Monday, January 20, 2014

Crisis in Diplomacy: The US Ambassador to Ecuador declared “persona non grata”

article from April 7, 2011
by Julie R Butler

Back in December, diplomatic ties with Venezuela were severed when the US revoked the Venezuelan ambassador’s visa after Hugo Chávez rejected Obama’s proposed US ambassador to Venezuela, Larry Palmer. Just last week, the US ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual, resigned from his post. There have been no ambassadorial ties with Bolivia since 2009. And now, this. This is a serious problem, and the State Department, under the leadership of Hillary Clinton, seems unable (or unwilling) to get a handle on it.

The WikiLeaks cables have not been helpful to these already strained relationships. But they are not the cause of the problems, here. The cause is that the United States continues to carry on with an outdated foreign policy attitude in the Western Hemisphere, and the governments of Latin America are not going to put up with it anymore.

The message to President Obama was consistent among the leaders of the three countries that he visited on his recent whirlwind tour: We deserve to be treated as equal partners, to which the US President shook hands, nodded in agreement, and smiled for the cameras. But US diplomats in Latin America are well aware that anything and everything that has been whispered about through secret cables in recent years is likely to become public knowledge due to WikiLeaks. So why have they waited around for the leaks to come out instead of proactively reaching out to the governments they are supposed to be working with to fess up and smooth things out before everything went public? We know these people are trained in marketing, but what about diplomacy?

Many are concern about what is behind US Ambassador to Ecuador, Heather Hodges, being declared “persona non grata,” and what the consequences of this will be. The leaked cables quote Ambassador Hodges discussing the suspicion that President Rafael Correa was aware that the man he had appointed as police commander had previously been found guilty of embezzlement and that chose him because he knew he could manipulate him. Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño asked her to leave the country immediately, stating that she had failed to explain her allegations, given the opportunity.

While some are wondering why the US Ambassador to Ecuador would trouble herself with police corruption in a Latin American country, which is not exactly anything new and has little to do with bilateral relations, I am wondering if this might have anything to do with another WikiLeaks disclosure of a cable from March 27, 2008, titled, Colombia’s Strategy To Exploit Info From FARC, which describes how the US government was coordinating with the Colombian government in a “public relations strategy” linking Correa, Chávez, and their governments to the Colombian guerrilla fighters. It was now-President Juan Manuel Santos, then Colombia’s minister of defense, who was in charge of the devious plan. So this points to a conspiracy all right. However, it was something that happened during the previous administrations of George W. Bush and Álvaro Uribe, and Ecuador’s displeasure with the US ambassador may have more to do with drastic changes in Colombia’s improved relationships with its neighbors as well as with its evolving relationship with the US than with anything else.

At any rate, it appears that the US diplomatic corps has not yet realized that their mission is to keep up with a changing world and to actually be diplomatic rather than just knowing how to stay on message with Twitter.

[Image of Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa via Wikipedia]

Julie R Butler is a writer, journalist, editor, and author of several books, including Nine Months in Uruguay and No Stranger To Strange Lands (click here for more info). She is a contributor to Speakout at Truthout.org, and her current blog is Connectively Speaking.

email: julierbutler [at] yahoo [dot] com, Twitter: @JulieRButler