There is a cottage industry of anti-American activists throughout the Western Hemisphere eagerly awaiting the U.S. withdrawal next year from the anti-narcotics facility in Ecuador. It received a boost yesterday from the leftist government of Rafael Correa who is making good on a campaign promise to “kick the gringos out” from coastal facility and civilian airport in Manta, Ecuador.
Correa’s decision appears final and, even if it bothers us, needs to be respected. Regardless, it clearly demonstrates that Ecuador is not committed to combating illegal drugs, tracking down criminals and terrorists. It also reminds us that the current government of Ecuador is no ally of the U.S., but rather a spoke of the anti-American axis of the Americas. This group of anti-American nations, led by Cuba and Venezuela, includes Nicaragua, Bolivia, several Caribbean countries, and a wide-array of leftist political parties throughout the Americas. The Manta facility is a thorn in Cuba and Venezuela’s long-term plans for the region.
Kicking us out of Ecuador not only helps Cuba and Venezuela, but opens the door for increased Chinese investment in that strategic port city – Hutchinson Whampoa already has a stake in the port- and may even give Iran and its supporters yet another hideout in South America to scheme away from prying American eyes. While in Ecuador earlier this year, several former senior government officials advised that the Ecuadorean military, at least as constituted then, did not want the Americans to leave but they had little power to influence the Correa Administration. Several officials advised that Venezuela wanted access to the airport – modernized to a tune of close to $70 million by U.S. taxpayers – to complement future plans to station a fleet of military submarines at the port.
Ecuador says it will continue fighting the war on drugs. That is just about as credible as promises that it would help Colombia fight the war against the FARC – Colombia’s leading terrorist organization. Ecuador will lose critical support and information-sharing capabilities as soon as we leave for yet another home in South or southern Central America. It will lose vital “eyes and ears,” crippling an already weak Ecuadorean military who, by all accounts, need our support to carry out its mission that includes interdicting drug lords that use that strategic Pacific region just north of the facility to smuggle drugs through Central America.
Not surprisingly, the state government and local officials do not want us to leave. These officials readily will share that Americans have saved countless numbers of Ecuadorean lives in the high seas, victims of smugglers promising safe passage to the U.S. or Central America. The U.S. investment in the region has helped the economy and created jobs, more than can be said of the Correa government.
Now that Correa has made it semi-official that he wants a new landlord at Manta, likely China, Venezuela, or Cuba, he will start to lobby the U.S. Congress, get this, to extend special trade preferences for Ecuador pursuant to the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) which would grant Ecuador duty-free access to the U.S. market for Ecuadorean exports. In exchange, Ecuador is supposed to cooperate in the war against illegal drugs.
Correa and his central planners have crippled an entire nation with onerous and outdated socialist economic principles. They have destroyed a once robust and transparent legal system. Correa and his supporter are creating a de facto dictatorship through questionable legal means. He has dissolved the Congress and shut down television and radio stations. As Chavez tried to do in Venezuela, Correa is purging the military high command and replacing old officers with Correa loyalists. With regards to the Manta region, he is ignoring local officials who have repeatedly advocated keeping the facility open. Correa has threatened to withhold federal funds if they refused to go along. What incentive is Ecuador providing the U.S. taxpayer to continue ATPDEA preferences for Ecuador exports to the U.S.? Your’re guess is as good as mine.
Inconceivably, earlier this year the Democrats in Congress, with support from Republicans, decided to extend ATPDEA for ten months, until December 2008. Granted that even among Correa opponents that I spoke with during my last visit, rescinding ATPDEA preferences entirely may hurt the opposition’s chances of challenging Correa and his supporters. However, this does not mean that we should grant a permanent extension without conditions. Sensing trouble, Correa has hired a DC lobbyist.
If Ecuador wants access to the U.S. market, it must act like a responsible player. It should stop aiding FARC terrorists along its border with Colombia. It must cease using tools of state to intimidate the opposition. The media must be allowed to freely operate and report the news. In light of the Manta decision, a move that directly impacts U.S. and regional multi-national efforts to fight the drug war, the Bush Administration and the Congress should take a closer look at the Ecuador situation and respond accordingly by conditioning ATPDEA extension.
The U.S. pullout from Manta is a pyrrhic victory for the anti-American groups and the government of Ecuador. In their zeal to score cheap political points, they are hurting the people of Ecuador and helping the drug barons and child labor smugglers. They are also opening the door to more regional instability and senseless war mongering by has-been leaders such as Raul Castro and Hugo Chavez. The U.S. taxpayer should not be forced to underwrite any of it by extending a trade agreement without restrictions.