Defiant authorities in Ecuador say they won't bow to U.S. pressure as they weigh former NSA contractor Edward Snowden's request for asylum.
Ecuador's president and other top officials said Thursday that they're turning down the trade benefits the United States gives them as part of the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act.
"In the face of threats, insolence and arrogance of certain U.S. sectors, which have pressured to remove the preferential tariffs because of the Snowden case, Ecuador tells the world we unilaterally and irrevocably renounce the preferential tariffs," President Rafael Correa said Thursday, reiterating comments other officials from his government made earlier in the day.
In a fiery speech at an event in Quevedo, Ecuador, the president vowed not to back down.
"It is outrageous to try to delegitimize a state for receiving a petition of asylum," Correa said.
Authorities in Ecuador said they're still evaluating Snowden's asylum petition, which has thrust the South American country into the international spotlight as a key player in the global manhunt for the fugitive who has admitted leaking classified documents about U.S. surveillance programs.
Snowden, who faces espionage charges in the United States, is slammed as a traitor by critics and hailed as a hero by his supporters.
For Correa, a left-leaning economist who is known for decrying what he and other Latin American leaders have called U.S. imperialism, the leaker's case has provided a platform both to espouse his views and to slam his critics.
He offered a swift response on social media when a Washington Post editorial this week criticized what the newspaper called a "double standard" in Ecuador, noting that the country is weighing asylum for Snowden just after it passed new regulations cracking down on press freedoms.
"What a joke! Do they realize the power of the international press? They have centered the attention on Snowden and the 'evil' countries that 'support' him, making everyone forget the terrible things that he denounced in front of the American people and the entire world," Correa said in a series of Twitter posts.
But even as government officials ratchet up their rhetoric, some in Ecuador have expressed concerns about the effect souring relations with the United States could have on the country.
Ecuador-U.S. relations in the spotlight
The head of Ecuador's chamber of commerce on Thursday criticized the government's decision to withdraw from the trade deal as a "hostile act" that was "irresponsible."
Former Vice President Blasco Penaherrera Padilla, a sharp critic of Correa's government, said it was a decision that would have a "gravely negative" impact on his country.
"It creates an unsuitable climate for a profitable, productive and positive relationship, which is what Ecuador and the United States should have," he said.
Trade between the United States and Ecuador totaled more than $16 billion last year, according to figures from the U.S. Census. About half of Ecuador's foreign trade depends on the United States. Analysts say the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act, which has allowed Ecuador to import and export goods with reduced tariffs, has fueled growth in trade and commerce between the two nations.
On Thursday, a U.S. State Department spokesman warned that Ecuador's economic ties with the United States could be in jeopardy if the South American country offers asylum to Snowden.
"What would not be a good thing is them granting Mr. Snowden asylum," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters. "That would have grave difficulties for a bilateral relationship."
He added that withdrawing from trade agreements isn't exactly an option for Ecuador.
"They're unilateral trade provisions that provide a benefit to certain Ecuadorian products," Ventrell said. "Whether they're renewed or not is a prerogative of the U.S. Congress."
Ecuador offers $23 million to the United States
The agreement is set to expire next month. Many believed it wouldn't be renewed, said Vicente Albornoz, dean of economics at the University of the Americas in Quito. That could make Correa's announcement Thursday a wise political move that will bolster his support at home, but cost the country relatively little, Albornoz said.
"He is giving up something that we did not have, because it was evident that the ATPDEA was not going to be renewed," Albornoz said. "It's like if I withdraw from winning the lottery when I haven't bought a ticket, and I announce that I won't accept first prize."
Jorge Leon, an Ecuadorian sociologist, warned that Ecuador's role in the Snowden case could have a chilling effect on investors.
"Ecuador is searching for investors, and this image of going more and more to a radical position on the left does not generate tranquility," he said.