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Assange: South America v colonialism?

Julian Assange remains holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and the Brits wonder what to do to get him out of there.  The Swedes want Assange on their patch.  The US wants Assange too - as The Sydney Morning Herald revealed yesterday.   Meanwhile, a different "play" is afoot.  Some South American countries throwing down the gauntlet to what they see as residual colonialism by the Brits and its cohorts.

"Ecuador was this weekend seeking support from its Latin American partners to confront what officials described as threats by Britain over Quito’s decision to grant asylum to Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder.

The government of President Rafael Correa has played the role of the mouse that roared at the British bulldog in the standoff over Mr. Assange, who has been holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy since seeking refuge there on June 19.

Ricardo Patiño, Ecuador’s foreign minister, this week accused British authorities of planning to storm the embassy to enforce an extradition warrant against Mr. Assange and declared: “We are not a British colony.”

President Correa will not have to push very hard to win a ringing declaration of solidarity from his closest regional allies, including Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia, who are always on the alert for any manifestation of neo-colonialist bullying.

The radical Alianza Bolivariana, which includes those countries, issued a statement firmly rejecting British threats, even before its officials met in Ecuador on Saturday to discuss the situation.

The larger Union of South American Nations (Unasur), which includes most states in the continent, was meeting on Sunday, also in the Ecuadorian city of Guayaquil.

Despite the tone of righteous indignation likely to dominate both meetings, the Assange case has thrown up some odd contradictions, and accusations that, when it comes to the sanctity of political asylum, the Latin Americans do not always practice what they preach.

In Bolivia, one of Ecuador’s closest allies, opposition politicians have highlighted the case of Roger Pinto, a right-wing senator who has been sheltering in the Brazilian Embassy in La Paz for almost three months.

Mr. Pinto has been granted asylum by Brazil but the Bolivian government will not give him safe conduct out of the country on the grounds that he is the subject of corruption allegations.

Bolivian opposition figures said the government was guilty of doublespeak, and Fabián Yaksic, an opposition parliamentarian, said that in the Pinto case “they’re using the same arguments that we’re hearing from Britain’s Conservative government.”

Mr. Assange’s lawyers include Baltasar Garzón, a Spanish jurist and human rights campaigner.

Mr Garzón was on the other side of an extradition battle in 1998 when he issued an international warrant for the arrest of General Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean president, on allegations that included the murder and torture of Spanish citizens.

The former dictator was in Britain at the time and a London magistrate granted a request for his extradition to Spain. The British government subsequently allowed him to return home to Chile on health grounds.

One of Gen. Pinochet’s firmest supporters at the time of his battle against extradition was Margaret Thatcher, the former Conservative prime minister. She had received help from the Chilean leader during the Falklands War of 1982 to recover Britain’s far-flung colony after an Argentine invasion.

That conflict still rankles with the Latin Americans and, Mr. Assange notwithstanding, remains at the root of their occasional outbursts against British neo-colonialism.

A Bolivian official, Idón Moisés Chivi Vargas, made a straight connection between the two cases in an article denouncing British colonialism. “Yesterday it was Argentina, today it is Ecuador, tomorrow it could be Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba or Nicaragua.”


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