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Sovereignty and Politics: Debates on Assange

Irene León, Montserrat Boix

The Assange case goes beyond personal opinions regarding the protagonist of the story.

While the Sweden-UK thesis reduces the issue to a debate on the accusations against him (on the alleged sexual assault), for Latin America it’s a political issue, directly related to the clash with the world powers resulting from the dissemination of materials on international politics and geopolitics, which provided details and evidence of the notorious interventionist practices of US ‘diplomacy’, in collusion with other powers.

If these elements caught the public attention from the beginning, the more recent debates have brought to light two underlying problems: one directly linked to the right to communicate; and the other concerning human rights, or at least political rights, in the countries of the North.

The most visible aspect of the first problem is that of the access to information, whose rules of the game have been defined worldwide by trade dynamics, mainly set out by the large media corporations, that determine formats, methods, processing and ‘positioning in the market’ of all or almost all communication ‘products’, which they reserve the unique power to control, without any form of regulation.

Thus, the free dissemination of a significant volume of information, such as that released by WikiLeaks, under the shelter of arguments of transparency of information, has not only exposed the protagonists of the disclosed cables, namely political powers, but it also transgresses the dogmas of purchase, production and sales, in other words: the rules imposed by the commercial media powers controlling information flows.

We speak here of interrelated capitals: telecommunications, media and related inputs, i.e. mega corporations, whose emblematic investors include, for starters, the richest man in the world, Carlos Slim from Mexico; his compatriot E. Azcarraga, owner of the Televisa empire; Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, from the United States; the Venezuelan G. Cisneros; or Assange’s compatriot, Australian-born R. Murdoch, main shareholder at News Corporation, which controls almost everything that moves in printed and satellite media in the world.

Thus configured, information processes in Latin America are a monopoly of the elites; it is they ­and their interests­ who define what, how and where to inform. And therefore, the access to capital and power is also what allows inclusion in media circles. Even information ‘consumption’ is influenced by the purchasing power of each individual (buying newspapers, subscribing to cable, accessing technologies and Internet via broadband, etc.).

Therefore, everything concerning the ‘democratization’ of communication in some South American countries, in recent years, has a political and economic relevance that goes way beyond the umbrella of ‘freedom of speech’: it highlights the dynamics related to commercial and monopolistic features predominating in this field.

If media corporations lash out with force against the governments that are putting forward proposals for change or legislation defining communication as a right -and not as a commodity-, it is because it involves a redistribution of communication goods which overrides prevailing monopolistic practices. Ecuador, for example, has proposed a redistribution of the radiofrequency spectrum [1]: one third would go to community media, one third to public media, and the other third for the private sector, which now holds around 80%.

The ‘goody-goodies’ of freedom of speech -media powers- now converted into political spokespersons of the opposition in countries in the process of change, take advantage of the networks of their corporate empires to discredit changes taking place in Latin American and their leaders. And that also explains why they so dislike the information flows generated beyond their corporate-commercial control, especially if they happen to reveal, as WikiLeaks has done, the matching interests behind the scenes of power.

Thus, a dispute of meanings is taking place, between, on the one hand, the new universe of actors and practices who conceptualize communication as a right and put information flows out in the open (as occurs in the alternative and multidirectional technologies world), and on the other, a de facto power, that of concentrated private media, which long ago ceased to be a fourth or fifth estate and started to take an active part in the first world power: that of corporate capital. Associated governments answer to the latter — and not the other way around.

This is what is in debate when addressing the ‘Assange case’ in Latin America, and therefore in a way the issue transcends the protagonist and embraces new visions of communication and policy, that do have to do with the actions of the protagonist of diplomatic asylum granted by Ecuador, but that are raised regardless of his particular case.

This is the case of the sovereignty issues arising as a central theme in Latin America after the threat of the United Kingdom to assault the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. The threat of the British Government to trap Assange at all costs — contravening International Law — is becoming untenable even for those who could have been tempted to be especially sympathetic with the attitude of a country that defines itself as one of the strongest democracies in the world, but that dares to show its hidden profile on the ‘Assange case’.

In defense of Ecuadorian sovereignty and in communion with ideas about the right to communicate, the ALBA countries took the stand, followed by UNASUR and even the OAS -where the United States and Canada added a footnote to hinder unanimity- and the Andean Parliament -where even countries still aligned with neoliberalism participate-. There have also been numerous pronouncements and statements of intellectuals, young people, women, various organizations, guilds, associations of journalists -such as FELAP- and many others.

This is, without a doubt, a diplomatic victory for Ecuador and a relief for Assange, but also marks a turning point for Latin America, both in its internal projections, as well as towards other countries, such as the United Kingdom (that besides keeping colonies and occupied territories, as it is the case of the Malvinas, is increasing its militarization in the South Atlantic).

The message is clear: Latin America is no longer willing to continue to be subject to the United States nor to Europe, or to any other form of neocolonial power. They are seeking social models, redistributive economies, new forms of citizen participation and also redistributive and open communication modes. These are new times.

The information disseminated by WikiLeaks showed, among other things, the practices of torture, war plots and other shady elements such as those justifying, for example, genocide in Iraq and thousands of predominant aspects in geopolitical power relations, where the United States and NATO are light years from being icons of democracy and human rights.

According to journalist John Pilger [2], "Four years ago, a barely noticed Pentagon document, leaked by WikiLeaks, described how WikiLeaks and Assange would be destroyed with a smear campaign leading to ’criminal prosecution’. On August 18, the Sydney Morning Herald disclosed, in a Freedom of Information release of official files, that the Australian government had repeatedly received confirmation that the US was conducting an ’unprecedented’ pursuit of Assange and had raised no objections. Among Ecuador’s reasons for granting asylum is Assange’s abandonment ’by the state of which he is a citizen’. In 2010, an investigation by the Australian Federal Police found that Assange and WikiLeaks had committed no crime. His persecution is an assault on us all and on freedom", says Pilger; and paraphrasing the Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño, at the meeting of the OAS, we would add: "force is on their side; right is on ours."

(Translation: Fedaeps and ALAI).


Más articulos en la revista digital: De política, soberanías y Assange


[1] The radiofrequency spectrum is a natural resource of limited nature, which constitutes a public good over which the State exercises its sovereignty.

[2] http://www.johnpilger.com/articles/, consulted on August 26, 2012

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