When Ecuador’s official Twitter account posted a video of President Lenín Moreno at 10:30 a.m. local time in London, rumors of Julian Assange’s imminent arrest had been making the rounds for hours.
“Ecuador has fulfilled its obligations under the framework of international law,” Moreno said, before accusing Assange — who sought asylum in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London in 2012 — of breaking rules set by his host nation, after the WikiLeaks founder continued his work from embassy premises.
“The patience of Ecuador has reached its limits,” Moreno said.
The remarks departed sharply from the support that his predecessor, Rafael Correa, had offered Assange in 2012. At the time, Ecuador’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, said: “The government of Ecuador, faithful to its tradition of protecting those who seek refuge in its territory or in its diplomatic missions, has decided to grant diplomatic asylum to Julian Assange.”
“There are indications to presume that there could be political persecution,” Patiño said at the time, referring to concerns of Assange and his supporters that the United States might seek his extradition over the publication of government secrets, and that he could subsequently face the death penalty. A U.S. court filing error revealed in November that Assange has been charged under seal.
On Thursday, the Ecuadoran government indicated that Britain had offered assurances that Assange would not be extradited to a country where he might face the death penalty.
But Ecuador’s announcement on Thursday was years in the making.
To understand why Ecuador first took in Assange and now has forced him out, it helps to go back further than 2012.
2011: Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa kicks out U.S. ambassador
Part of a group of anti-American leaders that also includes Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, then-President Rafael Correa orders the U.S. ambassador to leave Ecuador. The move drastically worsens relations between Ecuador and the United States, creating a political climate that later results in Ecuador’s decision to grant asylum to Assange.
June 2012: Assange seeks asylum in Ecuadoran Embassy in London
“I can confirm I arrived at the Ecuadorean embassy and sought diplomatic sanctuary and political asylum,” Assange says in a statement.
2015: Trade ties suffer
Total U.S. exports to Ecuador fall from $8.25 billion in 2014 to $5.82 billion in 2015. Total U.S. imports from Ecuador fall from $10.87 billion in 2014 to $7.47 billion the following year.
April 2017: Mike Pompeo ups the stakes
Then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo characterizes WikiLeaks as a “nonstate hostile intelligence service” and a threat to U.S. national security.
May 2017: Inquiry dropped; Moreno becomes president
Sweden drops its inquiry into alleged sex crimes committed by Assange during a visit to Sweden. Assange had always denied the allegations, but the WikiLeaks founder still faces arrest for jumping bail in Britain five years earlier.
The same month, Correa’s former vice president, Moreno, takes power as president. Trying to position himself as a more moderate alternative to the hard-left Correa, Moreno attempts to rebuild economic and political ties to the United States.
For Moreno, reversing his predecessor’s decision on Assange increasingly appears to be a way to step out of Correa’s shadow.
December 2017: Signs of Ecuador trying to remove Assange from embassy
In what appears to be a possibly face-saving arrangement for Ecuador, the country makes Assange an Ecuadoran citizen, even though relations with him have soured at this point. The move appears to be part of a strategy to give Assange diplomatic immunity — but the efforts fail.
March 2018: Ecuador cuts Assange’s Internet access
Amid growing frustration in Ecuador that Assange’s continuous work with WikiLeaks and the organization’s publications may be detrimental to Ecuadoran interests in the European Union and North America, Moreno’s government cuts the WikiLeaks founder’s Internet access.
June 2018: Pence visits Ecuador
In a first sign of a revival in U.S.-Ecuadoran relations, Vice President Pence visits the Ecuadoran capital and says: “Our nations had experienced 10 difficult years where our people always felt close but our governments drifted apart. . . . But over the past year, Mr. President, thanks to your leadership and the actions that you’ve taken have brought us closer together once again.”
Early 2019: WikiLeaks dispute with President Moreno escalates
Fearing a possible expulsion, Assange’s lawyers try to prevent such a move. The organization blames politics for any possible revocation of Assange’s asylum and claims that Ecuador spied on Assange and his lawyers.
“If President Moreno wants to illegally terminate a refugee publisher’s asylum to cover up an offshore corruption scandal, history will not be kind.”
April 11, 2019: Ecuador allows British authorities to arrest Assange
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