- By José R. CárdenasJose R. Cardenas was acting assistant administrator for Latin America at the U.S. Agency for International Development in the George W. Bush administration.
The only thing more incongruous than the Ecuadorean government’s statement that they hoped that their recent expulsion of U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges wouldn’t harm U.S.-Ecuador relations is that the Obama administration apparently hopes it doesn’t either. Days after President Rafael Correa kicked Ambassador Hodges out of the country, Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño called Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela to discuss the matter (including the reciprocal expulsion of the Ecuadorean ambassador in Washington). In describing the conversation, an Ecuadorean official said the two confirmed "the political will of both parties to reach a solution to the diplomatic impasse."
The "impasse" began April 5, when Correa PNG’d Hodges over the contents of a Wikileaked cable justifying revoking the U.S. visa of the corrupt former head of the Ecuadorean National Police. In a sidebar comment, the cable noted that the official’s corrupt activities were so well-known that it was unlikely Correa was unaware of them when he appointed the official to the top job. For the notoriously thin-skinned and impetuous Correa, this was too much, and Hodges was given 48 hours to leave the country.
One would think that such an affront would derail Assistant Secretary Valenzuela’s efforts to "engage" with governments like Correa’s that are fundamentally hostile to U.S. interests in the region. But that doesn’t appear to be the case. Whatever was said during that conversation did not disabuse the Ecuadoreans of the notion that things couldn’t be patched up "in a few weeks or a couple of months."
What is clear is that, according to the full batch of leaked cables, tensions between the U.S. embassy and the Correa government had been building for months, with the Correa government looking for any and all opportunities to criticize U.S. actions. The cables further reveal the U.S. embassy’s profound lack of trust in President Correa and their continuing frustration trying to establish a working relationship with his government. (Were these cables being read in Washington?)
They report that Correa has surrounded himself with a claque of inveterate anti-Americanists dedicated to damaging bilateral relations and the U.S. image in Ecuador. They have interfered in the work of U.S.-sponsored and trained special police units that combat trafficking in drugs and persons. A disturbing number — including the foreign minister — have close ties to Cuba, Hugo Chavez, and Colombian narco-terrorists.
Against this backdrop, it is beyond comprehension why there would be any U.S. haste in restoring ambassadors in both capitals. Correa is already under fire by Ecuadorean exporters concerned that his rash action will deprive Ecuador of trade benefits under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act, which is subject to congressional approval. Beyond that, it is unclear what tangible benefits have accrued for U.S. interests from a "make nice" policy with Correa to date. Rather than diplomatic shadow dancing with unfriendly governments, U.S. policy in the region should focus on better helping our friends succeed while demonstrating the negative impacts on populations whose governments pursue mindless and anachronistic ideologies.