Dolores Ochoa/AP
Ecuador's President Rafael Correa

Ecuador’s Expulsion of American Diplomats Highlights Tension in Region

February 20, 2009 12:28 PM
by Josh Katz
Ecuador’s decision to expel two U.S. diplomats after a spat over police funding underscores recent tensions between the United States and several South American countries.

U.S. Considers Retaliation Over Expulsion of Diplomats in Ecuador

Ecuador ordered the expulsion of U.S. Embassy First Secretary Mark Sullivan on Feb. 18, making him the second American diplomat to be recently ousted from the country. On Feb. 7, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa announced the expulsion of Armando Astorga, a U.S. Embassy customs and immigration official based in Quito, Bloomberg reports.

The State Department called Ecuador’s actions “very troubling” and said it is thinking about retaliation, according to Bloomberg. Sullivan’s expulsion “raises serious concerns about Ecuador’s desire to maintain a productive relationship,” State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said Thursday.

The expulsions came shortly after the United States terminated an annual $340,000 program to assist Ecuador’s police in the fight against smuggling. The United States chose to stop the support program because “the two countries couldn’t agree on personnel assignments,” Bloomberg writes. The expelled diplomats were helping to implement the program.

According to the Voice of America, “Ecuador has accused both Americans of meddling in the country's internal affairs with regard to selection of Ecuadoran police officers for U.S.-sponsored training. Officials here have said Ecuadoran officials objected to embassy efforts, mandated by the U.S. Congress, to exclude from the program police thought to be corrupt or otherwise undesirable.”

Some of the tension between the two countries stems from last year. In July 2008, Ecuador decided not “to renew a 10-year lease on a U.S. air base in the Ecuadorean port city of Manta used to conduct anti-drug surveillance in the region,” according to Bloomberg.

“Correa is acting in a very radical way,” Michel Levi, coordinator of the Andean Center of International Studies at the Universidad Andina in Quito, told Bloomberg. “This could be a smoke screen to distract the people from stories about his possible links” with Colombian rebels such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Correa, however, who has close ties to Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, has denied accusations that he supports FARC.

The expulsions may also be politically motivated. Correa is seeking re-election in April, and, according to the VOA, he is campaigning “on a platform of standing up to foreign influence.”

Ecuador conducts more trade with the United States than with any other country, sending much of its banana and oil exports there, according to Reuters.

Background: The history of U.S.-Latin American conflict

Other leftist South American countries have expelled American diplomats in the past year. On Sept. 11, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez demanded that the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela leave the country. He claimed that the ambassador was complicit in a plot to assassinate him, but he also said his actions were to show solidarity with Bolivian president Evo Morales. Morales had expelled the U.S. ambassador to Bolivia earlier that day, accusing him of aiding the opposition movement in the country. Both ambassadors denied the charges.

U.S.-Latin American tension traces some of its roots to the Cold War, when the area was used as a “chessboard” between the United States and the Soviet Union, according to Agence France-Presse. Since then, “left-wing ideology” has continued to take hold in the region that strives for “affluence and modernity.”

The United States declared its hegemony over Latin America in the 1823 Monroe Doctrine. The AFP claims that the United States used that doctrine to assert its control during the Cold War and, because of this, Latin American countries “are determined to have full sovereign control over their affairs.” The news agency lays out where each Latin American nation fits into the diplomatic landscape: “Currently, the moderate left wing of the region includes Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. The left-wing includes Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador. The United States’ main allies in Latin America are Colombia, which receives five billion dollars a year to fight the illegal narcotics trade, and Mexico. It also has good relations with Costa Rica.”

Related Topic: Monumental environmental pollution case in Ecuador


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