Published at 19:21 on 16 August 2012
First, it’s great that Ecuador chose to grant Assange asylum from politically-motivated persecution.
And, make no mistake, that’s precisely what it is: politically-motivated persecution. Assange offered to let Swedish investigators interrogate him at the Embassy; the Swedes refused his offer. They also refused to promise not to extradite him to the USA, despite his likelihood of facing the death penalty here. (European nations have universally abolished the death penalty, and typically refuse to extradite wanted persons if that would place them in jeopardy of being judicially murdered.)
Second, yes there are indeed double standards at play here. Ecuador’s record on basic freedoms is not precisely stellar. It’s not difficult to find human-rights groups complaining about it; here’s Amnesty International’s collection of documents on Ecuador, just for openers. Really, this should not be a surprise: hypocrisy is one of the key defining characteristics of authoritarian power structures.
Third, given the recent threats the British made (see my previous post here), and given how Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa styles himself as one willing to tweak the noses of those who rule the current global imperialist order, it’s not surprising at all to hear he decided to say “yes” to Assange’s request. It’s a perfect tit-for-tat, one in which Correa cannot help but to come out the winner in the court of domestic political opinion.
Even if the British do decide to throw international law to the wind and storm the embassy, he will then very convincingly be able to portray himself as an opponent of a lawless and thuggish international order. This would only help his domestic popularity.
Fourth, the way the Establishment media continually harps on the second point, virtually never failing to mention it in any of their coverage of this story, points out somebody else’s double standards. Were stories of Soviet bloc dissidents receiving asylum in the UK or the US always mentioned complete with tales of, say, how the CIA teaches torture techniques to the secret police of US-friendly dictatorships? Of course not.
And did such misdeeds of the West disprove that those Soviet refugees were indeed fleeing persecution, and needed asylum? Again, of course not. The validity of an asylum claim is independent of any misdeeds of the claim’s grantor. We do not live in a simplistic melodrama world where all actors are either purely good or purely evil.
Fifth, this whole story illustrates that even though authoritarian power structures are universally hypocritical, there is value in their not having a monopoly on power. If nobody was willing to defy the world’s sole superpower, its power would be absolute, and it would be a much more dangerous world for those resisting such power.
Finally, what should be done? As a start, anyone in or near London who can spare the time to be there should gather in front of the embassy to make it as difficult (and costly, in terms of both domestic and international politics) as possible for Britain to storm it.
There’s ultimately nothing that can be done to stop such a storming, if the powers that be are dead-set on it. But it is possible to make it very, very costly for them.