Across Ecuador and Latin America, Social Media Erupts With Rage Over Assange Arrest

The dramatic arrest of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange continues to elicit a range of responses from observers, politicians, journalists and activists from around the world and across the political spectrum.

Assange, 47, had been living at the Embassy of Ecuador in London since 2012, when then-President Rafael Correa granted political asylum to the Australian amid the British government’s attempts to detain him.

In the United States, both right- and left-wing commentators celebrated the arrest of the journalist–either on the basis of past sexual assault allegations, a perception that the libertarian journalist assisted the Trump campaign in 2016, or the belief Assange was an asset of Russian intelligence agencies.

Momento de la detención de Julian #Assange #EmbajadaDeEcuador #Londres

Posted by Regeneración on Thursday, April 11, 2019

In Latin America, however, Assange has been seen as a symbol of Latin American defiance to the United States, a man whom late Cuban leader Fidel Castro once hailed as having brought the U.S. empire “to its knees” through Wikileaks’ daring release of scandalous material, including leaked information that implicated the U.S. military in potential war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Since 2017, however, with the rise to power of Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno, Assange’s relationship with his Ecuadorean hosts sharply deteriorated, especially after Wikileaks’ recent release of documents known as the “INA Papers” that implicated the president in alleged corruption, including money-laundering, offshore bank accounts and shell companies based in Panama, and lurid images showing from the president’s personal cell phone that reveal his opulent lifestyle.

Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno, who once boasted of his austere diet of “rice and eggs,” dines on lobster for breakfast and dinner in photos released by WikiLeaks #INAPapers.

In a press release following Assange’s arrest, U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel said:

“I thank Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno for taking this crucial step. Former President Rafael Correa’s initial decision to grant Mr. Assange safe harbor created this irritant in our relationship with Ecuador. I look forward to working closely with President Moreno to further deepen US-Ecuador relations.”

Across Ecuadorian social media and news outlets, the country’s left has seethed over the handover of Assange to British authorities.

Former President Correa minced no words in his criticism of Moreno, denouncing him in an English-language tweet as “the greatest traitor in Ecuadorian and Latin American history … Moreno is a corrupt man, but what he has done is a crime that humanity will never forget.”

In a separate tweet responding to Moreno’s announcement of the handover, Correa further tore into what he called “one of the most atrocious acts [and the] fruit of servility, villainy and revenge.”

“From now on worldwide, the scoundrel and betrayal can be summarized in two words: Lenin Moreno,the popular former president added.

On Facebook, former Foreign Minister Guillaume Long likewise denounced the handover and manner in which British police entered the diplomatic property as “a national shame and historical error that will leave a deep mark on Ecuador for a long time.” The former top diplomat also listed off the ways in which the handover violated Assange’s rights under relevant case law in international courts, noting that it represented the “the ethical degradation of political power in [Ecuador].”

Beyond former officials, voices from grassroots social movements were even less kind toward the president’s controversial move to appease Washington, which they saw as connected to the country’s recent bailout by the IMF to the tune of $4.2 billion.

Ecuador’s Popular Press Network (Red de Prensa Popular Ecuador RPP-E) was blistering in its assessment of the government’s move, posting to Facebook:

“Moreno and his government lend themselves to the interests of major global corporations. Today he delivered Julian Assange to the clutches of American imperialism.”

Similar sentiments were evident across Spanish-language social media feeds. The New York Times en Español’s Facebook post about the arrest was inundated by messages from netizens across Latin America denouncing the Ecuadorean government’s move, with such comments as:

  • “Julian Assange is a modern hero whom the whole world … has an obligation to defend. He’s a bulwark of freedom of expression.”
  • “Freedom of expression is being held captive. Moreno is obeying instructions from his love, the racist Trump.”
  • “They sold him to the highest bidder to look good for the U.S. A modern-day Pontius Pilate.”
  • “Another boot-licker in the South – at what point did our friends in South America lose their dignity?”
  • “Lenin Moreno imitates Judas Iscariot, handing over Julian Assange to Uncle Sam so [Assange] can be crucified.”
  • “You always knew this day was coming. To those of us who are told lies every day, we thank you for your sacrifice for the sake of truth. Hero of the world.”
  • “Lenin Moreno is a lackey of the empire.”

El presidente de Ecuador, Lenín Moreno, acusó al fundador de WikiLeaks de violar reiteradamente los términos de su asilo político, que le retiró hoy.

Posted by The New York Times en Español on Thursday, April 11, 2019

In the meantime, however, figures aligned with the government as well as the conservative and center-right former opposition in Ecuador hailed the handover and what they saw as the government’s move to stop paying exorbitant amounts of money for housing Assange at the embassy in London.

While the U.S. left and right are largely united in their hatred of Assange, often for diametrically-opposed reasons–his support for Trump, his exposure of U.S. war crimes, his alleged collaboration with foreign intelligence services–the reaction in Latin America has been the polar opposite.

The reactions from the Global South show that the Wikileaks founder, for all of his perceived faults, is seen by many as nothing less than a heroic figure who stared down Washington and its junior partners like Lenin Moreno until the bitter end in a bid to cast light on the dark secrets, scandals and crimes of the international order.