El primer cable sobre Ecuador es el Nº 191162, clasificado como confidencial, en el que diplomáticos de la Embajada cuentan a sus superiores en Washington que el comandante policial Jaime Hurtado Vaca cambió al jefe del Centro Operativo Anti-Coyoterismo (COAC), adscrito a la Dirección de Inteligencia, sin seguir el protocolo acordado.
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 QUITO 000100
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/09/2029
TAGS: PREL, MARR, SMIG, SNAR, EC, CO
SUBJECT: CORREA ANGRY OVER CONDITIONS ON VETTED UNIT
REF: A. QUITO 57
B. QUITO 10
QUITO 00000100 001.2 OF 003
Classified By: Ambassador Heather Hodges for reason 1.4 (D)
1. (C) Summary: During his February 7 weekly radio/TV
address, an indignant President Correa, reading from a
January 8 letter from the DHS/ICE Attache in Quito, rejected
coordinated selection of personnel for an
anti-smuggling/contraband unit and announced the Attache's
expulsion, apparently unaware that he had departed three
weeks earlier. He threatened that the GOE would do similar
checks on pilots flying counter-narcotics surveillance planes
under the gas-and-go model after the FOL departs. We suspect
the influence of the new security minister and/or retribution
for the embarrassment caused by the arrest of a government
official involved in FARC narcotics trafficking may have
prompted Correa's statements. It remains to be seen to what
extent this move will affect cooperation with other
U.S.-supported and vetted units. End Summary.
EVENTS THAT LED TO CORREA'S OUTBURST
2. (C) The Department of Homeland Security/Immigration and
Customs Enforcement (DHS/ICE), using funding from the Bureau
of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
through the Narcotics Affairs Section, has supported the
Ecuadorian National Police National Intelligence
Directorate's Center for Anti-Contraband Operations (COAC)
since FY 2003. A verbal agreement existed between the ICE
Attache and police commanders that the personnel would submit
to polygraph tests in order to avoid corruption. USG
assistance to the unit, which targeted those involved in
human smuggling as well as contraband, totaled $720,000 to
3. (C) In December 2008, Ecuadorian National Police
commander General Jaime Hurtado informed DHS/ICE Attache
Armando Astorga that he had decided to appoint a new COAC
chief without coordinating with DHS/ICE. Astorga attempted
to persuade Hurtado to follow agreed procedures. When his
efforts failed, Astorga sent the January 8 letter to Hurtado,
with the concurrence of his headquarters and the Ambassador.
It stated that DHS/ICE operational and logistical support
would be terminated and asked for the return of all equipment
previously provided. The letter suggested that the decision
could be revisited if circumstances change. It said in part:
"The DHS/ICE Quito office is completely in agreement that
assigning personnel of the unit is a power of the National
Police of Ecuador and specifically of its leadership.
Nevertheless, we do not agree that the chief and/or personnel
of the unit should be assigned without previous coordination
on the respective selection and conducting integrity checks
that are fundamental requirements to protect the security of
the unit and the confidentiality of the investigations."
4. (SBU) President Correa read selections from the letter in
his February 7 radio address. Addressing Attache Astorga, he
said he should keep his $340,000 in suspended assistance and
the $160,000 additional funding anticipated this year,
terming it "dirty money." Correa directed police commander
Hurtado to return everything to the last computer flash
drive. He called the U.S. insolent for not understanding
that since January 2007 (his inauguration), Ecuador was not a
colony. To applause, he said Ecuador should make a donation
of $160,000 annually to the U.S. for a project to avoid
torture in the U.S., such as is happening at Guantanamo.
(Complete transcript of Correa's remarks e-mailed to WHA/AND.)
5. (SBU) Correa then turned to counternarcotics cooperation
under the gas-and-go model, which the Ambassador had proposed
to him on January 26, to be implemented after the closure of
the U.S. Forward Operating Location (FOL) in Manta (Ref A).
He said, "Madam Ambassador, I accept that these Coast Guard
planes can land on Ecuadorian soil once the Manta base (sic)
leaves, with one condition: that we will have to check on
the pilots that come flying these planes so that no criminals
enter our country." (Note: We were rather surprised Correa
raised the gas-and-go agreement in principle. We had
expected the GOE to announce it only after careful
preparation. End Note.)
AMBASSADOR HIGHLIGHTS NEGATIVE EFFECT TO FOREIGN MINISTER
6. (C) After hearing about Correa,s Saturday address, the
Ambassador immediately called Foreign Minister Falconi to
express her deep concern about Correa,s actions and words.
Falconi said that the Astorga letter had been unacceptable.
QUITO 00000100 002.2 OF 003
The Ambassador reminded Falconi that in their meeting on
January 12 (Ref B), she had raised the situation with the
anti-smuggling unit as an example of the distancing of the
GOE and the U.S., and that she had followed up faxing a copy
of the letter (apparently Falconi never received the letter).
Falconi told the Ambassador that the U.S. had to realize
that Ecuador was a sovereign country and that the U.S. was
dealing with a "different government" than in the past. The
Ambassador noted that in any case the U.S. had been dealing
with the Correa Administration for two years and various
vetted units had been functioning. She added that she
believed that Correa's actions and words could have a
negative effect on relations between the U.S. and Ecuador.
Falconi said he would tell Correa about their conversation.
7. (C) The next day (February 8), FM Falconi summoned the
Ambassador to the Ministry at 7 PM to express formally
President Correa's and the government's "deep indignation"
over the January 8 letter from DHS/ICE Attache Astorga to
police commander Hurtado. Falconi specified as objectionable
three parts of the Astorga letter: the language on the
agreement "not functioning satisfactorily for our
governments," the list of items to be returned to the USG,
and the decision to reconsider the $160,000 destined for a
human smuggling unit. Falconi rejected any interpretation of
the letter's language other than Correa's. Falconi said he
had spoken with Correa subsequent to Falconi's February 7
telephone call with the Ambassador, and relayed the
Ambassador's deep concern. Falconi expressed regret that
this issue was getting in the middle of our cooperative
8. (C) Addressing the GOE's objection to U.S. vetting of
personnel in supported units, the Ambassador explained that
there were a number of these special vetted units, not just
in Ecuador, but around the world. She walked Falconi through
the process of establishing these units, pointing out that
they were created under mutual verbal agreements, and that
the DHS unit had been operating for the duration of the
Correa administration. At several points in the discussion,
the Ambassador attempted to clarify with Falconi whether the
GOE was prohibiting USG vetting, in which case we would have
to suspend cooperation with other supported units. Falconi
ducked the question, asserting that vetting was unacceptable
for Ecuador's sovereignty, but that the Coordinating Minister
for Internal and External Security, Miguel Carvajal, was
responsible for regularizing the agreements. The Ambassador
noted that she had spoken with Minister Carvajal on February
6, about suspension of cooperation to another vetted unit,
and that Minister Carvajal had suggested formalizing
agreements on the units.
9. (C) The Ambassador noted that Astorga had been discussing
the situation with General Hurtado since December 2008, and
that Astorga's letter summarizing the situation was sent on
January 8, including copies to other relevant officials. The
Ambassador even sent a facsimile of the letter to then
Bilateral Afffairs Under Secretary Carlos Jativa on January
12, subsequent to her first meeting with Minister Falconi.
It is not clear to us why this had become an issue only now.
We disagreed with the GOE's characterization of the letter.
Moreover, even in the event the President was upset with the
letter, his public outburst was not the appropriate manner to
address it. Expelling an embassy official was a very serious
10. (C) Falconi claimed that he had never seen the letter.
He asserted that President Correa, in the wake of the March 1
Colombian attack on the FARC camp in Angostura, told the
Ecuadorian police that there could be no more agreements of
this type, and that Ecuador was reclaiming its sovereignty.
Falconi also asserted that Correa had the right to
communicate any way he desired. The Ambassador said, yes,
and if that is what he wants, then he must realize that there
will be a negative reaction. She noted that she had not
spoken in public about all the anti-U.S. rhetoric, but all of
Correa's remarks -- including his comments during and after
his trips to Cuba and Iran -- were being seen in Washington.
11. (C) Just as the meeting appeared to be over, Deputy
Foreign Minister Pozo reminded Falconi that he had a letter
to deliver to the Ambassador. The letter was actually
addressed to DHS/ICE Attache Astorga, and signed by Correa's
private secretary, Galo Mora, but according to Falconi
dictated by President Correa. The Mora letter (e-mailed to
WHA/AND) essentially repeats Correa's tirade from his
February 7 address. The Ambassador advised Falconi that if
the Ecuadorians wanted to speak of indignation, the letter
and Correa's remarks about torture by the United States were
QUITO 00000100 003.2 OF 003
an insult, especially to the Obama Administration. She said
she was very disappointed by the turn of events, since recent
bilateral communications had been promising. She added that
President Correa's agreement in principle to a gas-and-go
arrangement had been very positive.
12. (C) Since Mora's letter to Astorga raised post-Manta
arrangements, the Ambassador noted those discussions should
more appropriately be addressed to her, but she wondered
precisely what was meant by Ecuadorian vetting of USG
aircrews, since an unworkable proposal would spoil a good
dialogue to date. Falconi ducked answering that question as
well, indicating that discussions should continue with the
Under Secretary for Sovereignty and Borders Affairs.
13. (C) February 9 Post Script: The Ambassador received a
call from close Embassy contact, and former Under Secretary
for Bilateral Affairs, Carlos Jativa. He said Falconi and
Deputy Foreign Minister Pozo had asked him to call and
express concern about what had happened. They had asked him
to pass on their desire to have good relations with the U.S.
WHO IS PUSHING CORREA'S BUTTONS?
14. (C) Those working for President Correa know he has a
tendency to rant and rave before looking into the facts of a
matter or considering the consequences of his words. We
suspect Minister Carvajal, working through presidential
personal secretary Mora, provided Correa a copy of Astorga's
letter and described it in a way that set him off. Carvajal
has close connections with the Cuban government and may have
been looking for an opportunity to harm U.S. relations with
15. (C) Another factor behind the turn of events may have
been anger over the exposure of links to the Correa
government by the Ostaiza brothers, who were involved in
narcotics trafficking and money laundering on behalf of the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). This affair
(see septel) has embarrassed the Correa administration and
forced former security minister Gustavo Larrea to drop his
candidacy for the National Assembly in April elections.
16. (C) It is worth noting that Correa had returned a few
days earlier from a trip to Venezuela, where Chavez may have
pressed him to be more critical of the United States or where
his revolutionary fervor may have been re-energized. We do
not see that Correa would gain much electoral advantage from
his remarks since the majority of Ecuadorians view the U.S.
positively and/or see the necessity of a constructive
relationship with us.
TEMPEST IN A TEAPOT, OR MORTAL BLOW TO US PROGRAMS?
17. (C) COMMENT: While it is quite clear that DHS/ICE
cooperation with the COAC unit is over, it remains to be seen
what impact the weekend's events will have on cooperation
with other vetted units that we support. The USG needs to
stick to its principles in terms of conditions for our
support in sensitive areas of law enforcement. At the same
time, we do not want to leave the GOE in a corner with no way
out if cooler heads do begin to prevail and we have the
opportunity to continue programs that support U.S. security
interests. We hope a conversation the week of February 9
with Minister Carvajal will give us an indication whether
vetted unit cooperation will be able to continue, perhaps
under written agreements. We will also need to follow up
with the MFA to see if Correa was serious about vetting our
pilots. Depending on press coverage this week, we may want
to consider releasing the full text of the Astorga letter.