Ecuador’s ambassador to Peru proves that brawling in a supermarket doesn’t have to end your diplomatic career
- By Ty McCormickTy McCormick is the Africa Editor at Foreign Policy. Based in Nairobi, Kenya, he has reported from across much of Africa and the Middle East, including Egypt, Lebanon, Somalia, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In addition to FP, he has written for the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and National Geographic. He was a finalist for the 2015 Kurt Schork Memorial Award for International Journalism. Ty received his bachelor’s degree from Stanford University, and a master’s from the University of Oxford, where he was a Clarendon Scholar. He received a second master's degree from the Queen's University Belfast as a George J. Mitchell Scholar. In a previous life, Ty was a semi-professional baseball player in Florida, where he once blew a save against the Australian national team by walking three consecutive batters and then allowing a game-winning hit up the middle (he became a journalist soon thereafter.)
It’s every diplomat’s worst nightmare: being summoned back to the mother country after getting trounced in a supermarket slapfest. But that’s exactly what happened, at least temporarily, to Rodrigo Riofrío, Ecuador’s ambassador to Peru, who on April 21 in Lima was caught on a supermarket video camera swatting a number of women with a rolled-up magazine as they slapped and yanked his hair.
Riofrío appears to have fallen into an argument with the women in the checkout line, where he allegedly struck and insulted them with racist slurs. (The YouTube video below shows the ambassador getting some pretty impressive extension as he goes on the offensive.)
Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the story, however, is that Ecuador is standing behind its diplomat. Despite being temporarily recalled, Riofrío will apparently remain at his post. According to a statement issued by Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry, there is no reason to replace the ambassador: "If this happened, it would set a terrible precedent that would involve punishing someone who, as in this case, is the victim of an assault." That’s right, Ecuador is claiming that Riofrío was the victim of an assault (the AP is reporting that the women involved in the clash were a mother and daughter, and that the daughter slapped Riofrío’s wife first in reaction to an insult before the ambassador turned on them).
Even Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, has weighed in on the fiasco, saying that the video clearly shows that the women were the aggressors. One of the women was "very young," according to Correa. "And you know, the ambassador is no longer a young man."
Peru’s minister for women, Ana Jara Velásquez, isn’t buying it, however: "There is no single argument that justifies violence against women," she fired back on Twitter.
No existe argumento alguno q’ justifique actos de violencia y menos contra la mujer! Confío en las acciones q’ adoptará nuestra Cancillería.
— Ana Jara Velásquez (@anajarav) May 2, 2013
Perhaps this kerfuffle has yet to run its course.