Ecuador’s decision to grant asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange received support from several Latin American nations over the weekend.
A meeting of foreign ministers called the Union of South American Nations backed the Ecuadorean government and condemned Britain for threatening to forcibly remove Assange from the embassy.
Natalia Viana directs Publica, a Brazilian non-profit investigative journalism center. She says diplomatic asylum has a played a key role in Latin American history and is a “sacred institution” there.
“It has saved dozens of opposition leaders during our very very bloody dictatorship,” Viana says. “None of the leaders have said we support Assange, or we support what he’s doing. They are saying we support Ecuador because Ecuador is an independent state and that should be respected.”
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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman. This is The World. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange remains holed up inside Ecuador’s embassy in London. He’s been quiet since making a public statement yesterday calling for an end to what he called the U.S. witch hunt against his anti-secrecy organization. Ecuador’s decision to grant Assange asylum got a lot of support from other Latin American nations over the weekend. A meeting of foreign ministers from around the region back the Ecuadorian government and condemned Britain for threatening to forcibly remove Assange from the embassy. We’re going to deal with this complicated story from a number of angles. We begin with Natalia Viana. She directs Publica, a Brazilian non-profit investigative journalism center. Viana says diplomatic asylum has a played a key role in Latin American history.
Natalia Viana: It has saved dozens of opposition leaders during our very, very bloody dictatorships. So, for instance, Pinochet had his coup in Chile lots of embassies were used as asylum. You have a very big important political figure in Brazil, Jose Serra, who is running for Sao Paulo mayor who was living in the Italian embassy for eight months. This is a very sacred institution for Latin America. You remember that after the coup in Honduras the Honduran president went to the Brazilian embassy and stayed there for some months as well. So the motivation is more about preserving this institution and preserving what is considered as Ecuadorian soil in the U.K.
Werman: So what about Assagne himself? How do other Latin American leaders, how do the leaders in Ecuador feel about Assange the person and what he’s done?
Viana: None of the leaders have said we support Assange or we support what he’s doing. They’re saying we support Ecuador because Ecuador is a independent state and that should be respected.
Werman: Natalia, we should point out that you were a member of the team assembled by Wikileaks in the weeks before the publication nearly two years ago of what Brazilians call cablegate, the 3,000 sensitive cables to and from the U.S. embassy and consulates in Brazil provided by Wikileaks. What was your role in the release of those cables and what did the leak mean for Brazil’s media?
Viana: Well, I was part of a team assembled by Julian Assange that helped him to devise strategy for different countries. In Latin America, they did have quite a comprehensive strategy. They did deliver the cables to most Latin American countries which is like the continent that got its stories more widespread. Many of the cables were quite revealing. They were also quite revealing about how different the Bush administration was dealing with for instance the rise of Venezuela and the rise of Brazil as local powers and how different the Bush administration was trying to deal with them.
Werman: Do you think these countries in supporting Ecuador’s asylum bid for Julian Assange are essentially standing up to the U.S. because the U.S. opposes this?
Viana: The countries, they are standing against the U.K. decision or the U.K. threat to storm the embassy. We are also in a very specific moment in which Latin America is showing a unity in that we’re together and we’re standing together.
Werman: Natalia Viana directs Publica, a Brazilian non-profit investigative journalism center.
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