The impetuosity of Rafael Correa, and the British interpretation of international law, may well keep Julian Assange imprisoned indefinitely in the smallish premises of the Ecuadorian embassy in London: a stone's throw from Harrods, to remind him of the consumer joys he is missing.
A three- or four-sided game: Ecuador has given Assange asylum; Great Britain holds that the digital anarchist's extradition to Sweden prevails over diplomatic usage; the Swedes want to try him for sexual crimes; the United States, for leaking state secrets. And the Ecuadorian president's "Citizen Revolution" has now become a factor in rising international tension, oddly for a country that seemed far from world concerns.
Correa began his mandate in 2006, in 2008 passed a Constitution that leaves plenty of room for possible authoritarian leanings, and in 2009 was reelected with the stated aim of recasting his country, which until then had been signally unstable of presidency, though solid indeed of clientelist boss culture and oligarchy.
The president, with degrees in Economics obtained in Belgium and the US - and thus having little in common with his autodidact allies Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales - has in the last six years wiped the old political class off the map, so much so that for the next presidential election in 2013 the only opposition in sight is a handful of leftist splitters from his own party, Alianza País.
The president has in the last six years wiped the old political class off the map
Buoyed up by oil revenues - 60 billion euros in the last six years - he has reduced economic inequalities, particularly with a Human Development Bonus that covers some 40 percent of the country. And he is surely sincere when he speaks of a new Ecuador, egalitarian, Jacobin, Western and forward-looking, its back turned to the pre-Columbian night of time. But the shriveling-away of the political parties has given the press the envenomed mantle of being the opposition: one which Correa perceives as an enemy to be beaten, if he wishes to bring to fruition his plans - which are not for dictatorship, but certainly for hegemony.
His repeated attacks on freedom of expression - just what he says he is defending with asylum for Assange - tend to be photogenic displays of his personal, truculent style. One day he appears burning a newspaper in Quito, another he forbids official institutional advertising in private newspapers, or forbids officials and ministers from making statements to the "mercantilist media," which are all the property of "six families." And, in the style of Chávez, whenever he sees fit to do so he obliges the TV channels to broadcast his oratory, occasionally holding up to the camera the photo of some critical journalist, like a wanted poster in a Western. Lastly, so radical is his conception of what may constitute insult or slander to his person, that in the last four years he has sued 25 politicians, journalists and institutions, among them the daily El Universo, sentenced to pay a fine of 30 million euros.
His plan for disempowering the countervailing estates of the body politic rests on two pillars: a reform of the courts, aimed at creating a new, government-docile judiciary; and a Communications Law, featuring a regulatory agency and a new, government-friendly distribution of broadcasting bands.
Correa is waging what he considers a war on privilege, which he fears he will lose if he sticks to the means allowed in Western democracy. And now he sees a useful tool in Assange, both to compete with Chávez in the race for world celebrity, and to enrich his rhetoric for his next electoral campaign. The Australian hacker is the instrument, Correa the player. His theory of state is that the vote is all; the other branches are just cosmetics for aging, exhausted democracies. The common good is what the Elect of the People says it is. And Assange, in his diplomatic jail in London, is a pawn in a political play, in defense of a freedom of expression that is only for the media of other countries, far from the Land of the Equatorial Line.