Cablegate: Manta Fol - Request for Dos and Dod Financial Support For


DE RUEHQT #0642/01 0791204
O 201204Z MAR 07





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Manta FOL - Request for DOS and DOD Financial Support for
Media Outreach and ComRel Activities

1. The U.S.-Ecuador agreement to allow U.S. counter narcotics
operations to be conducted at the Forward Operating Location (FOL)
at the Eloy Alfaro Ecuadorian air base in Manta expires in Nov.,
2009. President Rafael Correa has publicly stated that he does not
intend to renew the agreement. The Mission has formed a Manta
Strategy group to implement an 18-month strategic plan to influence
Ecuadorian public and political opinion to create an environment
more favorable to the possibility of negotiations to renew the FOL
agreement. As part of this strategy, the Mission requests DOD and
DOS assistance to fund community relations projects in the Manta
area, and to conduct a national media campaign.

2. (SBU) The Manta community around the FOL is divided on whether
the FOL benefits them, and opinion surveys show that up to 60
percent of the wider Ecuadorian public is unaware of or poorly
informed about the agreement or the FOL. Our medium-term goal over
the next six months is to solidify a clearly positive image of the
FOL with the Manta community, the core constituency we need moving
forward, and to educate the Ecuadorian general public about how the
FOL benefits Ecuador, making negative politicization of the issue
more difficult and creating a positive basis of support. Best case
scenario would be a softening of Correa's current opposition and the
ability to embark on re-negotiation in a more favorable environment.
Even if we fall short of that ultimate goal and are forced to
depart, USG interests would be served by having a broad majority of
Ecuadorians feel that the ten-year experience of the FOL partnership
had been positive and successful.

3. (SBU) ComRel Background: The Manta community holds a variety of
views on the FOL. On the one hand are those who see unfulfilled
potential and negative affects - they think that the FOL did not
make Manta into the Ecuadorian Miami as they thought would happen,
believe it has increased drug trafficking and prostitution in the
area, and caused the sinking of local fishing boats on which the
community depends for jobs and income. On the other hand are those
who see benefits - increased domestic flights and tourism through
the renovated Manta airport (co-located with the FOL and Eloy Alfaro
Air Base), and the effects of the $6.5 million that the FOL injects
into the local economy through fuel purchases and 150 local jobs.
Manta leaders, including the mayor and officers of the Chamber of
Commerce, can make both arguments in public. Immediately after the
election of President Correa, who openly opposes FOL agreement
renewal, Manta leaders stopped publicly supporting the FOL, though
in private they stated that their community has many needs and that
contributions from the FOL would be welcome, would help them
publicly support the FOL, and would improve the FOL's image in the
community. Over the past six weeks, however, these Manta leaders'
tune has changed, as our intensive informational efforts via
interviews and journalist visits to the FOL have begun to pay off.
Manta mayor Jorge Zambrano and other local officials have stepped
forward and made very positive comments about the FOL in TV
interviews, saying that its counter narcotics actions benefit both
countries. Recognizing that the prospect of a U.S. departure is
real, some Manta politicians are now pushing for a local referendum
to put the following question to a popular vote: "Do you want the
FOL to stay in Manta?" The referendum, if it happens, would
significantly influence national public opinion, as well as the
opinion of the GOE and the Ecuadorian Congress, about FOL renewal.

4. ComRel Request: Mission requests funding for the following
community relations projects to assist the Manta community
surrounding the FOL over the next eighteen months. Each request
will be carried out in conjunction with one of the three Manta
community leaders who the Mission and the FOL commander have
identified as most likely to influence public opinion either in
favor of or against the FOL in the next eighteen months. The social
projects will benefit the children of Manta and their families, and
will help these three leaders deliver improvements to their
constituencies and their community, giving them a way to speak
positively about how the FOL is investing in the people of Manta.
This ComRel effort will be branded ("FOL Helping Manta") via
billboards, signs, stickers and in media interviews to create
maximum awareness among citizens of Manta. This COMREL will come at
a time when USAF-ECUAF mil-to-mil relations are improving and
presents an opportune time for collaboration with the community of

--Mayor of Manta - Primary Education Assistance: In Ecuador it is
the responsibility of students and their parents to buy school
textbooks, even in public schools. City governments often purchase
the textbooks for poor students. To assist underprivileged Manta
school children and their parents, many of whom live in

neighborhoods surrounding the FOL, the Embassy will team with the
mayor of Manta to provide textbooks for the city's elementary school
children in academic year 2007, which begins April 2. The books
will be delivered in a backpack labeled with a FOL logo and will
have stickers identifying them as donations of the USG and the FOL.
Requested amount: US$150,000.

--President of Manta Chamber of Commerce - Social Infrastructure
Construction: The president of the Manta Chamber of Commerce, Lucia
Fernandez, is a very influential Manta power broker who speaks for
the Manta business community and is a likely candidate to replace
Zambrano as mayor. Currently she is an ally of the Embassy who
wants to help us rally support for the FOL, which she believes has
contributed favorably to Manta's development over the past eight
years, during which time Ecuadorian airlines have tripled the number
of commercial flights to Manta airport and a Hong Kong company won a
$450 million concession to construct a new international seaport.
Fernandez has identified the need to construct child care
facilities, and to improve local schools around the FOL as a way to
garner support among the local population. The Embassy will team
with the Chamber to fund the construction of a series of child care
centers, and to fund improvements to local schools (bathrooms,
soccer fields, paint, etc) in the city of Manta. We have received
and prioritized specific funding requests that total: US$200,000.

--New Commander of Ecuadorian Air Base - Children's Health Services:
On March 2 Ecuadorian Air Force Colonel Eduardo Cardenas assumed
command of the Eloy Alfaro Air Base, which hosts the FOL. Already
Cardenas has shown a friendliness towards the FOL and a willingness
to work productively with us. The Ecuadorian base recently stood up
a Disabled Children's Rehabilitation Center, which serves the needs
of base children and children from the Manta community. The FOL
Commander will partner with Col. Cardenas to equip the Center, begin
equestrian rehabilitation therapy, and invite a U.S. rehabilitation
expert to visit Manta for consultations. The Eloy Alfaro Base also
holds a community open house every June to celebrate Ecuador's
Children's Day. The FOL will partner with the Eloy Alfaro base to
hold a joint open house in June for the Manta community to allow the
FOL to receive Manta children and their families for a U.S.-style
picnic and day of kids' games and rides. Finally, in conjunction
with the Kentucky National Guard, the FOL and the Eloy Alfaro air
wing will offer free dental sealing services to Manta children.
Requested amount: US$50,000.

5. National Media Outreach Campaign Request: The Ecuadorian public
outside of Manta has limited awareness and largely inaccurate
information about the FOL. To fill that information gap and create
a positive environment for continued counter-narcotics cooperation
at the FOL through 2009, as well as - in the best case scenario - a
realistic opportunity to engage the GOE on renewal of the agreement,
the Mission requests funding to conduct a two-month paid national
media campaign in 2007. Through consultations with the local
offices of an international public relations firm, Embassy proposes
a campaign to include the production and purchase of 190 print spots
in Ecuador's six national newspapers, six regional newspapers, and
two national magazines. The print campaign would accompany a
smaller television campaign of twenty public service announcements
that would be aired on national networks as part of our ongoing
partnership with national networks for assistance in disseminating
the USG's message regarding the FOL. The campaign would include
production of television spots and a radio spot that can be
distributed through our existing network of 85 radio affiliates
situated throughout Ecuador. The local PR firm will provide its
design and advising services pro bono, but purchasing the media
space will cost: US$400,000.

6. The USG spent $71 million on initial infrastructure improvements
to create the Manta FOL. Developing a new alternative site would
presumably have a similar cost. A US$800,000 investment now can
potentially position the USG to be able to conduct negotiations on
the FOL renewal which, if successful, will allow us to sustain
current operations and avoid the large expense of creating a new FOL
to replace the one in Manta. A response is urgently needed to this
request, as time is passing quickly and the need to generate
momentum for potential renewal talks is upon us. If we don't act
quickly to implement the strategy, a critical opportunity will pass
us by.


© Scoop Media

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