A world in chains of our own making.
After revealing his identity as the leaker of NSA mass surveillance programs, Edward Snowden checked out of his hotel in Hong Kong and went into hiding. Emerging about a week later heading to Russia, speculation is now ripe as to his final destination. Two days ago he submitted an asylum request with Ecuador, the same country which has hosted another transparency at all cost crusader, Julian Assange, its embassy now for over a year.
That Ecuador is considering granting asylum to Snowden is both unsurprising and ironic at the same time. Ecuador is a country that is currently going through profound economic, social, and political change. For the first time in decades, it has had a President complete an entire term in office, and the ruling party has instituted much needed reforms and invested heavily in developing the infrastructure of our impoverished but resource rich country. In order to do this though, President Rafael Correa has consolidated power in the executive and the state as a whole like never before. While once the state was small and almost laughably inconsequential, it has now become the leviathan of Ecuador, expanding its bureaucratic reach into nearly every aspect of the lives of its citizens. The latest of these expansions has been into the arena of speech, where the ruling party dominated legislature just passed a communications that creates bizarre legal notions such as "media lynching" and aims at vaguely protecting "honor and reputation" of those subjected to journalistic investigation, all while protecting the right of the people to be presented with information that is "verified, balanced, contextualized, and opportune".
NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders have criticized aspects of the law as contrary to international standards in the protection of free speech rights. While the law has provisions and principles that unequivocally support the basic rights of speech, conscience, and information, it provides all manner of exceptions that could allow the state to sanction media outlets and reporters that publish controversial or harsh pieces about political leaders. It may be that these powers are used responsibly, bit given the track record of President Correa in punishing reporters who challenge his carefully managed image as savior and comrade, it seems Ecuador might be following the Chinese model of heavy development alongside heavy repression.
You might ask, why would Ecuador want to aid either Assange or Snowden, given its desire for more government control over communication? The reason is likely that it gives President Correa cover for his moves to consolidate power and also allows him to strike at the "imperialist" power of the United States through diplomatic maneuvering. In my opinion though President Correa truly believes he is doing right by his people and sticking up for the masses so long ignored in the country. Yet this belief in himself and his ideology as the one true path towards development is the biggest danger to the country he loves so dearly. This is because without a truly free and independent press, there can be no ability for the people to weigh and judge the actions of its representatives. Balance and accuracy are standards that need to be striven for, but the often passionate and subjective nature of journalism makes it impossible for these standards to be enforced by an arm of the government, especially in a one party dominated state.
At this point you might be thinking that President Correa is striving to become a tinpot dictator and that Snowden is a fool to want to go to Ecuador. Yet as Glen Greenwald, the reporter who first presented the leaks to the world has argued, Snowden just wants to escape prosecution, not seek out a mythical land that conforms to his political ideals. Furthermore, if we consider how President Obama and his administration has sought out and punished leakers, not to mention actually spy on the reporters that publish leaks, we see that while Correa bombastically seeks power and control over the press, Obama employs controls that are more covert yet perhaps just as chilling to real investigations and real accountability as what is happening in Ecuador.
Aside from a few "oligarch controlled" and "corrupt" newspapers, as Correa would call them, there are hardly any real investigations into the internal workings of the state and even less real analysis of government policies and their implications for the future of the country. News is a pathetic mix of sports, gossip featuring minor celebrities, and an unending barrage of gruesome car accidents, disasters, and violent crime reports. Some of you might be thinking that this sounds a lot like the United States, and if so I'd say you are quite right. You see what is happening in Ecuador has already happened or is happening all over the world. As elites face the complex and multi-faceted problems of the 21st century, the last thing they want is to face a harsh press that will actually look into what they are doing. They want the free reign to do things as they wish, and for that they either need to control the press outright like in Russia, China or Cuba, or they need it to be watered down "infotainment" and use indirect methods to silence it as happens in America and Europe.
Are we the only one's who saw this similarity? James "Jay" Carney, born May 22, 1965 is President Barack Obama's second White House Press Secretary. Edward Joseph Snowden (born 1983) is a whistleblower and former United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee who worked as a contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA). | Photo: Aaron Stipkovich | Link |
This is why Snowden's journey from Hong Kong to Russia and now possibly through Cuba, Venezuela and so on, is so curious; because the reality is that there is no place he could actually go that is not infected by a concerted push to destroy the fourth estate as a viable check on state power. There are no safe havens, no bastions of freedom, just the global rejection of modern liberalism, and even former constitutional law professors pushing for secrecy, control, and expanded powers. Ecuador is a curious case because its President is smart enough to blend the authoritarianism of rising powers such as China, with the appearance of openness often that once characterize the United States. Its transgressions though are just a symptom of a much larger problem, one I believe is ultimately the fault of a global citizenry that demands comfort and safety but refuses to take up the responsibility of self-government.
As economies grew and technological comforts became commonplace in the late 20th century, people no longer wanted to be bothered about boring things like making sure politicians represented their interests and instead just accepted that "the government" was going to do what it wanted to do anyway. On top of that, they demanded to be fed, clothed, educated, and above all protected from all those "others" who would do them harm. Today in Ecuador the "other" rhetoric is about the imperialists, oligarchs and upper classes, in America it is about the Muslims and "Illegals". I see these things as both an insider and outsider to both countries and they make me fear for my unborn daughter and the tyrannical world she may one day inherit. We still have places that are freer than others, but the pervasive effects of globalization are not making the world into one continuous liberal democracy, instead the worst of rule by fear authoritarianism and rule by entertainment capitalism seems to be transforming the Earth into one giant grey blob of play-dough for elites. This dough is molded by two types generally, the wannabe savior-god like Correa or Putin, and the cautious status-quo preserver like Obama, the Chinese Communist Party, or any of the faceless technocrats currently running the mess that is the EU.
These elites, regardless of their ideology, are all motivated by a self-imposed duty to give the people what they "need". For the status-quo preservers, the need is stability and continuity, regardless of how many repressive, corrupt or stagnant institutions they have to bail out or protect. For the savior-gods, the need is a revolution, a massive change in power from one group to another in order to right past wrongs and bring the people the glory denied to them by back-stabbers and foreign meddlers. Both types though ultimately get where they are because people want someone else to do the heavy lifting for them. They want peace, security, and prosperity, but they don't want to skip a bout of sport watching, beer drinking, or mall shopping to do it. These are no longer American fascinations, they have gone global, the sports might change, the beer might be one of many types of cheap lager, and the signs outside the Zara store might be in different languages, but the sense of entitlement is the same. Whether their intentions are noble, messianic, or simply pragmatic, elites simply pick up on this sense of entitlement and go about acquiring more power to satisfy it by whatever means they deem necessary. Of course they lie, they manipulate, they hide, and in many cases they use bombs, bullets, and gas to silence, but it has always been possible to resist, so long as people are willing to bear the cost of doing so. Yet because too many people want the rights and privileges without the duties and sacrifices, we get a world in which a whistle-blower has to choose between prison in a democracy, comfort in autocracy, or uncertainty in a banana republic. We do not have to face this choice ourselves, we can use the information Snowden has provided as a catalyst to take up the responsibility we have neglected for so long. If not, elites will continue to do what they have done for some time now, rule us in our name and for our own "good".