For the better part of five years, Julian Assange, editor-in-chief of Wikileaks, has been living within the confines of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. In 2012, Assange was fleeing falsified rape charges in Sweden when he was granted political asylum by Ecuador. However, he found himself unable to leave the embassy, as the government of the United Kingdom promptly announced its plans to extradite him if he left the premises.
Many have said that although Assange is officially wanted in Sweden, the ultimate goal of his extradition to the Scandinavian nation would be his subsequent extradition to the United States, where he has made many powerful enemies through Wikileaks’ publication of sensitive and classified government documents and emails. Despite the fact that even the United Nations has ruled that the UK’s insistence on extraditing Assange constitutes unlawful “arbitrary detention” and deprives him of fundamental human rights, Assange’s situation remains largely unchanged.
However, Ecuador’s upcoming runoff election, set to conclude April 2, could dramatically alter Assange’s situation, particularly if Guillermo Lasso – the conservative, opposition-party candidate – wins the contest. Lasso, who was recently named the most likely winner of the upcoming runoff, has stated that he would end Assange’s “costly” asylum in the embassy, adding that “the Ecuadorian people have been paying a cost that we should not have to bear.”
Lasso’s position on Assange’s asylum was likely intended to set him apart from the policies of long-time president Rafael Correa, whose leftist regime originally granted Assange asylum. However, Correa maintains that Lasso’s statements regarding the Wikileaks editor are more about U.S. “appeasement” than anything else. It is widely believed that Lasso – if victorious in April – would strengthen Ecuador’s ties with the U.S. compared to Correa, who famously shut down the U.S.’ Ecuadorian military base in 2009 and ejected the U.S. ambassador to the country in 2011.
Lasso’s background also suggests that his ascension to the Ecuadorian presidency would greatly please the U.S. political establishment. Indeed, it was Lasso, as Minister of Economics under former Ecuadorian President Jamil Mahuad, who oversaw Ecuador’s controversial move to “dollarize” its economy back in 2000. The drastic measure was announced after Ecuador’s former currency, under Lasso’s tutelage, lost 82 percent of its value in a single year, forcing the country to replace it with the U.S. dollar. The move relinquished Ecuador’s control over its own money supply, interest rates and other parts of its economy, representing a major give-away of Ecuador’s national sovereignty to the U.S. The dollarization policy, upon its adoption, was so unpopular that Mahuad and his administration, Lasso included, were forced out just 12 days after the measure was implemented. Mahuad was later convicted of embezzlement by an Ecuadorian court in 2014 and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Now, with Ecuador’s economy again in crisis, whoever succeeds Correa is likely to look for a bailout. Lasso, a career banker and former president of one of the nation’s largest banks, is most likely to seek a bailout from the U.S.-dominated International Monetary Fund. Such a move would give the U.S. even greater power over Ecuador’s economy, as it would play a major role in determining a subsequent austerity program that would be forced upon the country.
Lasso, like he did in 2000, would once again facilitate increased U.S. control of Ecuador’s economy at the cost of impoverishing everyday Ecuadorians. Having already shown himself eager to please powerful U.S. economic interests, Lasso’s stance on Assange is just the most recent and glaring example of where his true allegiances lie.
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