Friday, July 25, 2008

Ecuador's Defense Minister, Gustavo Larrea, visits Washington

Yesterday, Ecuador's Minister of Internal and External Security, Gustavo Larrea, was in Washington to meet with various members of Congress, the media, and to speak at an event hosted by CSIS and the Inter-American Dialogue. It seems that Larrea's visit was timed such that he could promote Ecuador's new Constitution, approved by the constituent assembly yesterday and up for referendum vote in September, and to make clear that while Ecuador hopes to maintain bilateral relations with the United States, it also will uphold its sovereignty. You can listen to Larrea's presentation at the CSIS and Dialogue event (in Spanish) here.

Below are translations of excerpts from two media sources, The Associated Press and El Nuevo Empresario, covering Larrea's visit.

The Associated Press, "Ecuador wants the United States' help, but will deny it the base in Manta" by Nestor Ikeda

The Ecuadorian Minister of Internal and External Security said on Thursday that his country needs the cooperation of the United States in investments and to combat drugs, but it will continue with its plan to deny, at the start of next year, the United States' use of the Manta air base for its interdiction flights.

"United States would not accept another country's air base in its territory, we won't either," said Gustavo Larrea. "We are a nation and we are sovereign."

...

He indicated that he came to ask for U.S. help in the implementation of Plan Ecuador, for border development; the fight against narcotrafficking, the renewal of the Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA) that expires in December, and business investments, but "with total respect for our sovereignty."

...

According to Larrea, in the case of the U.S. exit from Manta, Ecuador was being stigmatized because the government was preparing the maritime port for operations of high quality Asian commercial ships.

"These improvements are part of multiplying our trade relations with the world's communities," he declared. "We make them with absolute pride and absolute sovereignty."

Larrea explained that Ecuador was working with the United States "in a transition" so that it can move its two interdiction aircrafts to another place and recalled that his country, despite having been recognized by the Department of State as a leader in the capture of drugs, was "the least favored in international cooperation," of only some three million dollars. [We have no idea how Larrea derives this figure, as our database shows the United States granting Ecuador an estimated $52.3 million this year.]

"I have not come to ask for a dollar more of cooperation," he affirmed. "I have come with dignity to say what we are doing and to say that a base (of the United States) is not acceptable in our territory because our country does not want it."

He explained that the U.S. exit was not the result of expulsion, but because in 2009 the 10 year contract that was signed by the two governments expires.

"This does not mean that we are not going to continue fighting against narcotrafficking," he said. "We will continue our efforts. But we need this airport (in Manta)."

According to Larrea, Ecuador will take on the work of interdiction of drugs, for which they have bought two unmanned planes and dozens of high velocity boats.

El Nuevo Empresario, "Gustavo Larrea, Minister of Internal and External Security completes a tight agenda in the United States"

At the House of Representatives, he [Larrea] met with Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel [D-New York], Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, with Republican Rep. Dan Burton [R-Indiana], minority head of the same subcommittee, and with Rep. Nita Lowey [D-New York], Chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations.

Minister Larrea made known to the representatives the process of change that the country faces in a democratic and peaceful environment, which is reflected in the elaboration of a new political constitution that will be put up for public consideration in September through a referendum.

At the same time, the minister referred to the specificities of Ecuador, a country that does not follow any foreign model and is independent from other Latin American models and that is living its own process of change; he referred to the friendly relations that exist between the two counties, expressed above all by the U.S. Embassy in Quito.

During the conference at CSIS, he referred to the role developed by the Ecuadorian Government in the fight against drug trafficking and the control and protection of the border with Colombia, where the country has put into practice "Plan Ecuador" as a policy of peaceful borders and community development in the provinces bordering Colombia."