Ecuador’s president routinely rails against the United States, has granted safe harbor to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and now is considering granting asylum to America’s most wanted man: National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.
But despite its anti-American rhetoric and political eye-poking, the impoverished South American country of about 15 million people still collects significant U.S. foreign aid. It’s due to receive $22 million this year, and President Obama has proposed another $12 million in 2014.
The Snowden drama is the latest reminder that even in a time of tight budgets, American largesse continues to flow to countries that are often at odds with U.S. interests.
Snowden, the former NSA contractor who has admitted leaking some of America’s most classified secrets about its counterterrorism surveillance capabilities, is believed to have fled Hong Kong over the weekend, enroute to Russia with an eye toward gaining asylum. Ecuador is considering his request.
The Obama administration charged Snowden on Friday with espionage and said Monday it remains hopeful it can win his extradition to face trial here in the United States.
“The United States has been in touch via diplomatic and law enforcement channels with countries through which Mr. Snowden might transit or that could serve as final destinations,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a press conference Monday. “The U.S. is advising these governments that Mr. Snowden is wanted on felony charges, and as such, should not be allowed to proceed in any further international travel other than is necessary to return him here to the United States.”
Ecuador has been a popular destination for those fleeing U.S. and its allied nations. Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has also sought refuge there and won protection last year at the country’s embassy in London. Assange is wanted on criminal charges in Sweden, but maintains he is being persecuted for helping to release classified U.S. documents.
Ecuador’s leftist president, Rafael Correa, routinely rails against America as imperialist and claims the “Washington consensus” is simply aimed at keeping his country beholden to Western powers. His administration has tried to expel U.S. diplomats and threatened to default on its large debts.
But none of that has caused the foreign aid spigot to shut off to Ecuador. In fact, USAID, the main American foreign aid agency, boasts on its Web site that its aid has “conserved hundreds of thousands of hectares of territory and helped tens of thousands of Ecuadorians increase their standard of living through better use of their natural resources.”
Over the last five years, the United States has given $144.4 million to Ecuador in foreign aid, though the totals have been declining from roughly $35 million in 2009 to $22 million this year. Next year, the State Department and USAID are requesting $12 million in aid, the lion’s share of which – $8 million – is for environmental programs such as fighting global warming and supporting sustainable development.
Carney, meanwhile, had harsh words for Snowden’s choice of travel.
“Mr. Snowden’s claim that he is focused on supporting transparency, freedom of the press, and protection of individual rights and democracy is belied by the protectors he has potentially chosen — China, Russia, Ecuador, as we’ve seen,” he said. “His failure to criticize these regimes suggest that his true motive throughout has been to injure the national security of the United States — not to advance Internet freedom and free speech.”