by Elizabeth Vos, Disobedient Media:
Regular followers of WikiLeaks-related news are at this point familiar with the multiple serious infractions of journalistic ethics by Luke Harding and the Guardian, especially (though not exclusively) when it comes to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. However, another individual at the heart of this matter is far less familiar to the public. That man is Fernando Villavicencio, a prominent Ecuadorian political activist and journalist, director of the USAID-funded NGO Fundamedios and editor of online publication FocusEcuador.
Most readers are also aware of the Guardian’s recent publication of claims that Julian Assange met with former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort on three occasions. This has now been definitively debunked by Fidel Narvaez, the former Consul at Ecuador’s London embassy between 2010 and 2018, who says Paul Manafort has never visited the embassy during the time he was in charge there. But this was hardly the first time the outlet published a dishonest smear authored by Luke Harding against Assange. The paper is also no stranger to publishing stories based on fabricated documents.
In May, Disobedient Media reported on the Guardian’s hatchet-job relating to ‘Operation Hotel,’ or rather, the normal security operations of the embassy under former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa. That hit-piece, co-authored by Harding and Dan Collyns, asserted among other things that (according to an anonymous source) Assange hacked the embassy’s security system. The allegation was promptly refuted by Correa as “absurd” in an interview with The Intercept, and also by WikiLeaks as an “anonymous libel” with which the Guardian had “gone too far this time. We’re suing.”
A shared element of The Guardian’s ‘Operation Hotel’ fabrications and the latest libel attempting to link Julian Assange to Paul Manafort is none other than Fernando Villavicencio of FocusEcuador. In 2014 Villavicencio was caught passing a forged document to the Guardian, which published it without verifying it. When the forgery was revealed, the Guardian hurriedly took the document down but then tried to cover up that it had been tampered with by Villavicencio when it re-posted it a few days later.
How is Villavicencio tied to The Guardian’s latest smear of Assange? Intimately, it turns out.
Who is Fernando Villavicencio?
Earlier this year, an independent journalist writing under the pseudonym Jimmyslama penned a comprehensive report detailing Villavicencio’s relationships with pro-US actors within Ecuador and the US. She sums up her findings, which are worth reading in full:
“…The information in this post alone should make everyone question why in the world the Guardian would continue to use a source like Villavicencio who is obviously tied to the U.S. government, the CIA, individuals like Thor Halvorssen and Bill Browder, and opponents of both Julian Assange and former President Rafael Correa.”
As most readers recall, it was Correa who granted Assange asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Villavicencio was so vehemently opposed to Rafael Correa’s socialist government that during the failed 2010 coup against Correa he falsely accused the President of “crimes against humanity” by ordering police to fire on the crowds (it was actually Correa who was being shot at). Correa sued him for libel, and won, but pardoned Villavicencio for the damages awarded by the court.
Assange legal analyst Hanna Jonasson recently made the link between the Ecuadorian forger Villavicencio and Luke Harding’s Guardian stories based on dubious documents explicit. She Tweeted: 2014 Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry accused the Guardian of publishing a story based on a document it says was fabricated by Fernando Villavicencio, pictured below with the authors of the fake Manafort-Assange ‘secret meeting’ story, Harding and Collyns.”
2014: Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry accuses The Guardian of publishing a story based on a document it says was fabricated by Fernando Villavicencio, pictured below with the authors of the fake Manafort-Assange ‘secret meeting’ story, Harding and Collyns. https://t.co/OTLNJ20kOn https://t.co/1wPk8WEBqA
— Hanna Jonasson (@AssangeLegal) 1 December 2018
Jonasson included a link to a 2014 official Ecuadorian government statement which reads in part: “There is also evidence that the author of this falsified document is Fernando Villavicencio, a convicted slanderer and opponent of Ecuador’s current government. This can be seen from the file properties of the document that the Guardian had originally posted (but which it has since taken down and replaced with a version with this evidence removed).” The statement also notes that Villavicencio had fled the country after his conviction for libeling Correa during the 2010 coup and was at that time living as a fugitive in the United States.