Nothing better reflects the view that Latin America has about Britain than the exaltation of “Maradona’s hand of God“, now a sort of anti-British folklore, told on every street in Latin America, from the slums to the wealthiest suburbs. In the 51st minute of the 1986 World Cup grand final, with the score at 0-0, Diego Maradona punched the ball into the net to win the game; the referee missed the foul. He later wrote in his autobiography:
“Of course, before the match, we said that football had nothing to do with the Malvinas War but we knew a lot of Argentinean kids had died there, shot down like little birds. This was revenge. It was like recovering a little bit of the Malvinas. In the pre-match interviews we had all said that football and politics shouldn’t be confused, but that was a lie. We did nothing but think about that. Bollocks was it just another match!”
And now there is another “hand of god” — the one that Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has pulled in the middle of London. “Si, si, yes, yes, this is Correa’s hand of god,” a bunch of Latin Americans gathered around a Sunday evening Argentinean style asado in an inner west Sydney community centre told me.
“Correa was clever, he outsmarted the English,” said Daniel, a Chilean who was proudly wearing a t-shirt with the word amigo (friend) below Assange’s black silhouette. “Silly English, now they will have to deal with not only Ecuador, but with all Latin American countries.”
President Correa’s diplomatic “hand of god” — drawing solid regional support around his decision to grant asylum to Assange — was as masterful as Maradona’s handball. Joaquín Hernández, an international relations expert, told El Pais that Ecuador wants to show to Britain and Europe that its position enjoys major regional support.
On the weekend, the foreign affairs representative of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), comprised of Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Dominica, San Vicente and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Bermuda, issued an uncompromising public communiqué of eight points. It denounced the British threat to the “integrity of the Ecuadorian embassy, and its sovereign right to administer its policy of asylum … This threat is a hostile act, an unquestionable violation of international law, that offends and hurts all of Latin America.”
Following the meeting of ALBA on Saturday, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) met on Sunday for 20 minutes, more than enough time for the Union to “express its solidarity and support to Ecuador in the face of the threat to its diplomatic mission”. The group is formed from the foreign affairs representatives of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Surinam, Uruguay and Venezuela.
The Argentinean foreign affairs Héctor Timerman, who is all too well aware of aggressive British diplomacy, said that this “strong consensus achieved in only 20 minutes” showed Great Britain that a threat to one Latin American country is a threat to them all.
Latin American nations have taken London’s intimidating position very seriously, and this will be again on a central stage on Friday 24 August at the meeting of the American State Organisations (OEA) in Washington.
The OEA is the peak regional organisation formed by all countries in the Americas, including the US and Canada. The motion to convene the meeting called by Ecuador was approved by 23 countries, with only 3 against — the US, Canada and Trinidad and Tobago.
Political rhetoric in Latin America has overwhelmingly supported both President Correa’s decision and Assange himself. From Argentina, the Nobel Peace winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel described Britain’s position as having a “colonialist overtone,” and the Bolivian president Evo Morales didn’t mince words when he said that the threat by London was “aggression to all Latin America“.
Latin American intellectuals and artists have also lent their support to Assange and Ecuador. “Assange is a defender of democracy and we will defend his right to be free, and the right of the sovereign Republic to Ecuador to grant him asylum”, read the text signed by, among others, the Chilean Marta Harnecker, Cuban singer Silvio Rodriguez, Mexicans Pablo González Casanova and Esther Ceceña.
Correa also enjoys support from the region’s progressive movements. Rodrigo Collahuazo, a leader of the Ecuadorean peasant’s movement, told the media “indigenous communities and the neighbourhoods of Quito are getting their homes ready to receive Assange.”
Trawling through Latin American blogs, twits and social media, the voices from Latin Americans have been loud and clear. “Assange, welcome to Latin America,” wrote “Alejandro” in Mexico’s daily La Jornada. “And to Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa all my respect because he has shown the world, especially to Australia, Great Britain and Sweden, he has cojones.”
Correa has also stood against the US by granting Assange asylum. Washington is reportedly furious, and may pursue reprisals, according to Mark Weisbrot, the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Weisbrot writes that the US saw Correa’s decision as an “obstacle in its way” to severely punish Assange. He speculates that the US Congress might also join any eventual retaliation against Ecuador.
Despite all these threats, it seems President Correa is not losing sleep over the British or US threats. He has taken to Twitter to defend his decision, writing, “nobody will frighten us.” And why would he be frightened? After all he has already won the diplomatic and ethical battle. However, whether he manages to win safe passage for Julian Assange is another thing altogether.
Posted in New Matilda