When an indignant Correa asked Hodges for an explanation, he claims she responded haughtily. The government demanded that she leave, and the United States retaliated, declaring Ecuador’s ambassador to the United States persona non-grata.
Diplomatic relations have since been restored and the police chief was found innocent, but Correa often cites WikiLeaks as he has rails against what he considers the United States’ undue influence in the region. During the May interview, he told Assange he welcomed WikiLeak’s spotlight on international affairs.
“If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear,” the president said. But Correa has proven to have a thin skin when he’s the one in the media’s glare.
In 2011, he sued two journalists for $1 million each after they wrote a book suggesting his brother Rafael had won millions in contracts under his administration. Correa also won a $42 million judgment and 3-year prison sentence against three directors of El Universo newspaper and one of their columnists.
That case revolved around a scathing editorial that focused on the events of September 2010, when Correa was briefly taken hostage by protesting policemen. Four security officers died when they raided the hospital to free Correa. In the editorial, columnist Emilio Palacio suggested that a future president might press charges against Correa, including crimes against humanity, for ordering troops to attack a hospital full of innocent civilians.
El Universo said the trial was plagued by irregularities and that the court was in the president’s pocket. The subsequent guilty verdict brought the condemnation of human rights and media groups including the Miami-based Inter American Press Association.
Correa eventually issued pardons to everyone in both cases except Palacio, who was granted political asylum in the United States.
Speaking from Miami, where he is finishing a book about his fight with the administration, Palacio said Assange is probably betting on Correa because there are few other leaders who would consider taking him in.
Assange’s request is based on the premise that Sweden will send him to the United States under a sealed, and therefore secret, extradition request. Once in the United States, he fears he will be tortured or executed for espionage, according to his mother and a website set up for his legal defense. But Sweden wants him on sexual harassment allegations — not for free speech violations — and the United States has never publically asked for his extradition.
That creates a complicated diplomatic scenario, Palacio said. “I don’t think any other president in the world would want this hot potato,” he added.
Once in Ecuador, Assange will likely be on a tight leash, Palacio said.
“If Assange were to say anything that Correa didn’t like, I think he would do to him what he did to all of us — persecute him, sue him and throw him in jail,” Palacio said. “He’d be on the next plane back to England.”
But Assange may be ready for a change of pace, according to his mother Christine, who visited Ecuador early this month to press for her son’s asylum case. After meeting with Correa and other cabinet members, she told local media that her son would feel at home in the mountainous country.
“I like the simple life and nature, as does Julian,” Christine Assange said. “If Julian were to come here, I think he would love it.”