JFP 8/22: WikiLeaks: The Four Questions; Gold Star Mom: "Our forces shouldn't be there"
Just Foreign Policy News, August 22, 2012
WikiLeaks: The Four Questions; Gold Star Mom: "Our forces shouldn't be there"
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Go Straight to the News Summary
I) Actions and Featured Articles
*Action: Urge the NYT to Investigate Four Questions on the WikiLeaks Case
Four questions are crucial to judging official claims that there is no connection between the British-Swedish legal pursuit of Julian Assange and the threat of U.S. prosecution of WikiLeaks: why won't Sweden question Assange in the U.K.? why won't Sweden say it won't extradite Assange to the U.S.? why won't the U.K. say it will oppose a U.S. extradition request? why won't the U.S. say it won't seek Assange's extradition from Sweden?
WikiLeaks: Official Statement by Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy
On Sunday August 19th, Julian Assange addressed supporters and the media from a balcony at the embassy.
The Real News: Broken Anvil: Victims Fight for Justice After DEA Operation Leaves Four Dead in Honduras
Villagers say there was no warning before shots were fired on May 11 from a U.S. government helicopter on their canoe, leaving four dead.
676 days of cholera in Haiti
676 days, 7,593 dead, 600,061 ill since the UN brought cholera to Haiti. Still there has been no apology, no compensation, no implementation of an effective plan to eradicate the disease. Now the UN is considering renewing the mandate for UN troops in Haiti. Shouldn't addressing the cholera crisis caused by the UN be a condition for renewing the mandate for UN troops?
1) In an op-ed in the New York Times, Michael Moore and Oliver Stone note that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has made clear his willingness to be questioned by Swedish authorities in London, and the Ecuadorean government made a direct offer to Sweden to allow Assange to be interviewed within Ecuador's embassy. In both instances, Sweden refused. Assange has also committed to traveling to Sweden immediately if the Swedish government pledges that it will not extradite him to the U.S. Swedish officials have shown no interest in exploring this proposal, and Foreign Minister Carl Bildt recently told a legal adviser to WikiLeaks that Sweden would not make such a pledge. The British government would also have the right under the relevant treaty to prevent Assange's extradition to the U.S. from Sweden, and has also refused to pledge that it would use this power.
2) The US cleared the way on Tuesday for American charities to expedite relief to the victims of the double earthquake that struck Iran more than two weeks ago, issuing the charities a temporary but broad exemption to U.S. sanctions, the New York Times reports. Advocacy groups in the US had been pressing for such an exemption, arguing that it was necessary to secure the cooperation of banks and other financial institutions.
3) More than 2,000 U.S. soldiers have now been killed in the war in Afghanistan, the New York Times reports. Nearly nine years passed before American forces reached their first 1,000 dead in the war. The second 1,000 came just 27 months later, as a result greater intensity of fighting following President Obama's decision to send 33,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in 2010.
The Times notes that for the year to date, at least 40 NATO service members, most of them American, have been killed by either active members of the Afghan forces or attackers dressed in their uniforms - already outstripping the toll of "green on blue attacks" from all last year.
Lance Corporal Buckley became the 1,990th American service member to die in the war when, on Aug. 10, he and two other Marines were shot inside their base in Helmand Province by a man who appears to have been a member of the Afghan forces they were training. "Our forces shouldn't be there," his mother, Marina Buckley, said. "It should be over. It's done. No more."
4) In a blog and video, economist and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich gives five reasons why the Ryan-Romney economic plan "would be a disaster." Reason four: it would increase military spending while cutting spending on education, infrastructure, and basic research and development. [Other liberal criticism of the Romney-Ryan economic plan has ignored the increase in military spending - JFP.]
5) Violence by Jewish settlers has been cited for the first time in a State Department list of "terrorist incidents," the Guardian reports. "Attacks by extremist Israeli settlers against Palestinian residents, property and places of worship in the West Bank continued," said the Country Reports on Terrorism 2011. It referred to "price tag" operations, meaning violence committed by radical settlers against Palestinians in retribution for actions by the Israeli government or army deemed to be "anti-settler." According to the UN, violent attacks by settlers on Palestinians and their property, mosques and farmland has increased by almost 150% since 2009. On Friday, the State Department condemned "in the strongest possible terms" the firebombing of a Palestinian taxi near Bethlehem, in which six people – including four-year-old twins – were injured.
"One of the key factors in the growth of settler violence is the lack of effective law enforcement," said Sarit Michaeli of Israeli human rights group B'Tselem. "The Israelis have been calling settler violence 'terrorism' for a while now, but that in itself is not a guarantee that they will fulfill their obligations to protect Palestinians."
6) Egypt's President Mohamed Morsy will attend a summit in Iran later this month, the first such trip for an Egyptian leader since relations with Tehran deteriorated decades ago, AP reports. The visit could mark a thaw between the two countries after years of enmity. Under Morsy's predecessor Hosni Mubarak, Egypt sided with Saudi Arabia in trying to isolate Iran. The visit is in line with popular sentiment since Mubarak's ouster in an uprising last year for Cairo to craft a foreign policy independent of Western or oil Gulf countries' agendas, AP says.
7) Bahrain's public prosecutor's office says shotgun pellets caused the death of a 16-year-old protester last week, AP reports. Protest groups blame Bahrain's security forces, which often use bird shot, AP notes.
8) The misinformation and ignorance circulating about Ecuador as the Assange case propels the country into the international arena are frustrating, writes Jonathan Glennie in the Guardian's "Poverty Matters" blog. The Daily Mail published a piece describing Ecuador as "a world of fear under a Left-wing dictator who responds to dissent with an iron fist." President Correa has been elected twice with overwhelming majorities, most recently 52% in 2009, more than 20% ahead of his nearest rival, Glennie notes. The freedom and fairness of these elections have never been questioned by any country or relevant entity. His current approval ratings are hovering just under 60%. Poverty has never been lower in Ecuador, with $1.25-a-day poverty down from more than 20% in 2000 to less than 5% in 2010.
9) Hundreds of Ecuadoreans marched on Monday in support of the government's decision to grant asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Reuters reports. Correa is already very popular and appears to be drawing more support with his stance on Assange, Reuters says. South American nations have given Ecuador strong backing in the dispute over Assange, Reuters notes.
1) WikiLeaks and Free Speech
Michael Moore and Oliver Stone, New York Times, August 20, 2012
We have spent our careers as filmmakers making the case that the news media in the United States often fail to inform Americans about the uglier actions of our own government. We therefore have been deeply grateful for the accomplishments of WikiLeaks, and applaud Ecuador's decision to grant diplomatic asylum to its founder, Julian Assange, who is now living in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.
Ecuador has acted in accordance with important principles of international human rights. Indeed, nothing could demonstrate the appropriateness of Ecuador's action more than the British government's threat to violate a sacrosanct principle of diplomatic relations and invade the embassy to arrest Mr. Assange.
Since WikiLeaks' founding, it has revealed the "Collateral Murder" footage that shows the seemingly indiscriminate killing of Baghdad civilians by a United States Apache attack helicopter; further fine-grained detail about the true face of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; United States collusion with Yemen's dictatorship to conceal our responsibility for bombing strikes there; the Obama administration's pressure on other nations not to prosecute Bush-era officials for torture; and much more.
Predictably, the response from those who would prefer that Americans remain in the dark has been ferocious. Top elected leaders from both parties have called Mr. Assange a "high-tech terrorist." And Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who leads the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has demanded that he be prosecuted under the Espionage Act. Most Americans, Britons and Swedes are unaware that Sweden has not formally charged Mr. Assange with any crime. Rather, it has issued a warrant for his arrest to question him about allegations of sexual assault in 2010.
All such allegations must be thoroughly investigated before Mr. Assange moves to a country that might put him beyond the reach of the Swedish justice system. But it is the British and Swedish governments that stand in the way of an investigation, not Mr. Assange.
Swedish authorities have traveled to other countries to conduct interrogations when needed, and the WikiLeaks founder has made clear his willingness to be questioned in London. Moreover, the Ecuadorean government made a direct offer to Sweden to allow Mr. Assange to be interviewed within Ecuador's embassy. In both instances, Sweden refused.
Mr. Assange has also committed to traveling to Sweden immediately if the Swedish government pledges that it will not extradite him to the United States. Swedish officials have shown no interest in exploring this proposal, and Foreign Minister Carl Bildt recently told a legal adviser to Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks unequivocally that Sweden would not make such a pledge. The British government would also have the right under the relevant treaty to prevent Mr. Assange's extradition to the United States from Sweden, and has also refused to pledge that it would use this power. Ecuador's attempts to facilitate that arrangement with both governments were rejected.
Taken together, the British and Swedish governments' actions suggest to us that their real agenda is to get Mr. Assange to Sweden. Because of treaty and other considerations, he probably could be more easily extradited from there to the United States to face charges. Mr. Assange has every reason to fear such an outcome.The Justice Department recently confirmed that it was continuing to investigate WikiLeaks, and just-disclosed Australian government documents from this past February state that "the U.S. investigation into possible criminal conduct by Mr. Assange has been ongoing for more than a year." WikiLeaks itself has published e-mails from Stratfor, a private intelligence corporation, which state that a grand jury has already returned a sealed indictment of Mr. Assange. And history indicates Sweden would buckle to any pressure from the United States to hand over Mr. Assange. In 2001 the Swedish government delivered two Egyptians seeking asylum to the C.I.A., which rendered them to the Mubarak regime, which tortured them.
If Mr. Assange is extradited to the United States, the consequences will reverberate for years around the world. Mr. Assange is not an American citizen, and none of his actions have taken place on American soil. If the United States can prosecute a journalist in these circumstances, the governments of Russia or China could, by the same logic, demand that foreign reporters anywhere on earth be extradited for violating their laws. The setting of such a precedent should deeply concern everyone, admirers of WikiLeaks or not.
We urge the people of Britain and Sweden to demand that their governments answer some basic questions: Why do the Swedish authorities refuse to question Mr. Assange in London? And why can neither government promise that Mr. Assange will not be extradited to the United States? The citizens of Britain and Sweden have a rare opportunity to make a stand for free speech on behalf of the entire globe.
2) United States Grants Broad Sanctions Exemption for Iran Quake Aid
Rick Gladstone, New York Times, August 21, 2012, 7:35 PM
The United States cleared the way on Tuesday for American charities to expedite relief to the victims of the double earthquake that struck Iran more than two weeks ago, issuing the charities a temporary but broad exemption to the regimen of economic sanctions imposed on that country over its disputed nuclear energy program.
The exemption, announced by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which oversees the sanctions, authorizes charities "to collect funds to be used in direct support of humanitarian relief and reconstruction activities in response to the earthquake." The exemption, which expires on Oct. 5, permits the charities to transfer up to $300,000 each to relief and rebuilding efforts, bypassing the restrictions on financial transactions that are enforced under the sanctions.
Advocacy groups in the United States had been pressing for such an exemption, arguing that it was necessary to secure the cooperation of banks and other financial institutions. Many have been reluctant to engage in money transfers to Iran for fear of violating the sanctions rules.
"This humanitarian gesture will empower the American people to help Iranians who've lost everything to this terrible natural disaster," David Elliott, assistant policy director at the National Iranian American Council, a Washington-based group that represents Americans of Iranian descent, said on the group's Web site. "The White House should be commended for ensuring that emergency relief efforts won't be held hostage to the bad relations between the two countries."
The Bush administration issued a similar exemption, known as a general license, for charities who aided victims of the earthquake in Iran's southern city of Bam on 2003, which left 25,000 people dead.
More than 300 people were killed and thousands left homeless in the two Aug. 11 earthquakes, which struck a Turkish-speaking area in northern Iran. Senior officials in the Iranian government, which has faced some domestic criticism over its uneven response to the quake, have said they would accept foreign assistance. But the government has declined to accept a direct offer of help from the Obama administration, which characterized that decision as disappointing in a post on the official White House blog by Denis McDonough, the deputy national security adviser.
3) In Toll of 2,000, New Portrait of Afghan War
James Dao and Andrew W. Lehren, New York Times, August 21, 2012
His war was almost over. Or so Marina Buckley thought when her son Lance Cpl. Gregory T. Buckley Jr. told her that he would be returning from southern Afghanistan to his Marine Corps base in Hawaii in late August, three months early.
Instead, Lance Corporal Buckley became the 1,990th American service member to die in the war when, on Aug. 10, he and two other Marines were shot inside their base in Helmand Province by a man who appears to have been a member of the Afghan forces they were training.
A week later, with the death of Specialist James A. Justice of the Army at a military hospital in Germany, the United States military reached 2,000 dead in the nearly 11-year-old conflict, based on an analysis by The New York Times of Department of Defense records. The calculation by The Times includes deaths not only in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan and other nations where American forces are directly involved in aiding the war.
Nearly nine years passed before American forces reached their first 1,000 dead in the war. The second 1,000 came just 27 months later, a testament to the intensity of fighting prompted by President Obama's decision to send 33,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in 2010, a policy known as the surge.
In more ways than his family might have imagined, Lance Corporal Buckley, who had just turned 21 when he died, typified the troops in that second wave of 1,000. According to the Times analysis, three out of four were white, 9 out of 10 were enlisted service members, and one out of two died in either Kandahar Province or Helmand Province in Taliban-dominated southern Afghanistan. Their average age was 26.
The dead were also disproportionately Marines like Lance Corporal Buckley. Though the Army over all has suffered more dead in the war, the Marine Corps, with fewer troops, has had a higher casualty rate: At the height of fighting in late 2010, 2 out of every 1,000 Marines in Afghanistan were dying, twice the rate of the Army. Marine units accounted for three of the five units hardest hit during the surge.
Suffering the most casualties was the Third Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment out of Camp Pendleton, Calif. Twenty-five of its Marines died and more than 180 were wounded, many with multiple amputations, during a bloody seven-month deployment in Helmand that began in fall 2010.
The analysis also shows that Army casualties during the surge fell heaviest on two bases with frequently deployed units: Fort Campbell in Kentucky, home to the 101st Airborne Division, which recorded the most Army deaths in the surge, and Fort Drum in New York, home to the 10th Mountain Division.
The summer remained the peak season for fighting, with the single highest period for American deaths being July, August and September 2010, when at least 143 troops died. And as has been the case since at least 2008, improvised explosive devices, known as I.E.D.'s, remained a leading cause of death and injury, along with small-arms fire, the analysis showed.
But this year, another threat emerged: an intensified wave of attacks by Afghan security forces. In just the past two weeks, at least 9 Americans have been killed in such insider attacks. For the year to date, at least 40 NATO service members, most of them American, have been killed by either active members of the Afghan forces or attackers dressed in their uniforms - already outstripping the toll from all last year.
Though Afghanistan is now considered the nation's longest war, at 128 months and counting, the number of dead is fewer than half the total in the Iraq war, where more than 4,480 died in eight years. More active-duty and reserve soldiers killed themselves last year, 278, than died in combat in Afghanistan, 247.
None of that brings solace to the families of the dead. For the Buckleys, of Oceanside, N.Y., their son's death so near the end of his tour, so late in the long war and possibly at the hand of a purported ally, was uniquely anguishing.
As Mrs. Buckley recounted things her son loved - basketball, girls, movies, the beach - bitterness choked her words. "Our forces shouldn't be there," she said. "It should be over. It's done. No more."
4) The Five Reasons Why the Ryan-Romney Economic Plan Would Be A Disaster for America
Robert Reich, Monday, August 20, 2012
Mitt Romney hasn't provided details so we should be grateful he's selected as vice president a man with a detailed plan Romney says is "marvelous," "bold and exciting," "excellent," "much needed," and "consistent with" what he's put out.
So let's look at the five basic features of this "marvelous" Ryan plan.
Fourth: He wants to add money to defense while cutting spending on education, infrastructure, and basic research and development. America already spends more on defense than the next five biggest military spenders put together. Our future productivity depends on the public investments Ryan wants to cut.
5) Jewish settler attacks on Palestinians listed as 'terrorist incidents' by US
Israeli leaders condemn recent extremist violence, the growth of which human rights groups blame on lack of law enforcement
Harriet Sherwood, Guardian, Sunday 19 August 2012 11.44 EDT
Violence by Jewish settlers has been cited for the first time in a US state department list of "terrorist incidents", as Israeli political leaders condemned a string of recent attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
The inclusion of assaults on Palestinian targets in the annual report on terrorism reflects growing concern in Israel and internationally that violence by a minority of Jewish extremists could trigger a new cycle of conflict and further damage the prospects of a peace agreement between the two sides.
"Attacks by extremist Israeli settlers against Palestinian residents, property and places of worship in the West Bank continued," said the Country Reports on Terrorism 2011. It referred to "price tag" operations, meaning violence committed by radical settlers against Palestinians in retribution for actions by the Israeli government or army deemed to be "anti-settler".
US and European officials have become more vocal in criticising settler violence amid fears that the actions of a minority of Jewish extremists could provoke a militant response from Palestinians. According to the UN, violent attacks by settlers on Palestinians and their property, mosques and farmland has increased by almost 150% since 2009.
On Friday, the US state department condemned "in the strongest possible terms" the firebombing of a Palestinian taxi near Bethlehem, in which six people – including four-year-old twins – were injured. It urged expeditious action by Israel to bring the perpetrators to justice and for "all parties to avoid any actions that could lead to an escalation of violence".
The attack was widely blamed on settlers, with military sources suggesting "Israeli civilians were responsible". A second firebomb was found near the scene. No arrests had been made by Sunday afternoon.
Israeli politicians were also swift in their condemnation. The prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, said it was a "very serious incident", and on Sunday, Moshe Ya'alon, minister for strategic affairs, described it as "a terrorist attack".
He linked the firebombing to a separate incident in Jerusalem at the weekend, in which a Palestinian youth was severely beaten by dozens of Jewish teenagers, who witnesses said were searching for Arabs to attack.
The Country Reports on Terrorism cited several incidents of settler violence during 2011, including attacks on Israeli military personnel and a base. Over the year 10 mosques in the West Bank and one in an Israeli-Arab town were attacked, it said.
Human rights groups which monitor settler violence say it routinely includes assaults against individuals and groups of Palestinians, harassment, uprooting trees, burning fields, attacks on livestock and damage to cars and houses. It usually peaks during the autumn olive harvesting season.
According to the UN office for humanitarian affairs, the number of settler attacks causing casualties or damage to Palestinian property has increased by 144% between 2009 and 2011. Three Palestinians were killed and 183 injured by settlers last year; about 10,000 trees were damaged or destroyed; and more than 90% of complaints filed with Israeli police were closed without charges being brought.
"One of the key factors in the growth of settler violence is the lack of effective law enforcement," said Sarit Michaeli of human rights group B'Tselem. "The Israelis have been calling settler violence 'terrorism' for a while now, but that in itself is not a guarantee that they will fulfil their obligations to protect Palestinians."
According to B'Tselem, Israeli security forces often fail to intervene to stop settler violence when alerted to it or already present at the scene. In May, a video posted by B'Tselem on Youtube showed settlers shooting at a group of Palestinian protesters while soldiers and police officers stood by.
6) Egypt President to Visit Iran, a First in Decades, AP, August 18, 2012
Associated Press, August 18, 2012
Cairo - Egypt's President Mohamed Morsy will attend a summit in Iran later this month, a presidential official said on Saturday, the first such trip for an Egyptian leader since relations with Tehran deteriorated decades ago.
The visit could mark a thaw between the two countries after years of enmity, especially since Egypt signed its 1979 peace treaty with Israel and Iran underwent its Islamic revolution. Under Morsy's predecessor Hosni Mubarak, Egypt, predominantly Sunni Muslim, sided with Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-dominated Arab states in trying to isolate Shiite-led Iran.
Until now, contacts have been channeled through interest sections, a low-level form of diplomatic representation. In May last year, Egypt, which was ruled by an interim military council, expelled a junior Iranian diplomat on suspicion he tried to set up spy rings in Egypt and the Gulf countries.
It's too early to assess the implications of the visit or to what extent the Arab world's most populous country may normalize relations with Tehran, but analysts believe it will bring Egypt back to the regional political stage. The visit is in line with popular sentiment since Mubarak's ouster in an uprising last year for Cairo to craft a foreign policy independent of Western or oil Gulf countries' agendas.
"This really signals the first response to a popular demand and a way to increase the margin of maneuver for Egyptian foreign policy in the region," said political scientist Mustafa Kamel el-Sayyed. "Morsy's visits … show that Egypt's foreign policy is active again in the region."
"This is a way also to tell Gulf countries that Egypt is not going to simply abide by their wishes and accept an inferior position," he added.
The official said that Morsy will visit Tehran on Aug. 30 on his way back from China to attend the Non-Aligned Movement Summit, where Egypt will transfer the movement's rotating leadership to Iran. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not yet authorized to make the announcement.
The trip is no surprise - it came days after Morsy included Iran, a strong ally of Syrian Bashar Assad, in a proposal for a contact group to mediate an end to Syria's escalating civil war. The proposal for the group, which includes Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, was made at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca.
During the summit, Morsy exchanged handshakes and kisses with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in their first meeting since Morsy assumed his post as Egypt's first elected president.
The idea was welcomed by Iran's state-run Press TV, and a leading member of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood said that Tehran's acceptance of the proposal was a sign Egypt was beginning to regain some of the diplomatic and strategic clout it once held in the region.
After the fall of Egypt's longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak in last year's popular revolt, officials have expressed no desire to maintain Mubarak's staunch anti-Iranian stance.
Last July, former Egyptian foreign minister Nabil Elaraby, who also heads the Arab League, delivered a conciliatory message to the Islamic Republic, saying "Iran is not an enemy." He also noted that post-Mubarak Egypt would seek to open a new page with every country in the world, including Iran.
"The old regime used to turn any of his rivals to a ghost. We don't want to do like Mubarak and exaggerate of the fear of Iran," said Mahmoud Ezzat, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Morsy was the leader of its political arm.
"But at the same time, we should not take the Iranians' ambitions lightly. As much as they don't want us to interfere in their business, we don't want them to interfere in our business," he said, mentioning his group's opposition to Iran's "grand project to spread Shiite faith."
While nearly three decades of Mubarak rule left Egyptians inundated with state-spun scenarios of Iranian plots aiming to destabilize the country, many sympathize with Iran's Islamic revolution and consider Tehran's defiance of the United States a model to follow. Others seek a foreign policy at the very least more independent of Washington.
A new understanding with Iran would be a big shake-up for a region that has been split between Tehran's camp - which includes Syria and Islamic militias Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza - and a U.S.-backed group led by Saudi Arabia and rich Gulf nations.
7) Bahrain prosecutor: Shot gun fire killed teen, but probe into death ongoing
Associated Press, August 20, 2012
Manama, Bahrain - Bahrain's public prosecutor's office says shotgun pellets caused the death of a 16-year-old youth last week in an incident that has sharply raised tensions in the Gulf kingdom.
Shiite-led protest groups accuse security forces of abuses in the death of the Husam al-Hadad. The island nation's Western-backed Sunni monarchy has promised an investigation.
More than 50 people have died in Bahrain's unrest since clashes began in February 2011 between government forces and majority Shiites seeking a greater voice in the nation's affairs.
Monday's statement by public prosecutor spokesman Nawaf Hamza says the boy died of injuries from shotgun fire. It said a probe is in progress.
Bird shot is often used by Bahrain's security forces.
8) Ecuador's dismissive media portrayal smacks of post-colonial arrogance
The Assange case has sparked much comment about Ecuador and its president – most of it deeply unenlightened
Jonathan Glennie, Poverty Matters Blog, Guardian, Wednesday 22 August
The misinformation and ignorance circulating about Ecuador as the Assange case propels the country into the international arena are frustrating.
On Monday, the UK-based Daily Mail published a piece describing Ecuador as "a world of fear under a Left-wing dictator who responds to dissent with an iron fist". This "dictator", the country's president Rafael Correa, has been elected twice with overwhelming majorities, most recently notching up 52% in 2009, more than 20% ahead of his nearest rival. The freedom and fairness of these elections have never been questioned by any country or relevant entity. His current approval ratings are hovering just under 60%.
Concerns about freedom of speech are justified, but should not be exaggerated. According to last year's press freedom index, published by Reporters Without Borders, press freedom in Ecuador has worsened significantly in the past decade and especially in the past two or three years under Correa. But although Ecuador finds itself in the bottom half of the table, it is only four places below Brazil, and well ahead of its Latin American neighbours Peru and Colombia, as well as India and Turkey. Oft-quoted analyses by organisations such as Human Rights Watch have been criticised for failing to discuss the whole picture.
Claims about high rates of poverty and inflation since Correa came to power can be easily refuted by glancing at the World Bank figures. Consumer price inflation, which averaged 39% in the 90s and 26% in the first half of the 00s, has averaged 4.5% since Correa came to power. And poverty has never been lower, with $1.25-a-day poverty down from more than 20% in 2000 to less than 5% in 2010. Inequality is also at a historic low, with the Gini coefficient (which measures income inequality) dipping under 50 in 2009 for the first time since records began, a significant decline from rates nearer 60 a decade earlier. In 2010, Ecuador was described by the Overseas Development Institute as one of the top 20 performing countries in the world in terms of reaching the MDGs, particularly with regard to reducing extreme poverty and under-five mortality rates.
Highlighting these facts about Ecuador under Correa will be seen by some as an attempt to "defend" him. And I have to admit Correa's innovation in seeking financially sustainable ways to keep oil in the ground, and his pioneering of debt audits to take into account odious debt, have impressed me. But I couldn't be happier to criticise him in a whole range of ways (from press freedom to environmental protection to economic policy), just as I would any other world government.
It is not just the factual inaccuracies in the latest batch of Ecuador/Correa stories that stick in the craw. It is the tone of the comments, which so often imply the dismissiveness that remains the hallmark of western foreign policy instincts.
9) Ecuadoreans rally behind president over Assange asylum
Eduardo Garcia and Jose Llangari, Reuters, Tue Aug 21, 2012 12:08am EDT
Quito - Hundreds of Ecuadoreans marched on Monday in support of the government's decision to grant asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in a saga that could help President Rafael Correa win re-election.
Correa supports Assange's claim that he is at risk of being sent to the United States for punishment over WikiLeaks' 2010 release of a deluge of U.S. diplomatic cables and secret army documents.
"We're here to support the timely and correct decision to grant asylum to Julian Assange and also to reject the hostile reaction of Great Britain in cahoots with United States," said Betty Wanda, a 28-year-old lawyer, among a crowd outside the presidential palace in Quito on Monday.
Correa is already very popular and appears to be drawing more support with his stance on Assange. He has portrayed the standoff with London as a principled struggle between a small nation against a "colonial power".
In power since 2007, and widely praised for high spending on roads, hospitals and schools, the 49-year-old Correa is expected to run for re-election in February 2013.
There have been small protests outside the British Embassy in the Andean nation's highland capital, and graffiti has sprung up showing support for Correa.
Ecuador might take the case to the International Court of Justice, but would first try to convince London that it should allow Assange to travel to the South American country or give him guarantees he would not be extradited to the United States.
"We're states with responsible governments that can negotiate directly about this problem. We have always been open to negotiations with the British and Swedish governments," Correa told state-run television on Monday night.
Correa's government, however, says there have been no talks since August 15.
The ALBA bloc of left-wing Latin American governments, founded in 2004 by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuba's then-leader Fidel Castro, and the UNASUR group of South American nations have both given Ecuador strong backing in the dispute over Assange.
"If there's something that many people agree with, it is the dislike, even the visceral hate of 'the empire'. The anti-American sentiment brings us together, the phobia of everything that is or may be 'gringo', and, by extension, European," columnist Fabian Corral, who is often critical of Correa, wrote in Ecuador's El Comercio daily.
The information released by WikiLeaks laid bare Washington's under-the-table power-broking around the world. The leaked cables on Ecuador included accusations that Correa's government turned a blind eye to police corruption, and he responded by expelling the U.S. ambassador in the small oil-producing nation.
Many at the rally on Monday wore multi-color bandannas with images of Assange and the message: "Without real freedom of expression, there will not be sovereignty."
"I back the president 100 percent because I believe that there's freedom of expression in Ecuador. But there must also be freedom of expression at the international level and a journalist that has had as much significance as Assange must not be censored," said Christian Cuchi, 27.
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