Whistleblower Edward Snowden has arrived in Moscow en route to Venezuela, but whilst ALBA nations offer political asylum to westerners fighting against the regime, they practice repressive policies against their own countrymen.
By Jack Peat
Venezuela is about to follow in the footsteps of Ecuador in offering political asylum to one of the world’s most infamous whistleblowers, but as the ALBA nations project political freedom, they are practicing repression at home.
ALBA – The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America – is made up of Latin American nations with socialist and social democratic governments, such as Cuba, Ecuador and Venezuela. While they promote democratic styles of leadership to the rest of the world, they have some of the western hemisphere’s toughest antidefamation laws, often bypassing the civil courts in favour of imprisonment if an individual is found to have insulted or otherwise offended government officials.
So why, when both governments of Ecuador and Venezuela mock the very free-speech and free-information crusade that Julian Assange and Edward Snowden champion, are they ready to offer them refuge when the US seeks to trial them for espionage?
The right to reputation
Under the European Convention on Human Rights – the foundations of both media and international law – all individuals are allowed the right to reputation, which sets the precedent for libel and defamation cases. However, in the case of Ecuador and Venezuela, reputation may have become an afterthought, rather than a precursor of defamation.
Responding to global outcry, last year Correa pardoned a journalist and three newspaper executives after they’d been convicted and sentenced to prison terms and fined $40 million for criminally defaming him. The red embassy carpet Correa rolled out for Assange months later could therefore have been a global expression of political freedom to cover up the repressive action at home. Russian President Vladimir Putin, himself no friend of press freedom or open government, no doubt had similar motives when he said this week he’d consider an asylum request from Snowden.
Bending human rights
Ecuador and Venezuela – possibly even Russia – are no human-rights darlings. The media is suppressed, democracy is still a loose political term and the bureaucratic foundations promote autocracy, corruption and distrust. Shielding Assange and Snowden is therefore simply a way to protect themselves from human-rights criticism, and allthough my sympathies will always lie with whistleblowers and their endeavours, siding with politically corrupt countries is a saw to the branch on which they stand.
But what seems the more likely reason is that political refuge is being offered as a way of kicking the US in the shins. Consider Hong Kong’s decision to refuse extradition claims from the US – a decision which was heavily swayed by China – and the midway point of Moscow – which is an illogical calling point other than for political reasons – for Snowden’s trip to South America. The underlying tensions between these countries and the US could certainly outweigh the democratic motives which Assange has championed. This is a pseudo Cold War base on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the very foundations of peace.