In Ecuador, the US risks being on the wrong side of history Comments
In the almost two years since Guillermo Lasso, a millionaire and conservative banker, won the presidency in Ecuador, the region has changed a lot. Left-wing leaders have won election after election, including in neighboring Colombia, which had been a key strategic ally of the United States in the hemisphere for decades. This broad geopolitical shift to the left has made the relationship between the US and Ecuador extremely important to Washington – as well as Quito.
Several high-level US officials have traveled to Ecuador and Lasso himself was warmly welcomed at the White House in December. The night before that trip, the US Congress passed the US-Ecuador Partnership Act, which seeks to further strengthen bilateral relations.
“Ecuador has emerged as a model in Latin America and the Caribbean for its continued efforts to strengthen democratic governance and human rights,” Senator Bob Menendez, who co-sponsored the bill, said at the time .
But the situation on the ground tells a different story.
In recent years, Ecuador has declined significantly in most measures of development and public well-being and has been going back to lawlessness. Poverty and inequality have been increasing after years of steady development, and the country’s security situation has worsened.
Ecuador’s suicide rate has increased from 5.8 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2017 – one of the lowest rates in the Western Hemisphere – to 25.5 in 2022. So far, two cities -large Ecuador considered the most deadly in the world.
Ecuador has also reached alarmingly high levels of prison violence. Eleven mass gang-related murders in the nation’s penal system, with 416 inmates brutally murdered since February 2021, have shocked the nation and the region.
Drug cartels have also infiltrated the police and military. In December 2021, Michael Fitzpatrick, the US ambassador to Ecuador, publicly denounced the country’s “narco generals”, although he did little to dampen enthusiasm in Washington for the new administration.
As a result of this situation, Lasso has become very infamous. In the most recent polls, his approval rating was between 12 and 14 percent.
In February, the main opposition party won all key races in Ecuador’s local elections, including mayoral elections in Quito and Guayaquil, Ecuador’s two largest cities, and now they have governors in the most important areas, where about 70 percent of the population lives. .
In the same elections, Ecuadorians voted on eight referendum questions, all of which were promoted by Lasso, including changes to the constitution. Voters rejected his proposed reforms.
In recent weeks, several corruption scandals have dealt another blow to Ecuador’s embattled president. Lasso’s brother-in-law, Danilo Carrera, is being investigated for a massive corruption scheme of fraudulent contracts in the energy sector.
The Attorney General has also opened an investigation into alleged links between one of Carrera’s close associates and the Albanian drug trafficking ring and the Lasso government’s attempt to close the investigation into this organized crime network.
The president’s brother-in-law has long been suspected of having hidden assets in the US, including holdings in Florida. Lasso himself has faced accusations, dating back to his 2021 election, of overseeing a complex web of offshore companies in jurisdictions that have allegedly allowed him avoid taxes. It also features prominently in the Pandora Papers.
Since 2017, it is an impeachable offense for Ecuadorian public officials to keep assets in tax havens. Despite breaking this ban, Lasso managed to stay in office – and on the White House visitor logs.
Ecuador’s president has denied the corruption allegations. Carrera has also denied any wrongdoing and has filed a lawsuit against a journalist, who reported on the scandal.
Lasso has also tried to publicly intimidate the journalists who investigate allegations of corruption, calling them “media terrorists”, “news entertainment mercenaries”, and “spoilt flags”. [who] should stop immediately.” Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders has condemned his “violent diatribes” against the media.
When summoned by the National Assembly of Ecuador, Lasso refused to attend legislative hearings to present his version of events.
A day after the prosecutor issued a warrant to search the presidential palace in connection with a corruption investigation, the government removed the police investigators assigned to the case, a move that was rejected by the National Assembly and the National Court of Justice.
However, so far, Lasso’s government has received nothing but praise from the US authorities. “We respect the strong voice for democracy that you have shared with the people of Ecuador, but also for people throughout our hemisphere”, said Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his visit to Ecuador in Last October. “You and I are united not only in our values but in our vision for the future, one that is both free and democratic”, said President Joe Biden after for him to meet the president of Ecuador in December.
Along with all this there is great praise for the establishment of US foreign policy, with Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the American Council, asking the US to give unprecedented help to Ecuador Lasso, “a strong democracy in a troubled neighborhood”.
The appeal was heard by Republican Senator Marco Rubio who flew to Ecuador at the end of February in support of the besieged Lasso government.
But the truth is that, under Lasso, Ecuador has been moving backwards. Institutions and the rule of law have been collapsing and corruption has flourished and entered Lasso’s inner circle. In light of these troubling developments, the Biden administration should stick to its commitment to fighting corruption, even when it comes to a perceived ally.
He should denounce Lasso’s attacks against the media and his attempts to intervene in the investigations of the crime allegedly committed by his close associates. The US Department of Justice and Treasury should investigate claims that Lasso, his brother-in-law and several other associates hold assets in US jurisdictions.
If the US continues to blindly support the president of Ecuador, there is a risk that Ecuadorians and others in the region will be seen as an enabler of corruption and authoritarianism. And as the nation’s crisis deepens, Washington may end up on the wrong side of history.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.