Ecuador's President Rafael Correa stated in an interview this month that his government would consider granting political asylum to Syrian head-of-state Bashar al Assad. President Assad is reportedly mulling asylum for himself, his family members, and close associates, in the event that he is forced to flee Damascus as the bloody civil war in his country escalates.
Sources state that, in a bid to explore the possibility of asylum, Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister, Faisal al Miqdad, recently traveled to Ecuador, Venezuela, and Cuba, bearing letters from Assad to the President of each country.
Correa confirmed that Miqdad visited Quito in late November, but said that the purpose of the trip was to thank Correa's administration for its "objective stance" regarding the conflict in Syria. Both Ecuador's President and his Foreign Minister denied reports that Assad had requested political asylum. However, since then Correa has spoken out regarding the possibility of hosting Assad, saying:
"Any person that requests asylum in Ecuador, obviously we are going to consider as a human being whose basic rights we have to respect … Can we believe all those news stories on violence, the dictator? Let's remember what was said about Iraq."
In August of this year, Correa's government granted political asylum to WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, who remains a refugee in Ecuador's London embassy, in an attempt to resist extradition to Sweden.
More than 42,000 deaths are said to have resulted so far from Syria's civil war, which has stretched on for nearly two years. Although Assad has resisted international pressure to abdicate power, violence has spiked close to Damascus. Stating its belief that the fall of the Assad regime is "inevitable," the U.S. State Department has expressed hope that the Syrian President and members of his administration will voluntarily step down. According to officials, the U.S. has been training Jordanian security personnel and taking other measures to prepare for "the day after Assad." In the words of State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland: "We want to get him out of there so we can move on."
The Syrian Foreign Minister also delivered a letter from Assad to President Hugo Chávez, which the Venezuelan head-of-state received before traveling to Cuba for cancer treatment. Chávez has been a vocal supporter of Assad since the start of Syria's civil war, and Venezuela has frequently sent fuel and oil to Syria. In addition to Venezuela, Cuba, and Ecuador, experts have cited Iran as another possible destination for Assad if he steps down. According to reports, Iran has backed Assad's efforts to retain power, and Syria remains Iran's main ally in the Arab region.
Assad's departure, however, could spark further turmoil within Syria; analysts note that, due to the fury of the Sunni opposition regarding Assad's purported campaign of military strikes against civilians, the President's exit might lead to revenge killings against the Alawite sect, to which Assad belongs. Moreover -- as with the Assange case -- the difficulties in successfully leaving the country could complicate an attempted escape by Assad.