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Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa is preening to replace his cancer-stricken Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chávez, as the leader of Latin America’s lawless left. Correa’s flirtation with granting asylum to WikiLeaker Julian Assange underscores his contempt for the rule of law and his deep animosity toward the United States. His mischief has taken a malicious turn as Ecuador plans to purchase $400 million in oil from the nuclear rogue and terrorist state, Iran.
The budding ties to Iran are perhaps Correa’s most dangerous gambit. For example, his government plans to cooperate with Iran’s Central Bank in a dangerous scheme to help the Ahmadinejad regime evade international sanctions. Last year, when an agreement with Iran to mine strategic minerals in Ecuador was revealed, Correa made the ridiculous claim that he did not even know that his country had uranium deposits.
Since becoming president in 2007, Correa has resorted to Chávez’s anti-democratic, anti-U.S. playbook: winning a democratic election and then gutting the constitution and democratic institutions. He has packed the courts with his cronies, used security forces to seize media outlets, and engineered lawsuits to harass independent journalists who criticized his irresponsible rule. His agenda also has been served by a weak and divided political opposition with a sorry legacy.
In the United States, Correa is infamous because his corrupt and clumsy courts have tried to shake down Chevron for nearly $20 billion for allegedly failing to clean up environmental damage in Ecuador. Correa has intervened in the Chevron case, effectively instructing crooked judges to squeeze the U.S. firm.
Last March, an article authored by Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr. for Forbes indicted Ecuador’s scandalous treatment of Chevron, noting, “One [U.S. federal] court said evidence of ‘inappropriate, unethical and perhaps illegal conduct’ by the Ecuadorian plaintiffs’ representatives has sent ‘shockwaves through the [United States’] legal communities.’ Another judge remarked, ‘What has blatantly occurred in this matter would in fact be considered fraud by any court.’ ”
Correa is now strutting on the global stage as he contemplates granting asylum to Assange, who jumped bail in London to evade extradition to Sweden to face two separate sexual assault cases. Egged on by Chavista glitterati, Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, and Oliver Stone, Correa recently feigned concern that Assange might be subjected to the death penalty in the United States on “espionage” charges, knowing full well that no such charges have been brought against the WikiLeaks founder. Correa is making a safe bet that he will gain more favor on the left by appearing to defy the United States than by helping Assange avoid justice for molesting two women in Europe.
Defying the United States is a passion of Correa’s. Let’s not forget that one of his first important acts was to oust U.S. anti-drug operations from an airport on the Pacific Coast town of Manta. (Not surprisingly, drug seizures in Ecuador are down and trafficking is up.) In April 2011, Correa expelled U.S. ambassador Heather Hodges after WikiLeaks published a confidential embassy message that merely referred to “multiple reports” of serious corruption by a Correa security chief. Rather than exacting a price for ejecting the career U.S. diplomat, the Obama administration rushed another envoy to Quito to placate the regime.
Emboldened, Correa is now considering terminating the U.S. aid program — primarily because some of the funds go to independent civic groups committed to the rule of law and democracy. At the same time, his government has the temerity to demand continued U.S. trade benefits that are supposed to be reserved for anti-drug allies.
The Obama administration proposes to spend another $20 million in Ecuador next year, including about $9 million for anti-drug programs, $3 million for democracy, and $6 million for the environment. In light of Correa’s determination to hijack Ecuador into an anti-U.S. camp, it is time to make clear-headed judgments about where U.S. aid is better spent and more deserved. Surely, anti-drug efforts in Honduras and Guatemala — two countries nearer our border and assailed by violent drug gangs — is a higher priority. Moreover, Congress should let trade benefits for Ecuador expire next year unless Correa’s regime demonstrates its willingness to fight the illicit drug trade.
Correa must choose. He can be a friend to Ahmadinejad, Assange and narcotraffickers or to the American people. Until he is a reliable partner, we should use U.S. aid and trade to help governments that are not led by irresponsible rogues.
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