President Correa’s chutzpah hurts Ecuador-U.S. relations

President Correa’s chutzpah hurts Ecuador-U.S. relations

Last month, I wrote how Ecuador’s radical populist President Rafael Correa has tasked his ambassador in Washington with launching a charming offensive to secure congressional renewal of trade preferences under the Andean Trade Preferences and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA), which expire next year. Ostensibly, the campaign is designed to make policymakers forget about some of President Correa’s more egregious anti-American actions, such as embracing Iran and unceremoniously expelling the U.S. ambassador from Ecuador last year.

One would think then that a looming congressional vote on ATPDEA extension would cause President Correa to rein in his provocative behavior. Far from it. In fact, in the past couple of weeks, he has continued apace his efforts to sever normal ties between the two countries.

First, he announced Ecuador’s withdrawal from the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), where Ecuadorean military officers traditionally received U.S. military training. The facility, formerly the School of the Americas, has been a target of leftist agitation for decades.

At the same time, Correa has begun a campaign threatening to now expel the U.S. Agency for International Development mission from Ecuador, which he has accused of "funding the opposition."

Yet, through it all, his ambassador in Washington has been maintaining a brave face. In a recent interview with the Ecuadorean press, she claimed that a recent U.S. Trade Representative report on ATPDEA extension concluded that Ecuador "met all the criteria for eligibility." In fact, it did no such thing.

In one key passage, the report notes, "developments in the past few years give rise to concerns about the government’s long-term commitment to international arbitration for the settlement of investor disputes." According to The Hill, "The report could make it harder for lawmakers to renew the program."

The embassy also apparently snookered the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative into hosting next week a senior Ecuadorean official to expound on Correa’s efforts to "transform" Ecuador’s judiciary, no doubt to assuage U.S. companies concerned about their treatment there. The Ecuadorean judiciary has indeed been transformed by Correa — into another arm of the executive.

Today, he has the majority of the Supreme Court in his pocket and the politicization of the judiciary was laid bare in Correa’s recent $40 million lawsuit against a newspaper for a critical op-ed column. It turns out, for example, that the sentencing documents were not written by the presiding judge, but by Correa’s own lawyers.

The incongruence between Correa’s behavior and the apparent goal of securing the extension of U.S. trade preferences is striking. As I have written previously, no matter on what front Ecuador is evaluated, the Correa government does not merit a renewal of ATPDEA benefits. At the end of the day, such programs are meant to elicit cooperative, positive behavior from the beneficiaries. Why else would they exist? The Obama administration and Congress ought to make clear to the Correa government that they are no longer interested in subsidizing his bad behavior.