Ecuador renounces U.S. trade deals due to ‘blackmail’ over Snowden
Ecuador announced Thursday that it will not seek to renew several key trade agreements with the United States over what it terms as “blackmail” by U.S. officials. The announcement came in response to warnings by U.S. lawmakers that renewal of the trade pacts would be prevented if NSA leaker Edward Snowden was granted political asylum in the Ecuador.
On Wednesday, Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that if Ecuador grants Snowden asylum, “I will lead the effort to prevent the renewal of Ecuador’s duty-free access under GSP and will also make sure there is no chance for renewal of the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act.”
The trade agreements, aimed at helping Andean countries in their fight against drugs, reduces tariffs on hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of products such as cut flowers, artichokes and broccoli. Almost half Ecuador’s foreign trade depends on the U.S.
Communications minister Fernando Alvarez said in a news conference in Quito that the agreements, which already faced an uphill battle for renewal, had become “a new instrument of blackmail.”
“In consequence, Ecuador unilaterally and irrevocably renounces said preferences,” he said.
Under the terms of the trade deal, Ecuador exported $5.4 billion worth of oil to the United States in 2012.
Snowden, who was employed as a National Security Agency systems analyst in Hawaii, requested political asylum from Ecuador after fleeing to Hong Kong last month with top-secret documents on U.S. government surveillance operations.
In requesting asylum, Snowden said in a letter to Ecuador that it was “unlikely” that he would get a fair trial in U.S. courts.
The whistleblower also noted he could face life in prison or the death penalty if convicted under the U.S. Espionage Act, Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said on Monday.
Snowden, 30, is believed to still be in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport where he landed on Sunday after leaving Hong Kong, possibly en route to Ecuador.
Russia has refused to extradite Snowden, whose U.S. passport has been revoked, but also appears reluctant to allow him to enter the country formally.
Although Ecuadorian officials have said Snowden’s asylum request could take months to resolve, WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson said on Monday that Snowden was “fairly optimistic” that Ecuador would grant the request.
Last year, Ecuador extended asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questioning on a sexual assault investigation.
In a pointed jab at Washington over Snowden’s revelations on eavesdropping and data collection by the NSA, Alavarez said Ecuador offered $23 million per year to the U.S, to finance human rights training.
He said the money would be aimed at helping “avoid violations of privacy, torture and other actions that are denigrating to humanity.”