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Ecuador shames Australia

By Alex Mitchell

The first responsibility of every democratic state is the welfare of its citizens, a responsibility that has been abdicated by the Australian government in the case of Julian Assange.

As a result, Ecuador, a tiny republic in South America, has stepped into the breach vacated by the Australian government to protect one of our citizens. Ecuador’s decision deserves the praise of all Australians who value freedom of speech and freedom of political expression.

Our gratitude for the actions of Rafael Correa’s government in Quito is tempered by a sense of unmitigated shame.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Attorney-General Nicola Roxon and Foreign Minister Bob Carr have cravenly capitulated to the plans of the United States government to pursue, persecute and prosecute the WikiLeaks founder.

Washington’s ultimate aim is to put him on trial for treason alongside the US serviceman Bradley Manning and send both men to jail for life.

Their crime? Bringing to the world’s attention the secrets of US imperialism’s war against the people of Iraq and Afghanistan and other crimes hidden in the archives of secret diplomacy.
How else would Australians have known that Mark Arbib, the former NSW ALP general secretary, senator, Sports Minister and national convenor of the right-wing faction, Centre Unity, was a confidential source of the American Embassy in Canberra? (Yank in the ranks by Philip Dorling, SMH, December 9, 2010).

By defending the rights of Assange, President Rafael Correa is going where Gillard, Roxon and Carr fear to tread. However, his courage is not born of bravado but conviction and principles.

The son of a working-class drugs smuggler who committed suicide, Correa escaped his poor background through education. He holds a PhD in economics after studying in Ecuador, Belgium (where he met his wife) and the US at the University of Illinois.

In the 2006 presidential election campaign he declared that Ecuador’s “odious” foreign debt would be repudiated. Upon his successful election, Correa established a debt audit commission to examine all the foreign loans that previous corrupt dictatorships had negotiated with US and other world banks.

The commission concluded that many of the loans had been illegitimate and had inflicted “incalculable damage” on the people and the environment and that only 30 per cent of the external debt had been legitimately incurred.

In his book Confessions of an Economics Hit Man, John Perkins describes how former Ecuadorean leaders were encouraged to borrow billions of dollars to purchase US-built infrastructure that only benefited Ecuador’s wealthy elite. Perkins states that infrastructure loans were granted on condition that “engineering and construction companies from our own country (the US) must build all these projects. In essence, most of the money never leaves the United States; it is simply transferred from banking offices in Washington to engineering offices in New York, Houston or San Francisco.”

The commission’s findings were given a rapturous welcome in Ecuador with the Confederation of Ecuadorian Kichwas, a section of the country’s indigenous people’s movement, saying: “We have not acquired any debt. The so-called public debt really belongs to the oligarchy. We, the peoples, have not acquired anything or been benefitted, and thus we owe nothing.”

In the wash-up, the Quito government staged a debt repurchase which offered foreign bondholders a fraction of face value.

The Economist almost choked with admiration: “Ecuador has bought back—at 35% of face value—some 91% of its defaulted foreign bonds, in a transaction that was more successful than the government, and many analysts, thought possible. The repurchase, despite the huge discount, was relatively well received by the market, with few holdouts—and even these will be given another chance at a deal in the near future.” (June 17, 2009)

According to President Correa, the buy-back constituted a saving on interest payments of US$300m-a-year.

Apart from freeing the economy of its foreign debt, Correa’s other major ambitions in his first term were to protect and improve the rights and living standards of Ecuadorians. To this end, his government declared: 1) funds from the country’s natural resources (oil) would be designated towards public policy and not the repayment of debt and 2) only 20% of the annual budget would be used for debt and not 50%.

(Can anyone seriously imagine the likes of Gillard, Roxon, Carr, Swan, Ferguson or Smith proposing such policies to safeguard Australia’s economic future?)

The 49-year-old president was re-elected on the first ballot at the next election in 2009 and he will face another election in August 2013. Biographical notes on Wikipedia indicate his popularity: “To date, Correa’s administration has succeeded in reducing the high levels of poverty, indigence and unemployment in Ecuador.”

His stand in support of Julian Assange is backed by nations of Latin America and across the world. They can see the legalistic conspiracy that US imperialism has in store for Assange because many of them have been victims of its barbarous policies during the so-called “American century”.

How different it was in Australia 40 years ago when Gough Whitlam was elected prime minister.

One of his first decisions was to order that a passport be restored to left-wing journalist Wilfred Burchett in the face of hostility from the US and British governments, the Cold War Liberals and the RSL.

Second, he ordered our ambassador in Beijing, Stephen Fitzgerald, to take immediate steps to gain the release of Francis James, former editor of The Anglican who had been jailed for alleged spying.

After four years in incarceration – while the Liberals did nothing – James was released and expelled from China and returned home safely.

Whitlam wasn’t cowed by Beijing, London or Washington. He acted on behalf of all Australians in defending the human rights of Burchett and James.

The current Labour crowd in Canberra are intellectual and moral pygmies by comparison.

21 August 2012

  • Alex Mitchell is an Australian journalist, former editor of News Line and author of the memoir Come the Revolution

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