Saturday, June 29, 2013

Negotiations Versus Noise And Childishness: The U.S. And Ecuador

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With all of the hooey being flung about in places from tornado-struck trailer parks to Washington DC’s buttoned-down Political Action Committees and caucuses (actually a very funny term in this particular context) regarding TV’s Pork Princess Paula Deen’s using the “n-word,” which, ironically can only be used by those whom it rudely deprecates, and then trying to explain and apologize (which was the political and negotiating equivalent of stating a guilty plea followed by a show-biz finale of slowly screwing down deeper and deeper into a bed of quicksand in a sloppy suicide attempt) for her faux pas [that’s French!], alongside the somewhat more significant melodramatic war of words between U.S. Legislators and Ecuador (with Russia rooting and saber-rattling for Ecuador), I was faced with a dilemma.

At the core of the the comedy is a  Mr. Snowden, some “leaker” who divulged some serious secret U.S. information to a world of unauthorized parties [without Top Secret clearance!], is living the Tom Hanks part in the movie “Terminal,” at the present time -- but in a Russian airport, waiting for clearance from Russia and Ecuador that he can have asylum in Ecuador, from which place he won’t be extradited to the U.S. where he would face some very serious charges and a very likely draconian sentence (the U.S. is nothing but serious nowadays, and it enjoys prosecution, incarceration and cheap prison labor -- it’s supposed to be good for the U.S. economy -- and directly, through the Bureau Of Prisons’ Unicor program, has inmates at far less than the Minimum Wage involved in building cables and other non-combustible or explosive stuff to help perpetuate the war effort at various places in the world).

Several things are certain:

1) You cannot negotiate effectively if you are an obvious hypocrite;

2) You cannot negotiate unofficially, through the noisy innuendo-laced or threat-laden comments by grandstanding legislators who have no authority or directive;

3) Before you criticize, take a good, hard look at who you are and what you’ve done, lest you be made a fool of...

A drowning man should not be negotiating too harshly (if at all) with the people who have a life preserver or a rope to throw him.

I didn’t know whether to call this article (which I was busily trying to find a suitable angle for) to be published in The Internationalist Page Blog “The Mouse That Roared” or “When Is It Politically Correct To Call A ‘Spade’ A ‘Spade’?”  I was torn between two temptations. So I opted for a totally different title which, I knew would in retrospect, look more sophisticated.

The moral of the story is to be careful what you say, how you say it and to whom you say it.
It’s simple. but the U.S. has forgotten that lesson (just as it would seem that it has forgotten about the Constitution), and is getting no end of trouble in the International Community because of it. Yet the principle is so simple that even a dim-witted child (I know this from personal experience -- as any of Douglas E. Castle’s elementary school teachers about it) could understand it. Oh well.

An article which appeared in The Associated Press (AP) gave a wonderfully fact-filled tennis match-like report of the heated dialogue between Ecuador (the “Brave Little Mouse”) and the United States (the “Naked Emperor,” or the “Paper-Printing Tiger,” [sorry Mr. Bernanke, but someone had to say it] or the “World’s Policeman-Turned Bully”). This passion play artfully sets forth two noble truths: 1) never make an idle threat or empty threat, as it can be turned around and made to bit you on the rump of your ‘royalty’, and 2) you’d better have your own hands clean (the U.S. didn’t because of all of the revelations circulating about The Internationalist Community regarding the NSA’s unchecked, continued and increasing ‘excursions’ around the letter and spirit of the U.S. Constitution as well as it’s flagrant violations of certain fundamental Human rights.

Jun 27, 9:18 PM EDT

Ecuador heats rhetoric as Obama downplays Snowden


QUITO, Ecuador (AP) -- President Barack Obama tried to cool the international frenzy over Edward Snowden on Thursday as Ecuador stepped up its defiance and said it was preemptively rejecting millions in trade benefits that it could lose by taking in the fugitive from his limbo in a Moscow airport.

The country seen as likeliest to shelter the National Security Agency leaker seemed determined to prove it could handle any repercussions, with three of its highest officials calling an early-morning news conference to "unilaterally and irrevocably renounce" $23 million a year in lowered tariffs on products such as shrimp and frozen vegetables.

Fernando Alvarado, the secretary of communications for leftist President Rafael Correa, sarcastically suggested the U.S. use the money to train government employees to respect human rights.

Obama, meanwhile, sought to downplay the international chase for the man he called "a 29-year-old hacker" and lower the temperature of an issue that has raised tensions between the U.S. and uneasy partners Russia and China. Obama said in Senegal that the damage to U.S. national security has already been done and his top focus now is making sure it can't happen again.

"I'm not going to have one case with a suspect who we're trying to extradite suddenly be elevated to the point where I've got to start doing wheeling and dealing and trading on a whole host of other issues, simply to get a guy extradited so he can face the justice system," Obama said at a joint news conference with Senegal's President Macky Sall.

While the Ecuadorean government appeared angry over U.S. threats of punishment if it accepts Snowden, there were also mixed signals about how eager it was to grant asylum. For days, officials here have been blasting the U.S. and praising Snowden's leaks of NSA eavesdropping secrets as a blow for global human rights.

But they also have repeatedly insisted that they are nowhere close to making a decision on whether Snowden can leave Moscow, where he is believed to be holed up in an airport transit zone, for refuge in this oil-rich South American nation.

"It's a complex situation, we don't know how it'll be resolved," Correa told a news conference Thursday in his first public comments on the case aside from a handful of postings on Twitter.

The Ecuadorean leader said that in order for Snowden's asylum application to be processed, he would have to be in Ecuador or inside an Ecuadorean Embassy, "and he isn't." Another country would have to permit Snowden to transit its territory for that requirement to be met, Correa said.

WikiLeaks, which has been aiding Snowden, announced earlier he was en route to Ecuador and had received a travel document. On Wednesday, the Univision television network displayed an unsigned letter of safe passage for him.

Officials on Thursday acknowledged that the Ecuadorean Embassy in London had issued a June 22 letter of safe passage for Snowden that calls on other countries to allow him to travel to asylum in Ecuador. But Ecuador's secretary of political management, Betty Tola, said the letter was invalid because it was issued without the approval of the government in the capital, Quito.

She also threatened legal action against whoever leaked the document, which she said "has no validity and is the exclusive responsibility of the person who issued it."

"This demonstrates a total lack of coordination in the department of foreign affairs," said Santiago Basabe, a professor of political science at the Latin American School of Social Sciences in Quito. "It's no small question to issue a document of safe passage or a diplomatic document for someone like Snowden without this decision being taken directly by the foreign minister or president."

The renunciation of trade benefits was a dramatic but mostly symbolic threat. The U.S Congress was widely expected to let the benefits lapse in coming weeks, for reasons unrelated to the Snowden case. And if they continued, it appeared highly unlikely that the Ecuadorean government would be able to unilaterally cancel tariff benefits that went directly to their country's exporters.

Behind Ecuador's mixed messages, some analysts saw not confusion but internal divisions in the Ecuadorean government.

Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank focused on Latin America, said many in Washington believed that Correa, a leftist elected to a third term in February, had been telegraphing a desire to moderate and take a softer tack toward the United States and private business.

Harder-core leftists led by Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino may be seeking to maintain a tough line, he said, a division expressing itself in confusing messages.

"I think there really are different factions within the government on this," Shifter said. "Correa wants to become more moderate. That has been the signal that has been communicated in Washington."

Embarrassment for the Obama administration over the surveillance revelations continued as documents disclosed Thursday showed the Obama administration gathered U.S. citizens' Internet data until 2011, continuing a spying program started under President George W. Bush that revealed whom Americans exchanged emails with and the Internet Protocol address of their computer.

The National Security Agency ended the program that collected email logs and timing, but not content, in 2011 because it decided it didn't effectively stop terrorist plots, according to the NSA's director, Gen. Keith Alexander, who also heads the U.S. Cyber Command. He said all data was purged in 2011.

Britain's Guardian newspaper on Thursday released documents detailing the collection, though the program was also described earlier this month by The Washington Post.

The U.S. administration was expected to decide by Monday what export privileges to grant Ecuador under the Generalized System of Preferences, a program meant to spur development and growth in poorer countries.

Although the deadline was set long before the Snowden affair, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said Thursday that Ecuador's application to add a handful of products such as artichokes and cut flowers - the latter a major industry here - would not be decided immediately but would remain pending. That gives the U.S. additional leverage over Ecuador while Snowden's fate remains uncertain.

More broadly, a larger trade pact allowing reduced tariffs on more than $5 billion in annual exports to the U.S. is up for congressional renewal before July 21. While approval of the Andean Trade Preference Act has long been seen as doubtful in Washington, Ecuador has been lobbying strongly for its renewal.

On Wednesday, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pledged to lead an effort to block extension of U.S. tariff benefits if Ecuador grants asylum to Snowden, who turned 30 last week. Nearly half of Ecuador's billions a year in foreign trade depends on the United States.

The Obama administration said Thursday that accepting Snowden would damage the overall relationship between the two countries and analysts said it was almost certain that granting the leaker asylum would lead the U.S. to cut roughly $30 million a year in military and law enforcement assistance.

Granting asylum to Snowden would cause "great difficulties in our bilateral relationship," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said. "If they take that step, that would have very negative repercussions."

Alvarado, the communications minister, said his country rejects economic "blackmail" in the form of threats against the trade measures.

"The preferences were authorized for Andean countries as compensation for the fight against drugs, but soon became a new instrument of pressure," he said. "As a result, Ecuador unilaterally and irrevocably renounces these preferences."

Alvarado did not explicitly mention the separate effort to win trade benefits under the presidential order.

He did suggest, however, how the U.S. could use the money saved from Ecuadorean tariffs to train government employees to respect citizens' rights.

"Ecuador offers the United States $23 million a year in economic aid, an amount similar to what we were receiving under the tariff benefits, with the purpose of providing human rights training that will contribute to avoid violations of people's privacy, that degrade humanity," he said.
Pace reported from Dakar, Senegal. Gonzalo Solano in Quito, Peter Orsi in Caracas, Venezuela, and Ken Thomas in Washington contributed to this report.
Follow Michael Weissenstein on Twitter at


Subsequently, while US President Obama was trying to play down the whole incident and get on to other matters of State, Vice President Joe Biden was trying to do some political worldview damage control by more politely (without idle threats and unkindness) engaging in somewhat conciliatory talks with Quito and still gently insisting that they should not give Mr. Snowden, the man without a country, asylum and allow him to escape “justice” at the hands of the U.S. But since the revelations about Guantanamo, most of the Internationalist Community believes that U.S. “justice” is merely a euphemism for punishment.

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