In what might escalate into a major setback for the US government, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has taken refuge in the Ecuadoran embassy in London and is seeking political asylum in that Latin American country. 

Relations between the United States and most Latin American countries—and many others around the world—are sure to be aggravated if the White House reacts negatively or tries to block an Ecuadoran asylum decision. It seems inconceivable that Ecuador will simply turn Assange over to US or UK authorities, setting the stage for a showdown with global repercussions. President Rafael Correa is a progressive and populist economist who already has expelled a US military base from his country, survived an attempted coup and capture by right-wing military plotters and expelled an American ambassador in 2011 based on WikiLeaks revelations. Last year an Ecuadoran court fined Chevron $8.6 billion for damage to the Amazon basin, a decision that Correa called “the most important in the history of the country.” Correa also violated the tenets of US-imposed neoliberal policies by endorsing Venezuela and Bolivia in refusing debt repayments to the International Monetary Fund in 2008. 

In a preview of things to come, Correa and Assange participated in a televised question-and-answer session last month on the Russia-sponsored network RT. Moscow has been a strong supporter of Assange, with Vladimir Putin nominating the WikiLeaks founder for a Nobel prize. 

US-aligned NGOs like Freedom House are attacking the Ecuadoran government for its attempts to contain private media corporations hostile to Correa’s politics and domestic economic agenda. Correa generally is aligned with the left bloc of Latin American countries, although he enjoys positive diplomatic relations across most of the continent. In an example of the mainstream media distortion of all things Latin American, Reuters recently described Correa as a critic of US “imperialism” in quotation marks. Nevertheless, the US has leverage in Ecuador as the country’s largest trading partner, but with China and Latin American partners rising.