The clear and direct version of the Wikileaks-Ecuador takedown
Can a diplomat tell the plain truth? Today’s I deconstruct Ecuador’s statement about cutting off Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s internet access. It’s clear enough, for a diplomatic communiqué, but it’s fun to fantasize about what the diplomats actually said to Assange.
Here’s a quick summary of the backstory. In 2010, prosecutors in Sweden charged Julian Assange with rape and molestation. London authorities promised to extradite him to Sweden. After a few twists and turns, he took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012. Ecuador granted him asylum. He’s been trapped there ever since, and has run Wikileaks from an apartment in the embassy.
Wikileaks has a history of publishing leaked material that embarrasses people, including the U.S. military and the State Department. It embarrassed the Democratic National Committee during its presidential nominating convention and has been posting leaks about the activities of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party in the run-up to the election.
Deconstructing Ecuador’s statement
Ecuador has apparently decided that Assange’s activities no longer qualify as journalism, and are now actual meddling in the U.S. presidential election. So it changed the WiFi password, cutting off Assange’s connection. Here’s Ecuador’s official statement; I’ve highlighted notable words and added commentary in brackets.
Official Communiqué, Gobierno Nacional de la República del Ecuador, Quito, October 18, 2016
Ecuador granted political asylum to Julian Assange in 2012 based on his legitimate fears of political persecution because of his journalistic activities as the editor of WikiLeaks. [“Legitimate fears of political persecution” implies that Ecuador believes in what Assange is doing. They call it “journalistic.” The governments whose secrets Wikileaks has published, including the U.S., would disagree.]
In recent weeks, WikiLeaks has published a wealth of documents, impacting on the U.S. election campaign. This decision was taken exclusively by that organization. [Not crazy about “impacting,” but this is clear enough. “Exclusively” means “not our fault.”]
The Government of Ecuador respects the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states. It does not interfere in external electoral processes, nor does it favor any particular candidate. [In other words, “This meddling isn’t our official position.”]
Accordingly, Ecuador has exercised its sovereign right to temporarily restrict access to some of its private communications network within its Embassy in the United Kingdom. This temporary restriction does not prevent the WikiLeaks organization from carrying out its journalistic activities. [“Sovereign” here has a specific meaning — it refers to the right of Ecuador as a nation. By using “temporary” and “temporarily,” Ecuador signals that it can turn things back on at any time.]
Ecuador, in accordance with its tradition of defending human rights and protecting the victims of political persecution, reaffirms the asylum granted to Julian Assange and reiterates its intention to safeguard his life and physical integrity until he reaches a safe place. [Once again, “political persecution” means that Ecuador still supports’ Assange’s activities in general. “Reaffirms” and “reiterates” reflect that it has made such statements before and has not backed down.]
Ecuador’s foreign policy responds to sovereign decisions alone and does not yield to pressure from other states. [It’s an interesting slip here that they’ve written “responds to sovereign decisions” instead of “takes sovereign decisions.” The intention of this tacked on statement is to deflect accusations that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made them do this.]
Dear Julian, stop being a jerk, signed Ecuador
This statement isn’t bad — it’s way better than the plaintive screams of the North Koreans, for example. But let’s fantasize about the note that the Ecuadorian authorities might have written directly to Assange.
Yup. We changed the WiFi password without telling you. We bet you figured that out right away.
We think Wikileaks is cool, so long as it embarrasses the right people. And we’d still like to keep you out of prison.
But it seems like you’ve got a personal vendetta against Hillary Clinton. If you’re going to behave like a spoiled teenager throwing tantrums, we’ll take away your connection. We promise to give it back after the election is over.
Remember, this is our house and you have to obey the rules.
Don’t worry, we still love you. You can still stay here as long as you like. But clean up your room once in a while, okay?
Love, the foreign ministry of Ecuador.
As a diplomat with more than 30 years in the business, I applaud Ecuador’s decision. The lynch pin of international relations is sovereignty and the avoidance of interference in the internal affairs of other sovereigns. The United States has infringed no the sovereignty of others from time to time, but not so much as Latin Americans have claimed.
Ecuador-U.S. relations are better described as “correct” than “friendly,” so their statement might be translated as, “We, unlike you, mind our own business.”