“Many people in Europe are following with admiration what is now happening in [Latin America],” said Wikileaks’ editor-in-chief and close confidant of Assange. “When looking at the political landscape in Europe all we have are dark forces.”
Brazil’s President Elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (aka Lula) has called for Julian Assange to be released from his “unjust imprisonment.” As readers know, Assange remains behind bars in Britain’s high-security Belmarsh prison, where he awaits extradition to the US on charges of espionage after Wikileaks revealed war crimes committed by Washington in Iraq and Afghanistan. The British Supreme Court is currently deciding whether or not to accept Assange’s last remaining appeal against extradition to the US, where a 175-year sentence awaits him.
Following a meeting on Tuesday with Kristinn Hrafnsson, the editor-in-chief of Wikileaks, and Joseph Farrell, a journalist and Wikileaks ambassador, Lula’s official twitter account tweeted:
“They informed me about Julian Assange’s health situation and the fight for his release. I asked him to send him my solidarity. May Assange be released from his unjust imprisonment.”
Estive com @khrafnsson, editor-chefe do WikiLeaks, e com o editor Joseph Farrell, que me informaram da situação de saúde e da luta por liberdade de Julian Assange. Pedi para que enviassem minha solidariedade. Que Assange seja solto de sua injusta prisão.
📸: Cláudio Kbene pic.twitter.com/DuSvdEBQQY
— Lula (@LulaOficial) November 29, 2022
Lula considers the persecution of Assange a “threat to the freedom of press throughout the world,” Hrafnsson told reporters after the meeting.
A Whistle-Stop Tour
Hrafnsson and Farrell are making a whistle-stop tour of Latin America to drum up support for Assange’s release, not only among national leaders but also civil society groups, trade unions, federations and journalist guilds. Prior to meeting Lula, they visited Colombia where they met with the recently elected left-wing President Gustavo Petro and his Foreign Minister Álvaro Leyva. Following the meeting the Spanish newspaper Publico asked Hrafnsson, himself an award-winning journalist in his native Iceland, to sum up the outcome of the meeting, to which Hrafnsson replied: “Total support for Assange in Colombia.”
“The meeting with the president and Minister Leyva exceeded my expectations,” Hrafnsson said. “I understand that it is not so easy to take a position that supports Julian Assange. We have said that many leaders in Europe have been reticent on the issue and have not been able to speak out.”
Petro himself tweeted out a message of support for Assange after meeting with Hrafnsson and Farrell:
Me reuní con los voceros de Wikikeaks, para apoyar la lucha mundial por la libertad del periodista Julian Assange.
Le soliciaré al presidente Biden con otros presidentes latinoamericanos que no se pongan cargos a un periodista solo por decir la verdad pic.twitter.com/kWyoXrHhyV
— Gustavo Petro (@petrogustavo) November 22, 2022
Which translates as:
I met with Wikikeaks’ spokespersons, to support the global fight for the release of journalist Julian Assange.
I, along with other Latin American presidents, will ask President Biden not to charge a journalist just for telling the truth.
In Colombia, a number of journalists asked the Wikileaks delegates why, as the clock ticks down on Assange’s extradition, they had chosen to tour Latin America. After all, they said, one of Assange’s biggest mistakes was to seek asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London in June 2012. At that time, Ecuador’s then-president Rafael was happy to grant the request. But when Correa handed the reins of power to his handpicked successor, Lenin Moreno, Moreno did not hesitate to hand Assange over to British security forces.
“The Greatest Traitor in… Latin American History”
That was in April 2019. It is probably not a coincidence that just two months before that, the Washington-based International Monetary Fund and regional development banks had agreed to grant Ecuador’s government a $10.2 billion bailout, with many of the usual strings attached. Just over a year later, Ecuador would end up defaulting on that loan.
On the day of Assange’s arrest, Correa described Moreno as the “greatest traitor in Ecuadorian and Latin American history”:
[He] allowed the British police to enter our embassy in London to arrest Assange.
Moreno is a corrupt man, but what he has done is a crime that humanity will never forget.
Wikileaks’s editor in chief appears to concur, saying: “From my own personal perspective, there is a very special place in the underworld for Lenin Moreno.”
But Latin America is in a very different political situation today than it was three years ago, though Ecuador itself is still being governed by a neoliberal government in thrall to Washington, this time led by Guillermo Lasso. As Hrafnsson told reporters in Colombia, the region as a whole is “of growing importance in the world.”
“Many people in Europe are following with admiration what is now happening in the region. Because, frankly speaking, when looking at the political landscape in Europe all we have are dark forces, neo-fascists or neoliberals, or whatever they want to call themselves. It’s worrying. [Meanwhile] there is something happening here, and it’s positive… Don’t underestimate the voice of your president. It’s extremely important.”
As I have documented over the past year and a half (including here, here, here and here) the sands are shifting in Latin America, politically, economically and geopolitically — and not in the way Washington would like. All six of the region’s largest economies — Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Peru — now have left-of-center governments. So, too, does Honduras. El Salvador’s populist Bukele government, which is strongly nationalist and is waging a relentless, often brutal crackdown on the country’s pandillas (streets gangs), has been fiercely critical of US policy and is now negotiating a free trade agreement with China.
Since the Ukraine conflict began, the region as a whole has refused to embrace the West’s total economic war against Russia. Even countries that are historically closely aligned to the US are now governed by people and parties that are somewhat less disposed to US influence and are willing to speak out against some of the harmful policies it pursues, both in Latin America and beyond. They include Colombia and Mexico.
AMLO Leading the Way
Since winning the presidential elections in 2018, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopéz Obrador (aka AMLO) has been one of Assange’s fiercest defenders.
“I express my solidarity with him and I hope he is forgiven and released,” AMLO said in 2020. “I don’t know if he has acknowledged that he acted against rules and a political system, but at the time [of their release] these cables laid bare the authoritarian way in which the global system works.”
During the same speech AMLO said that much of the information that has come to light thanks to Julian Assange pertains to actions that “were in violation of national sovereignty or democracy.” They included documents published by Wikileaks during Felipe Carderón Hinojosa’s presidency exposing many of the flaws in Mexico’s guerra contra los narcos (war on drug traffickers) as well as the extent to which Genaro García Luna, the secretary of public security under Calderón, was taking orders directly from Washington.
During his speech on the 212th anniversary of the Grito de Dolores, Mexico’s closest equivalent to a state of the union address, on September 16, AMLO described Assange as the Quixote of our times:
From this square, the main square of this Mexican republic, we commit to continue fighting for the release of Julian Assange.
AMLO has repeatedly offered political asylum to Assange, whom in June he described as “the best journalist of our time… whose ‘crime’ was to expose grave violations of human rights in the world as well as meddling by the US government in the internal affairs of other countries.” He also highlighted US hypocrisy on freedom of speech, arguing that if the Biden Administration doesn’t pardon Assange, it will be “tarnished”:
If they send him to the US and they give him the maximum sentence, of death in prison, we have to start the campaign to tear down the Statue of Liberty… Because it will no longer be a symbol of liberty.
At the same press conference, as you can see from the second subtitled video posted below (courtesy of Multipolarista), AMLO even showed a clip of the “collateral murder” video published by Wikileaks, which exposed US war crimes and killing of journalists in Iraq.
At the press conference in which Mexican President AMLO called for Julian Assange to be freed, he showed a clip of the "collateral murder" video published by @WikiLeaks, which exposed US war crimes and killing of journalists in Iraq.
— Multipolarista (@Multipolarista) June 22, 2022
There can be no doubt that AMLO has played a leading role in shining a light on Assange’s plight and calling for his release. In a recent interview with a Mexican broadcaster, Baltazar Garzon, the Spanish human rights lawyer who leads the legal team representing Assange and Wikileaks, described AMLO’s unwavering support for Assange as an “example that is now being followed by [others]”.
Western Media Finally Find Some Stones
It is not just Latin American leaders who are calling on the Biden administration to pardon Assange. On Monday (Nov 28), the International Federation of Journalists, representing more than 600,000 journalists worldwide, demanded his immediate release. It also condemned the recent relevations of a CIA plot to assassinate or kidnap him.
On the same day, a group of legacy media outlets released an open letter condemning the continued US prosecution against Assange and warning that his indictment “sets a dangerous precedent” that could chill reporting about matters of national security. The letter was jointly signed by The Guardian, El Pais, Le Monde, Der Spiegel and The New York Times, the five newspapers that first published Wikileak’s trove of leaked US diplomatic cables in 2010, and then from 2012 until now proceeded to look the other way as the UK and other European governments, at Washington’s behest, hounded, spied on, incarcerated and psychologically tortured Assange.
For the last decade those media outlets have known perfectly well that the US government’s indictment against Assange represented an existential threat to the freedom of the press around the world. They also knew that the law being used to prosecute Assange is deeply flawed. Yet they stayed schtum, until now. Some newspapers, most notably The Guardian, even played an active role in Assange’s persecution.
As Caitlin Johnstone notes, “if the Guardian really wants to help end the persecution of the heroic WikiLeaks founder, the best way to do that would be to retract those many smears, spin jobs and outright lies,” including its outlandish claim that Trump lackey had visited Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy, and “to formally apologize for publishing them.”
Perhaps, just perhaps, the tide may well be turning in the case against Assange, whose physical and psychological health appears to have deteriorated significantly in recent years. Even Australia’s five-eye government has finally shown an ounce of compassion and asked its bosses in Washington to end their pursuit of the Wikileaks founder. Whether genuine or not it, it is far too little, far too late.