Patino says London's pressure, which forces Assange to live in the Ecuadorian embassy in Britain, is a serious infringement of his rights. The WikiLeaks frontman applied for and was eventually granted asylum by Ecuador in August 2012 to avoid UK extradition to Sweden, where police want to question him over sex crime allegations. Assange believes extradition would result in his being turned over to the US and prosecuted for disclosing thousands of classified US documents.
RT:Minister, I’d like to ask you about the situation with Julian Assange. President Correa said that the solution depends entirely on Europe. What is the Ecuadorian Embassy’s stand on the British authorities’ unwavering refusal to let the founder of WikiLeaks leave the country?
Ricardo Patino: It does concern us, and we bring up this issue every day, emphasizing that denying Assange the freedom to leave the UK is a serious infringement on his rights. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – and I’d like to stress the word “universal” – an individual is entitled not only to request asylum, but also to be granted it.
At the time the declaration was penned, the British diplomats insisted that it didn't read “everyone has the right to seek and to be granted asylum”; the Latin American countries suggested this wording: “seek and be granted asylum”. They insisted that it read “to seek and to enjoy asylum”. Meanwhile, Julian Assange is effectively being denied an opportunity to enjoy asylum.
There are plenty of legal reasons and international regulations that validate Ecuador’s decision to grant asylum to Julian Assange, including the international treaties that our country signed, along with the UK, more than a hundred years ago. We sincerely regret the British government’s failure to make the right decision, but we are not authorized to demand something from them. The UK is independent in its decisions.
Nevertheless, we believe this case concerns the human rights of a specific individual. And it goes back a long time, because Mr. Assange has faced persecution before, and this was also one of the reasons behind Ecuador’s decision. Julian Assange’s life was at risk at the time because of his activities as he exercised his freedom of expression. And we believe that Britain’s refusal to let Mr. Assange leave the country is an encroachment on his rights.
To be sure, we cannot force the UK to let him go, so we have decided to wait for a reasonable period of time. If we fail to find a diplomatic solution within that timeframe – and we keep looking for one; I had requested a meeting with Mr. William Hague for several months before we finally met last September during a UN summit; later, we sent them a communication requesting another meeting, but haven’t received a response as yet – then we will be left with no alternative but to seek legal remedies, which will definitely prove time-consuming, and altogether won’t be the best possible option. A diplomatic solution would be the best option.
The only thing I am empowered to do is courteously request the British government to consider the legal reasons for letting Mr. Assange leave the United Kingdom (which we have laid out for them in detail), and to end this day-to-day practice of disregarding Mr. Assange’s rights, whereby he is being deprived of the opportunity to take up asylum, although a sovereign nation has granted him one a month ago.
The Ecuadorian foreign minister also shared the latest information on the health of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is slowly recuperating after a surgery in Cuba. It was the fourth cancer-related operation Chavez has undergone. He was not able to attend his presidential inauguration in Venezuela on January 11, prompting the opposition to call for an early election. The government denied the demands, saying it was based on an incorrect reading of the country's constitution.
RT:Just recently, before this visit of yours, Mr. Patino, you had the opportunity to have a talk with the foreign minister of Venezuela. What is the current condition of Hugo Chavez, could you perhaps give us any details?
Ricardo Patino: I have had a chance to talk to the incumbent foreign minister of Venezuela, and the previous one, Mr. Nicolas Maduro, who later became vice-president, and currently serves as the acting head of state. They told me Mr. Hugo Chavez was feeling better, recuperating after surgery, and I have no doubt on that account.
Those were the first few days following his operation, when Mr. Chavez happened to contract an infection, which Nicolas Maduro informed the entire world about. I don’t doubt those gentlemen’s information, because I had seen President Chavez a few hours prior to his surgery. I was in the hospital together with President Correa, and we had a very long conversation with President Chavez.
It was Monday night, and in the morning he was up for surgery, so there were only a few hours left. Therefore, we wanted to be polite and tried not to be intrusive. But I couldn’t even begin to describe to you the strength I felt in Hugo Chavez when we spoke, the firmness of his handshake. So when they tell you he is in a dire condition, you’d do well to take that with a grain of salt. When I saw Hugo Chavez before the surgery, he was tough, his handshake was firm, and he was in a very good condition.
I didn’t see him after the surgery, but I’ve had contact with his closest relatives and friends, and I was told that he’s conscious. Nicolas Maduro told me that he is recuperating, more than that he’s already taking presidential decisions such as the appointment Elias Jaua [as Venezuela’s new foreign minister] – that was the president’s direct order.
Elias told me this himself last Monday during our meeting. And in a private conversation he told me that he saw the president, and that he’s getting better. My only comment on this is that I’m very glad to hear it, and all Ecuadorians and Latin Americans are very happy that Hugo Chavez, who is the spirit of the Latin American revolution himself, is recovering and will soon come to Venezuela so that the entire population, all the 8,300,000 Venezuelans may celebrate his presence and his presidency.