Latin America Advisor

A Daily Publication of The Dialogue

What Will Be the Effects of the US-Ecuador Diplomatic Spat?

Q: Earlier this month, Ecuador expelled U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges over comments in a WikiLeaks cable suggesting that President Rafael Correa was aware of corruption allegations against a police chief. The United States called the action unjustified and expelled Ecuadorean Ambassador Luis Gallegos shortly thereafter. How will the diplomatic spat affect relations between the two countries going forward? What effects will the expulsions have on trade ties and on the renewal of the Andean Trade Preferences Act?

A: Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue: "The diplomatic row is unfortunate and marks a setback in U.S.-Ecuador relations. Declaring the U.S. ambassador persona non grata and expelling her from the country was a serious matter and naturally led to the expulsion of the Ecuadorean ambassador in Washington. The Obama administration had little choice but to respond as it did, in accordance with diplomatic norms. Ambassador Gallegos was effective in representing Ecuador's interests in the United States and particularly in pressing for extending trade preferences. His departure is a loss for a country that the Obama administration had viewed as a test case for its policy of engaging governments that had not been especially friendly to the United States. That policy reached its most promising moment in June 2010, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went to Quito to meet with President Rafael Correa. Republicans who had questioned the administration for devoting so much time and resources to that approach, and for making this a centerpiece of its Latin American policy, now have more fodder for their critiques. At the same time, there is little interest in Washington in picking a fight with the Correa government or punishing the Ecuadorean people through decisions on economic and trade policy. It is plausible that Correa's extreme reaction to the diplomatic cable was related to the upcoming referendum in Ecuador and that acting tough and standing up to the United States will play well with some of the president's base. But this will leave a bad taste and be costly for bilateral relations."

A: Nathalie Cely, Ecuador's minister of production, employment and competitiveness: "The unfortunate publication of WikiLeaks documents from the American Embassy showed the U.S. ambassador playing an inappropriate role in contacting authorities within our national police agency and compounding that error by falsely suggesting that President Rafael Correa knew or tolerated corruption within the police leadership. That unjustifiable charge against the president constituted, in our government's view, interference in our internal affairs by Ambassador Heather Hodges and required us to take action. In declaring her persona non grata, we made every effort to distinguish between our criticism of the ambassador's behavior and our continuing desire for a positive relationship with the government of the United States and the Obama administration. Nevertheless, the State Department responded by expelling our ambassador, Luis Gallegos. We intend to maintain amicable and mutually respectful ties with the U.S. government and hope to reopen a bilateral dialogue soon to reinforce diplomatic relations. We remain interested in maintaining and expanding mutual trade relationships and investment and hope that the U.S. Congress will move forward on the overdue extension of the Andean trade preference agreement."

A: Jennifer McCoy, director of the Americas Program at The Carter Center in Atlanta and professor of political science at Georgia State University: "The mutual expulsion of ambassadors is most unfortunate, as relations between the United States and Ecuador were improving and both ambassadors were excellent professionals. Although the Ecuadorean government said its action was directed only at her person and not at the U.S. government, relations will be chilled and the ATPDEA and the next in the series of bilateral meetings are likely to be delayed further. The failure to renew ATPDEA will hurt Ecuador's small and medium producers, particularly those in new industries like broccoli, nylons and avocado oil and could affect 50,000 jobs in Ecuador. This latest victim of WikiLeaks demonstrates the sensitivities of foreign governments that feel vulnerable and defensive, with fragile relations with the United States. Ecuador's government clearly fits in this category."

A: Adrián Bonilla, director of FLACSO Ecuador in Quito: "Although relations between Ecuador and the United States have been managed in the last four years with much prudence, they have always been marked by mistrust. The fragile harmony was broken by leaked commentary by Ambassador Hodges about President Correa which the Ecuadorean government considered offensive and untruthful. The grievance was worsened when Washington declined to give any kind of explication about a matter that affected the credibility and image of the Ecuadorean president weeks before a referendum. The information revealed by WikiLeaks demonstrated the distance and lack of analysis with which the American mission handled Ecuadorean affairs. Much of the leaked information demonstrates the prevalence of a speculative attitude and lack of confirmed evidence on the part of officials who are apparently highly ideological. The Ecuadorean reaction has been presented as disproportionate in its form, but it has produced the same effect as the gentle departure of the American ambassador to Mexico for similar reasons. The reactions from Washington and Quito have created negative stereotypes of both governments, since neither has presented credible threats to either country's interests. One of the issues that could further affect the relationship is the absence of dialogue necessary to renew ATPDEA for Ecuador. However, the preferences were already suspended before the incident because the U.S. Congress does not present a favorable environment for these kinds of negotiations. Not only Ecuador, but Colombia, Panama and South Korea are suffering the consequences of a protectionist tradition in a pre-electoral American situation. Domestic policy, once again, has determined the outcome of foreign policy to the detriment of its people and societies."

Download the full PDF edition below.

Suggested Content