US ambassador to Ecuador Heather Hodges was declared “persona non grata” by the Ecuadorean government Tuesday over comments she made in a 2009 diplomatic cable released by the whistleblower website Wikileaks and published by the Spanish newspaper El País. The decision was announced at a Tuesday afternoon press conference where Ecuador’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, said he had requested that Ambassador Hodges, a career diplomat, leave the country as soon as possible. The expulsion makes Hodges the second Wikileaks diplomatic casualty.
The first, US ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual, turned in his resignation in mid-March after comments he made about the Mexican government’s anti-drug efforts.
The cable in question in Ecuador seems somewhat innocuous at first glance. But there is a long history here which most reports this morning have neglected to pick up on.
In the cable Hodges details the US Embassy’s views about corruption and illegal dealings within the Ecuadorean National Police (ENP). Much of the focus is on Jaime Alquino Hurtado, the ENP’s commander from April 2008 to June 2009, who, according to the US, was involved in extorting bribes from the country’s taxi union, stealing public funds and allowing trafficking of undocumented Chinese immigrants. Hodges went further, however, saying President Correa himself like knew about these issues when he decided to select Hurtado as the ENP’s chief in 2008. Analysts in the US Embassy, wrote Hodges, “believe that Correa may have wanted to have a (national police) Chief whom he could easily manipulate.”
Those statements seem to have been what most offended the Correa government. the Rafael Correa called Ms. Hodges statements both “unacceptable,” “malicious,” and “imprudent” in a statement released Tuesday.
But a bit of context before moving on. While Hodges’s is the most high profile US Embassy official to have been expelled from Ecuador in recent memory, her removal is not without precedent. In fact, Tuesday’s announcement seems to be the final chapter of a 2009 US-Ecuador spat rather than anything particularly new. In February 2009 Ecuador expelled two diplomats, US customs attaché Armando Astorga and embassy first secretary, Mark Sullivan, after the US threatened to pull $340,000 in police aid if Correa did not resume the long-standing practice of letting Washington veto Ecuador’s choice for the head of its Anti-Contraband Operations Unit. Given that Ambassador Hodges comments came five months after those expulsions, it seems that the Correa’s frustration this week stems from the fact that the US continued to criticize Ecuador’s police forces, even after the actions it took in February 2009.
Looking at US police and military aid numbers over at Just the Facts, I’m having trouble figuring out if that $340,000 did, in fact, ever get slashed. There certainly were some cuts, but parts of the aid looks to have been restored shortly thereafter. [Total US military/police aid to Ecuador has grown over the last two years after cuts in a variety of areas were made between 2009 and 2010].
What’s interesting about the 2009 row is that things were patched up rather quickly. Exactly one year ago, US Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela made a high profile visit to Ecuador, notable for its cordiality – so cordial the Wall Street Journal’s conservative pundit Mary Anastasia O’Grady nearly lost her mind over the meeting. That visit paved the way for a visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Quito in early June 2010 which was no less friendly. (AFP photographers captured some fantastic photos, in fact). In his announcement of Tuesday’s expulsion, Ecuadorean officials were again explicit that the problem was with Ambassador Hodges, in particular, and not with US policy, in general. State Dept. spokesman Mark Toner called Hodges expulsion Tuesday “unjustified” but has not yet indicated if it would respond by expelling Ecuador’s longtime ambassador to the US, Luis Gallegos.
One final note: while Correa’s statement yesterday mirrored his comments made after the expulsion of Astorga and Sullivan in 2009 – in both instances Correa said Ecuador would no longer be treated as a “colony” of the US – Correa decided to cite Lula da Silva Tuesday as the individual who has most inspired his pro-sovereignty position. In his farewell address in late 2010, Correa says it was the former Brazilian president who called on others in the region to keep “thinking with their heads” while never “submitting to anyone.”
Today’s bullet points:
· Breaking news from the AP, which says the US and Colombian governments are expected to make a joint announcement today that a deal has been reached on a US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. We may see Juan Manuel Santos – in the US this week for a speech at Brown University yesterday and a trip to the UN Security Council in New York today (Colombia has taken over chairmanship of the Security Council) – making a detour to Washington on his way back home. The Wall Street Journal has more – focusing on the Walid Makled extradition case which the Santos government now says it will not have final decision about until April 15. Possible horse-trading? Former Colombian president, Alvaro Uribe, of all people, spoke about the Makled case with Andres Oppenheimer this week. Video here.
· More on Michel Martelly’s apparent victory in Haiti. Somewhat conflicting reports from the LA Times and the BBC about whether or not Mirlande Manigat will challenge Monday’s preliminary results over allegations of fraud. Pooja Bhatia at the Economist, among others, notes that outgoing President Rene Preval’s Inite party will have a strong majority in the new Haitian legislature. Jacqueline Charles at the Miami Herald and the AP report on what Martelly is calling a “mandate” for change. Both note that the former singer has been short on details about what he might take on during his first 100 days. CEPR meanwhile, suggests Martelly’s support is much weaker than initial reports indicate. Preliminary indications are that Martelly won with just 716,986 total votes to Madame Manigat’s 336,747 – that’s just 16.7% of registered voters, and, if those numbers hold up, total turnout looks to be even lower than in round-one when it was just over 22%. The New York Times also highlights early word of very low turnout.
· Ahead of Peruvian elections Sunday, Dow Jones takes a look at how Peru’s economic growth-without-redistribution model has fueled Ollanta Humala’s rise. Comments from Mario Vargas Llosa this week illustrate how out of touch Peru’s elites are with much of their country. He said a hypothetical second-round showdown between Humala and Keiko Fujimori would be like “choosing between cancer and AIDS.”
· A new international arrest warrant has been issued by a Spanish court seeking the extradition of former Guatemalan special forces officer Jorge Sosa Orantes from Canada. Sosa Orantes is wanted in connection to the 1982 Dos Erres massacre in which more than 250 individuals were killed. AP reports and Kate Doyle at the National Security Archive comments.
· Well-known Mexican author and columnist Juan Francisco Sicilia has called for nationwide demonstrations in Mexican today, protesting against the Mexican government and its anti-crime policies. Sicilia’s son was murdered in Cuernavaca just over one week ago. In an open letter, he says Mexicans are “sick and tired” of their political leaders for “having torn asunder the fabric of the nation” in their “struggle for power.” He also says negotiations must begin between the government and Mexican cartels. AFP reports. Narco News posts a translation of Sicilia’s open letter that was originally published by Proceso, one of the papers for whom Sicilia writes.
· Meanwhile, DEA administrator Michele M. Leonhart said Tuesday Mexican cartels have gone global. AP reports.
· Journalist Roberto Lovato, at Alternet, writes critically of what he calls the growing US-backed militarization of El Salvador and Central America.
· The LA Times reports on a new rubber boom underway in Colombia. Rubber tree planting has apparently increased tenfold over the last decade, driven by rising prices. That figure could triple again by 2016, say rubber watchers, as car sales in China, India, and elsewhere continue to rise.
· The Wall Street Journal suggests resource nationalism could be on the rise. The paper highlights recent state intervention at Brazilian mining giant Vale as an example.
· Brazil has rejected an IACHR request to stop construction of the giant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam on the Amazon. NYT reports.
· And finally a quick mention of the new issue of the Harvard journal ReVista, which explores the issue of “Journalism Across the Americas.” Most of the articles appear to be available online and include pieces by El Faro’s Carlos Dada, La Silla Vacía’s Juanita Leon, IDL-Reporteros’ Gustavo Gorriti, veteran journalist, Alfredo Corchado, among others.