interview with local news, former chancellor of Ecuador Jose Ayala Lasso referred to Ecuador’s government’s decision to extend asylum to Snowden as “a historic irony,” Ayala continued to explained how baffeling it seemed that “the same day a law which limits the freedom of speech was adopted by congress…is same day it is revealed that Ecuador is considering giving asylum to someone that is asking for it on the basis of protecting freedom of information. Once again I find this ironic.”
Correa was responsible for an article in a law that forbids “either directly or indirectly promoting any given candidate, proposal, options, electoral preferences or political thesis, through articles, specials or any other form of message.”
Essentially, this gave the Ecuadorian government rights to censor the media, leading the media to cry foul.In other media controversy, Correa filed a libel suit against El Universo newspaper after former editor Emilio Palacio wrote a column in which he called the president a “dictator.” El Universo’s three directors and Mr Palacio were sentenced to three years in jail with fines that amounted to $40 million.
So why is Ecuador helping Snowden? Why has it already helped Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is his own search for asylum? It may be a way for Ecuador’s president to “stick it to” the United States. After all, he had already allied himself with Venezuela’s anti-U.S former president Hugo Chavez (and now Nicolas Maduro) as well fostered close ties with China. Ecuador’s decision to give asylum to Snowden is most likely a political power-play rather than a ethical protection of human rights.