“Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”
A declaration by the Ecuadorian government that U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges is “persona non grata” and must leave Ecuador as soon as possible should not come as a surprise, Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said today. Weisbrot noted that the expulsion follows recent troubling revelations in cables released by Wikileaks that describe U.S. government co-ordination with Colombia over a public relations strategy to attempt to link Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa to the Colombian guerrillas the FARC.
“The Obama Administration doesn’t seem to know how to have normal diplomatic relations with democratic, left-of-center governments in the hemisphere,” Weisbrot said. He noted that there was a trend – well documented through U.S. government cables, funding disclosures, and other information – of attempts to undermine governments in Bolivia, Brazil, Honduras, Venezuela, and other countries.
“They still haven’t restored ambassadorial relations with Bolivia, and can’t seem to find an ambassador for Venezuela,” Weisbrot noted. “Despite a much better media image, they don’t seem be doing any better than the Bush administration in the region.”
The Ecuadorian government’s announcement was in reaction to disclosure of comments Ambassador Hodges had made — in cables also recently released by Wikileaks — describing “widespread and well-known” corruption among the Ecuadorian National Police, and making specific allegations against the ENP commander. Reuters reported that “Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño told reporters he had not received a satisfactory explanation” from the Embassy regarding the cables.
Weisbrot noted that the Ecuadorian government would also have cause to be concerned about a March 27, 2008 cable from Bogotá, that was shared with the U.S. Embassy in Quito, revealing that “the [Government of Colombia] GOC plans to selectively leak information from FARC computers connecting Presidents Chavez and Correa and their Governments to the FARC over the next 4-6 weeks…” The cable notes that the Colombian government was providing the U.S. government with the hard drives, but “on the condition that we not release any information without first consulting with the GOC.”
The cable described how “the GOC plans to selectively provide intelligence from the computers to carefully chosen North American, Colombian, Spanish, and Latin media tied to specific themes”, with one of the proposed themes being “the FARC and President Correa”. There is no indication of U.S. government concern over the validity of these claims, which were based solely on information provided by the Colombian government.
The Ecuadorian government’s announcement follows other recent setbacks in U.S.-Latin American relations. U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual resigned only two weeks ago following Mexican government outrage over cables, also released by Wikileaks, describing friction between Mexico’s army and navy, and tensions and poor co-ordination between various Mexican security forces.
Also just weeks ago, concurrent with the beginning of U.S. air strikes on Libya, former Brazilian president Lula da Silva conspicuously declined to attend a meeting between President Obama and former presidents of Brazil. Brazil’s government, like many in the region, has been outspoken in its opposition to the use of external military force in the Libyan conflict.