Quito, June 28 (IANS/EFE) The Ecuadorian government said Thursday that it is voluntarily relinquishing US trade preferences after Washington lawmakers called for the benefits to be revoked if Quito grants asylum to whistle-blower Edward Snowden.
“Ecuador unilaterally and irrevocably renounces the said tariff preferences. What is more, Ecuador offers the US $23 million in annual economic aid, an amount similar to what we received from the tariff preferences,” Communication Secretary Fernando Alvarado said.
“Ecuador does not accept pressure or threats from anyone and does not bargain over principles or subordinate them to business interests, as important as they may be,” he said.
The announcement came as Ecuadorian authorities weigh an asylum request from Snowden, a former CIA employee and government contractor who exposed the US National Security Agency’s massive surveillance of telephonic and internet communications.
Snowden is currently at the international airport in Moscow.
Several US legislators said this week that Ecuador should lose its benefits under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act if Quito grants asylum to Snowden.
US prosecutors have charged Snowden under the 1917 Espionage Act.
It was at around this time last year that Ecuador extended asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who remains holed up at the Andean nation’s embassy in London because Britain refuses to grant him safe conduct to the airport.
The aid Ecuador is offering the US would be earmarked for “training in the matter of human rights, which contributes to averting attacks on people’s privacy, torture, extrajudicial executions and other acts that denigrate humanity”, Alvarado said.
The Ecuadorian government, he said, understands the need for “mechanisms to combat terrorism”, but that effort cannot be allowed to “run roughshod over human rights and the sovereignty of peoples”.