On 27 June, 2013, Ecuador’s Communications Secretary, Fernando Alvarado, announced the decision to “reversibly” revoke the renewal of the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPA), a 1991 trade preference arrangement between Bolivia, Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru to “fight against drug production and trafficking by expanding their economic alternatives.”
The announcement followed Ecuador’s consideration to grant asylum to Edward Snowden, a former Booz Allen Hamilton employee contracted to the National Security Agency, who is charged with espionage by U.S. federal prosecutors. Alvarado explained Quito’s decision, citing, “Ecuador does not accept pressure or threats from anyone, nor do we traffic with principles nor submit to commercial interests, as important as they may be.” To add insult to injury, Alvarado said the U.S. could use the money it lost in the trade break, $23 million, in human rights training.
The U.S. accounts for fifty percent of Ecuador’s exports. Oil accounts for $5.4 billion of the $9.5 billion worth in exports. Although Ecuador has multiple willing substitute buyers of its oil, its farmers will endure the consequences of its political stance. The U.S. bought $166 million in cut flowers alone. This raises the question, is Snowden worth potentially millions of dollars and further deterioration of Ecuador-U.S. relations?
Ecuador’s justification does not lie solely in matters of freedom of speech and expression. Ecuador’s defiant rhetoric can open political gains with leftist and anti-imperialist supporters. Before the Snowden scandal, trade agreements with the U.S. were already shaky. Snowden started his rise to international recognition in Hong Kong, China. Soon, other leftist and anti-American countries followed suit, like Russia, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Venezuela. This summer, China’s ambassador in Ecuador, Yuan Guisen, expressed his government’s interest in exploring new markets in Ecuador. Ecuador has a large trade deficit with China of $1.752 million in imports and $344 million in exports, according to Ecuador’s embassy in China.
Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, is willing to risk trade relations with the U.S. to signal leftist solidarity. Rhetoric from other leftist leaders, like Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, have garnered political support domestically and from supporters abroad. However, mere consideration to embrace Snowden is only a small communicative gesture that will not break down U.S.-Ecuador trade relations altogether.
After pressure from U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, it seems that Ecuador is not willing to wholeheartedly commit to Snowden’s delivery to Ecuadorian soil. In an interview with The Guardian, Correa said his government “had not and would not give Snowden an authorised travel document to extract himself from Moscow airport.” Nonetheless, the message is out: Ecuador is willing to defy the U.S. if the economic stakes will pay dividends in a cooperative leftist market.