Wikileaks and Assange have sided with Snowden, seeing him as a soldier in the group's global battle against government secrecy. In a statement released on the Wikileaks site this weekend, Assange claimed, "Edward Snowden is one of us." The
organization said it was escorting Snowden to Ecuador, and Sarah Harrison, Assange's right-hand woman, flew with Snowden to Moscow. Assange is reportedly personally assisting in Snowden's asylum request, and a Wikileaks lawyer is advising him on his next legal moves.
Meanwhile, Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa was friendly with Chavez, but he was always seen as more pragmatic and moderate.
Still, there have been plenty of tensions between the U.S. and Ecuador during his tenure: Correa called off a trade deal with the
U.S., booted out a U.S. air base, and has expelled two American diplomats. In
2006, Correa said Chavez' comparison of former president George W. Bush to Satan was " unfair to the devil."
In recent years, Assange and Wikileaks have presented an especially golden opportunity for Correa to take a stand against U.S. foreign policy, which he has
said he finds "questionable
." In explaining his rationale
for granting Assange asylum, Patino, the foreign minister, said that if Assange leaves the embassy
he could also be extradited to the U.S., where he might face "political persecution."
"[Correa] is a very smart guy and this wasn't done in a vacuum," Representative Eliot Engel, the ranking Democrat on the U.S. House's Western Hemisphere
subcommittee, told the AP about Correa's move to shelter Assange.
"The reason is to kind of be the head of the poke-the-United States-in-the-eye group."
Correa also appears to feel somewhat of a kinship with Assange, at one point even welcoming him "into the club of the persecuted" during a friendly
Russian TV interview. If Correa sees leakers and whistleblowers as fellow little-guy allies in his standoff with big Western governments, he might be ready
to welcome Snowden to that club, as well.
What's interesting is that even as Correa has created a safe space for foreigners like Assange -- and now possibly Snowden -- he doesn't do the same for
dissenters within his own country. Civil liberties watchdog Freedom House ranks Ecuador as just "partly free" in its annual report, and the country just
passed a new law that regulates editorial content and gives
authorities the power to impose sanctions and censor the press.
Correa has also called journalists "assassins with ink" and asked his government
ministers to stop granting interviews to private media stations, saying they are "corrupt." Apparently, shedding light on
government activities is only legitimate when the government in question isn't Ecuadorian.