It has been almost 7 years since Julian Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to escape the extradition of the British authorities. If he steps outside the embassy door, he will be immediately arrested and most likely extradited to the United States, where he would face a long prison sentence or worse.
For years, whistleblower Assange has been waiting at the small embassy in London, and since Lenín Moreno became head of state of Ecuador, his situation has worsened. In conditions of incommunicado detention, he no longer has contact with the outside world, except with his lawyers, his state of health is deteriorating rapidly and he is denied the necessary medical attention. Added to this is the daily harassment, which is intended to make life a living hell for the founder of WikiLeaks.
In an interview with Jorge Jurado(1), former ambassador of Ecuador in Berlin, we talked about Assange’s situation and why Ecuador, the former saviour, became Assange’s greatest tormentor.
This interview was created in collaboration with our media partner Weltnetz.tv.
Video in German
(1) Jorge Jurado was Ambassador of the Republic of Ecuador in Berlin from 2011 to 2016. Previously, he was Minister of Water, Secretary of State for Mines and Director of Environmental Affairs of the Municipality of Quito. Until 2004, Jorge Jurado was a professor at the University of San Francisco in Quito and at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences on various environmental issues. He had studied energy technology and process engineering at the Technical University of Berlin.
Reto Thumiger: Today we welcome Jorge Jurado from Quito, Ecuador for an interview. Let me introduce you briefly: You were ambassador of the Republic of Ecuador in Berlin from 2011 to 2016. Previously, you were Minister of Water, Secretary of State for Mines and Director of Environmental Affairs of the Municipality of Quito. Until 2004, you were a professor at the University of San Francisco in Quito and at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences on various environmental issues. Your relationship with Germany and why you speak such perfect German, is because you studied energy technology and process engineering at the Technical University of Berlin.
Jorge Jurado: That’s the way things were, a long time ago.
R. During your 5 years as Ecuador’s ambassador in Berlin, you left a lasting impression, many people miss you, you made friends and you tirelessly explained Ecuador’s progressive process. Since then, Ecuador has had a new president. What else has changed?
J. Dear Reto, thank you very much for this interview. I am happy to have contact with Berlin again. To your question, I’m afraid many things have changed. What we had until 2017 and pursued with our goals as one of the progressive countries of Latin America, everything changed. This is a total inversion and the goals and dreams we had then are no longer being pursued now. I think we are on the road to a very neoliberal form of economy and government with all that that means. The changes that have taken place in these past one and a half years are so massive that I am no longer able to recognise my own country and what we have achieved.
R. Should it be understood in this context that Ecuador has left ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for America)?
J. Yes, of course, that’s part of it. In the first place, it must be said that with the economic difficulties that Venezuela is experiencing, the impulse that ALBA has had has diminished very sharply. In addition, other countries that met in ALBA are also experiencing great difficulties, for example Nicaragua. Last year, if I remember correctly, Ecuador left the Alliance. With the new neoliberal direction, ALBA simply no longer makes sense for Ecuador and that is why the government has taken this decision.
R. The example of the Argentine government of Macri shows that it only takes a few years to reverse the great progress that was built during various Kirchner government periods…
J. We are experiencing exactly the same thing now…..
R. So, is that consistent with the general trend we’re currently seeing in Latin America, which Brazil, Chile and other countries have joined?
J. Yes, it is a trend in South America and I say South America because I see López Obrador in Mexico with great hope. That’s why I don’t mean all of Latin America, but South America. The trend in South America that you mention is a right-wing trend.
R. This development is an important issue, which naturally worries us a lot. The reason for this interview that I requested was different, but that background information is important. We are very concerned about the situation of Julian Assange. With the new government in Ecuador, a lot has changed for him as well. How do you see his situation at the Ecuadorian embassy in London?
J. Unfortunately, Assange has to adapt to an absolutely new situation. Ecuador has formally said that Assange can remain in the embassy and enjoy the right of asylum, but under certain conditions. These conditions have changed a lot, they have hardened. That’s why I think Julian Assange’s personal situation at the Ecuadorian embassy in London has become very unpleasant, because he can no longer enjoy the small freedoms he used to enjoy. They are probably trying to pressure him to make the decision to leave the embassy on his own. If someone is not even able to get outdoors for a few minutes and has to stay only in a very small room all the time, then this would likely affect this person internally and destroy them.
R. Based on my information he is meanwhile completely isolated, he can only get very few or no visitors, he no longer has access to the Internet. It seems that he does not receive the medical support he needs. Rafael Correa, the former president of Ecuador, calls the living conditions under which Julian Assange currently lives “torture”.
J. Most likely these are very difficult living conditions for him, yes.
R. Assange has Ecuadorian citizenship, can he be put by Lenín Moreno on the street?
J. Not formally. No, he can’t do that. In the first place he is an Ecuadorian citizen and no Ecuadorian citizen can be expelled from his own embassy. Secondly, Assange has asylum from the Ecuadorian Government and if he were to be put on the street it would mean an absolute break with international norms, with international customs, especially here in Latin America, where we recognise the right to asylum as one of the highest advances we have achieved. That is why I believe that the current Ecuadorian government would consider it very carefully before taking that step.
R. And is that why the tactic is precisely to make his life so difficult until Assange decides to leave on his own?
J. We can speculate on that. Yes, that could be one of the reasons.
R. Is Julian Assange an issue in Ecuador, being discussed or being undermined by current problems in Ecuador and Latin America?
J. From time to time the issue is raised, but you have to see it in all its context. One of the changes that we unfortunately experienced with the new government, which is no longer so new, since it has been in power for a year and a half or a little longer. All the flow of information from the commercial press, from the hegemonic press, goes towards the favors of the government and certain information is simply not published. The country’s official press exercises some kind of self-censorship and, therefore, it is not published here what happens with Assange or that there are different movements that support Assange in many countries. The population is very poorly informed, they don’t have much access to the facts and most of the time they only circulate through the different social networks. But Assange appears on social networks from time to time. This is not enough for the country’s population to see it as a problem. We have in Ecuador due to the historical situation of the society, of the population we have structural problems that occupy us constantly and such an issue is not something that is discussed every day. In some circles the issue of Assange has already been dealt with, but it is an absolute minority.
R. Have the United States increased the pressure on Ecuador or has the willingness of the current government to resist this pressure diminished compared to the previous one?
J. It’s hard to tell. Formally, the situation has not changed. There are many rumors that since Vice-president Pence’s visit to Ecuador a few months ago, pressure from the United States to stop granting asylum to Assange has been very strong. That is not, of course, official information, no member of the government or the U.S. embassy admitted something like that. But after this visit much has changed in the treatment of the asylee Assange for the worse.
R. If I understood correctly, there is no pressure within Ecuador on Moreno to treat Assange better or to find a humane solution to the problem, then in reality only international pressure can help. What can German civil society do to support Assange?
J. Not only in Germany, I think it’s very important to exert a very strong, lasting and daily pressure. International solidarity with this person, who is now in a very difficult situation. In Germany there is the possibility to do a lot for him. Put pressure on German politicians so that they, too, put pressure on them to bring about a certain change, so that the UK Government takes a different path. The international pressure must be much greater. From here I have the impression that Assange’s situation is not an everyday issue, but he suffers it every day. I see no other way to increase the pressure of international solidarity and to continue and expand the campaigns as much as possible.
R. With your experience as a diplomat, what could be a solution? He can’t stay in this embassy forever, no matter how they treat him. The British government is determined to arrest him when he leaves the embassy. Extradition is officially denied, but it can be assumed that this will happen as soon as the Americans issue an international arrest warrant. How can we resolve this tie diplomatically?
J. I don’t see many opportunities. Unless there is a change of government in Britain. With Mrs May’s current government, nothing will change. Ecuador’s pressure to continue negotiating has diminished a lot, a lot. Perhaps if the situation about Brexit in the British Parliament led to a change in the British Government and Jeremy Corbyn came to power, a window would open for a way out, a dignified way out of this impasse.
R. Finally, I would be interested, Jorge, if you were still Ecuador’s ambassador in Berlin, how would you act, how much room for manoeuvre does an ambassador have?
J. You asked me a very difficult question, because I would never want to be an ambassador in this situation. An ambassador has some room for manoeuvre, but, of course, he is obliged to follow the government’s guidelines and I would be immediately opposed to my own ideas about the current government. Well, it’s hard to say anything about that. But these small margins could perhaps be used intelligently, at least up to a certain limit.
R. Or it could be that he is withdrawn as ambassador or, as you say, that he resigns because he no longer agrees with the government at all.
R. Thank you very much for this interesting conversation and I hope it is not the only one. There are still many issues, what is happening in Ecuador and Latin America, what we can still talk about and we would be happy another time.
J. I am delighted to be available and thank you for this opportunity to speak with you and with Berlin. Thank you very much.
Translation by Pressenza London