Why Ecuador?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
June 23 2013 3:10 PM

Why Ecuador?

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Ecuadurian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino, right, looks on as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange waves from the window of the Ecuadorian Wmbassy in central London on June 16, 2013.

Photo by Andrew Cowie/AFP/Getty Images

As he talks to reporters and manages his WikiLeaks network, Australia-born Julian Assange is holed up in London's Ecuadorian embassy. Just last week, the country confirmed that Assange could continue to live there, avoiding extradition to Sweden. This announcement was made, naturally, by Ecuador's foreign minister. The country isn't exactly squeamish about its work in this area, and WikiLeaks enjoys a good working relationship with it, so it makes sense that Edward Snowden is asking Ecuador for asylum.

But why Ecuador? First, the country has an enviably loopholed extradition treaty with the United States. Outlaws wanted for offenses "of a political character" can dodge extradition. The oh-so-bright American senators who rushed to call Snowden a "traitor" have certainly created the impression that Snowden is wanted for political reasons, and in his interviews he's happy to reinforce this.

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Second, the ruling regime in Ecuador doesn't really care what America thinks. In 2006 the country gave its presidency to Rafael Correa. A fan and ally of Hugo Chavez, Correa reversed decades of Ecuadorian kowtowing to the United States by declaring the national debt illegitimate and defaulting on the country's bonds. A country that had adopted* the U.S. dollar as a default currency had sparked a nationalist debt revolt—and it sort of won. Correa, never as colorful as Chavez, still consolidated power and won a landslide re-election. Giving asylum to people who make America look weak, and spill its secrets, is easy politics for him.

The result: Snowden, avoiding extradition, is on a world tour of regimes generally more hostile to press and information freedom than the United States is. At the moment he's less concerned with irony than with avoiding jail.

*Update: I fixed a clumsy line about the currency. And hat tip to my colleague Matt Yglesias for a refresher on some of this.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.