Ecuador to US: We Won't Be 'Blackmailed' over Snowden

Above: 30-year-old Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor who embarrassed the US government by revealing details of vast Internet and phone surveillance programs, has requested asylum from Ecuador. (Photo: scmp.com)

Vowing not to be bullied, nation cancels trade pact preemptively and offers US human rights training

The clear message from the Ecuadorean government on Thursday is that it would not be bullied or ‘blackmailed’ by the US government over the possible asylum of Edward Snowden.

At a government press conference held in Quito, officials said the US was employing international economic “blackmail” in its attempts to obtain NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, but that such threats would not work.

Snowden, who remains inside an airport terminal in Russia, has become a flashpoint between Ecuador and the US after confirmation that the 30 year-old intelligence contractor has sought asylum in the Latin American country.

Ecuador indicated its offer of ‘human rights assistance’ to the US could be used to help address its recent problems with torture, illegal executions, and the attack on the privacy of its citizens.

On Wednesday, led by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the US threatened to deny Ecuador preferential trade status if it accepted Snowden’s application for political asylum after he leaked a trove of classified documents that revealed details about the NSA’s vast surveillance programs in the US and abroad.

“Our government will not reward countries for bad behavior,” Menendez said in a statement from Washington. “If Snowden is granted asylum in Ecuador, I will lead the effort to prevent the renewal of Ecuador’s duty-free access under GSP and will also make sure there is no chance for renewal of the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act. Trade preferences are a privilege granted to nations, not a right.”

But on Thursday, Ecuador nullified the US threats—and made it clear it would not be intimidated by the global superpower—by proactively cancelling the trade agreement.

“Ecuador unilaterally and irrevocably renounces these preferential customs tariff rights,” government spokesman Fernando Alvarado said at the news conference.

“Ecuador will not accept pressures or threats from anyone, and it does not traffic in its values or allow them to be subjugated to mercantile interests,” he said.

Alvarado, who called threats from the US over trade arrangements a form of “blackmail,” said Ecuador’s government would not only willingly accept the loss of approximately $23 million in trade benefits, but in addition would offer a gift, in the form of an aid package of the same amount, that would be directed to provide human rights training in the United States.

According to reports, Ecuador indicated the money could be used to help the US address its recent problem with torture, illegal executions, and the attacks on the privacy of its citizens.

As Agence France-Presse reports, the trade agreement between Ecuador goes back decades:

The United States is Ecuador’s main trade partner, buying 40 percent of the Andean nation’s exports, or the equivalent of $9 billion per year.

The preferential trade program was set to expire on July 31 unless the US Congress renewed it. The arrangement, which dates back to the early 1990s, originally benefited four Andean nations and Ecuador was the last country still participating in it.

And Reuters adds:

Never shy of taking on the West, the pugnacious Correa last year granted asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to help him avoid extradition from Great Britain to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over sexual assault accusations.

The 50-year-old U.S.-trained economist won a landslide re-election in February on generous state spending to improve infrastructure and health services, and his Alianza Pais party holds a majority in the legislature.

Ecuadorean officials said Washington was unfairly using the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act, which provides customs benefits in exchange for efforts to fight the drug trade, as a political weapon.

The program was set to expire at the end of this month.