If Ecuador wants to kick us out of Manta and replace us with the Chinese, Venezuelans, and Cubans, or hurt Colombian democracy by supporting FARC terrorists, may we suggest that they ask the motley crew from China, Venezuela, and Cubans for trade preferences. U.S. taxpayers can invest their hard-earned tax dollars and programs elsewhere in the Americas. Again, their new lobbyists will have a lot of work to do.
The same week Ecuador’s strongman Rafael Correa orders police to seize three television stations and other media outlets on alleged technical legal violations, The Miami Herald reports that Ecuador has hired a former career U.S. foreign service officer to lobby on its behalf in Washington, DC. It is an interesting development. Up until recently, the Ecuadorian Government has operated under the DC political radar with little, if any, attention focused on its democracy-repressive acts or anti-Americanism. The lobbyists have a great challenge before them as it will be difficult to sugar coat or explain away as “new populism” the difficult problems that the Ecuadorian people face daily from its government. No matter the message delivered to DC policymakers, democracy and freedom have been hijacked in Ecuador.
While out of sight and out of mind for a majority of Americans, the events in Ecuador during the past few years are tragic and directly impact U.S. interests in the Andean region. A once struggling but thriving free and democratic state, and ally of the U.S., has been overtaken by a leftist populist movement that is destroying legal, free market, and democratic ideals. For example, the Ecuadorian Congress was dissolved and its powers transferred to a Constituent Assembly controlled by political forces loyal to the President. The Courts have no power and rule of law eroding. And, this week, media outlets critical of the President and Assembly are coming under more direct attacks by the government. Yet, this is only part of the story Ecuador’s new lobbyists will need to address.
Up until now, Ecuador has been able to quietly destroy democracy without anyone in Washington, DC paying much, if any attention. This may have all changed on March 1, 2008, when Colombia’s military and national police raided a FARC People’s Army terrorist camp along the Colombia-Ecuador border, seizing laptops with data that directly links Correa and his supporters to the FARC. To the consternation of many high-ranking military officers in the Ecuadorean Armed Forces, Correa and his officials have forced into this FARC problem. Those officers that have refused or expressed opposition have been shown the door.
The FARC computer files, later authenticated by INTERPOL as not having been tampered with by the Colombians after the seizure, now provide some proof that can be shared with the outside world that Ecuador’s ruling left, and others from the Western Hemisphere and Europe, have been providing material support to a terrorist organization. Indeed, the successful March operation, followed by the hostage rescue two weeks ago of three Americans and others held by the FARC terrorists has Ecuador, Venezuela, and Latin America’s left running for political cover. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez has cooled the rhetoric against his neighbor Colombia and has met with President Alvaro Uribe. Cuba’s Communist Party, under the pen name Fidel Castro, called on its long-time students in Colombia’s jungles to release more hostages. And, Ecuador, well, when in trouble or sensing opposition in Washington, has hired a lobbyist.
The U.S. has many interests in the Andean region, including protecting and supporting our ally Colombia, stemming the flow of illegal drugs, and combating terrorism, to name a few. With respect to Ecuador, Ecuador’s DC lobbyists will need to explain why the U.S. should extend a ATPDEA trade preferences to a country with no rule of law and that has run roughshod over democratic systems. He will also need to defend Ecuador’s evicting us from the counter-drug facility at Manta, Ecuador. While destruction of Ecuador’s democracy is a serious matter, the Manta eviction hurts U.S. and regional interests in the short- and long-term.
The U.S. has invested close to $80 million to improve the airport facility that also happens to house Ecuador’s Air Force and a civilian airport used for tourism and other economic development for this impoverished area of the country. It is estimated that U.S. taxpayers inject about $7 million a year into the local economy. The U.S. mission at Manta is to help Ecuador combat the transnational threat of drug trafficking. Legally, it is not a military base. The U.S. signed a lease with Ecuador in 1999 that expires in November 2009.
Despite the criticism from left, it has been one of the most successful missions in the region led by the U.S. military and other U.S. federal agencies. According to the State Department, in 2007 alone, information collected from over 1,000 counter-narcotics flights from Manta resulted in more than 200 tons of illegal drugs seized with a street value of over $4.2 billion. No matter, Ecuador’s Correa wants the U.S. out of Manta by November 2009, sooner if he could. It is a campaign promise he is going to keep, even if the U.S. enjoys overwhelming support from local and state officials in Manta.
Who and what will replace the American presence? A port city, it appears that the Chinese are ready to move in to operate the large, deep-water port facility. Hutchinson Whampoa, no less, is expected to be the landlord. A similar contract may be awarded the Chinese to operate the airport that U.S. taxpayer dollars help build a few years ago. In addition to the Chinese government, expect the Venezuelans and Cubans to move in. This week, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Correa will visit Manta on Tuesday to announce the establishment of a joint venture to “develop” the region. In reality, what Chavez is likely seeking is a place to park his newly-purchased Russian submarine fleet in the deep waters of the Manta port.
The bottom line with Correa and his supporters is that the lies are catching up with them. The U.S. taxpayer should not underwrite this regime anymore; policymakers should consider options for expressing American concern for Ecuadorian democracy and regional stability. For starters, the U.S. Congress and Bush Administration should seriously consider not granting Ecuador an ATPDEA extension until Ecuador stops its support of the FARC terrorists by, in part, granting safe haven to the FARC along the Colombian-Ecuador frontier. We should also make it clear to Ecuador that democracy-suppression must cease. The opposition must be allowed to operate without fear of persecution and intimidation. The same holds for freedom of the press. Finally, hands off the courts.
Minor regional powers Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, and Bolivia need reminding that the days of revolutionary intimidation are over and will not be tolerated in the Western Hemisphere. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration has not done that. With the possible exception of Brazil, the region is more a footnote than priority. In the few months remaining of the Bush Administration, however, there are many things that it can do to compel Ecuador to do right and provide anti-Correa leaders a much-needed morale boost. For now, the least controversial approach would be not to extend ATPDEA to Ecuador. Designating Ecuador a safe haven for terrorists, a very close second.
The State Department should ascertain if Ecuador has been, under U.S. law, providing safe-haven to the FARC terrorists. The Colombian FARC computer records will help in this regard. Once a clear case has been established, economic sanctions and divestiture regulations should be considered. Ecuadorian government officials found to have been supporting the FARC should be listed on various U.S. Government watch lists such as the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list. The U.S. should also not grant visas to any Ecuadorean official found assisting terrorist groups or subverting democracy, freedom of the press, and rule of law in Ecuador.
If Ecuador wants to kick us out of Manta and replace us with the Chinese, Venezuelans, and the Cubans, or hurt Colombian democracy by supporting FARC terrorists, Ecuador should ask the motley crew of nations from China, Venezuela, and Cuba for trade preferences. U.S. taxpayers can invest their hard-earned tax dollars elsewhere in the Americas where it will be put to better use and much appreciated. Again, Ecuador’s new lobbyists will have a lot work to do. This is not just about trade, but regional stability and U.S. interests in the Americas. Let’s hope the Congress and the Bush Administration have the foresight to lead and not settle this matter based on the representations of a hired gun.