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Cablegate: Ecuador's New Minister of Transport Enthusiastic,

VZCZCXYZ0000
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHQT #2326 2882045
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 152045Z OCT 07
FM AMEMBASSY QUITO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7911
INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PRIORITY 3808
RUEHGL/AMCONSUL GUAYAQUIL PRIORITY 2929

UNCLAS QUITO 002326

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON POL PGOV EAIR ELTN EC
SUBJECT: ECUADOR'S NEW MINISTER OF TRANSPORT ENTHUSIASTIC,
ECLECTIC

REF: QUITO 2167

1. (U) Summary: Ambassador met with new Minister of
Transport, Hector Villagran Cepeda, on October 2 and learned
more about his plans to rehabilitate the Ecuadorian railroad
and promote the U.S. role in its initial construction, build
a Manta to Manaus intermodal transport link, and make
transport infrastructure improvements necessary for
developing Ecuador's tourism potential. Villagran studied in
the U.S., and is a strong supporter of U.S.-Ecuadorian
friendship. End summary.

Trains, Planes, Automobiles
---------------------------
2. (U) Villagran began the meeting by saying that his
ministry took very seriously the idea of honoring U.S.
citizens Arthur and John Harman and former president Eloy
Alfaro, the builders of the railroad line linking Ecuador's
coastal and mountain regions, on the occasion of the
railroad's 100th anniversary in June 2008. Ambassador Jewell
expressed enthusiasm for the project and Villagran replied
that plans were in the works, and promised to be in contact.
He said that he hoped to declare 2008 "a year of friendship
between Ecuadorian and American people."

3. (U) Villagran noted that plans for the Manta to Manaus
intermodal transport link were progressing, and that the GOE
and government of Brazil were still seeking international
investors for the project. He said that work on the river
port was under way and that improvements to regional airports
were being studied (including at Vicente, Esmeraldas, Tena
and Santa Rosa -- this echoes a request from Aviation Under
Secretary Guillermo Bernal for technical assistance or

SIPDIS
equipment that might be useful in developing regional
airports, see reftel). Villagran said the GOE has been
talking with U.S. cargo carrier Arrow Air about developing a
Miami-Manta-Manaus route, noting that he expected to come to
an agreement within 20 days (Brazilian Ambassador later
confirmed these flights will begin in January 2008).

4. (SBU) When Ambassador inquired whether the Ministry had
reached conclusions or had questions about our proposed Open
Skies agreement, Villagran said cautiously that the GOE was
still studying the model text, but that his Under Secretary
for Aviation would be in touch with the Embassy. Ambassador
noted that Ecuadorian and U.S. carriers could both benefit
from an Open Skies agreement.

5. (U) Villagran commented that something needed to be done
about urban transport pollution, particularly with regard to
buses. He expressed enthusiasm about the U.S. "Adopt a
Highway" program, and the Ambassador promised to provide more
information about potential resources or technical assistance
the embassy might provide to help Ecuador implement a similar
program.

Developing Ecuador's Tourism
----------------------------

6. (SBU) In discussing regional transport development,
Villagran told Ambassador Jewell about an architectural site
in Manabi that he described as an "Ecuadorian Macchu Picchu"
where U.S. archaeologist Marshall Saville made important
findings in the early 20th century. He asked for assistance
in recovering objects taken by Saville that are currently
housed by the Smithsonian Institution. He said he wants to
encourage the GOE to preserve the site and better market it
internationally as a tourism destination. At the end of the
meeting, Villagran introduced 13 of his advisors, one of whom
works exclusively on tourism promotion.

7. (U) Bio notes: Villagran, the son of the Director of the
U.S.-Ecuadorian binational center in Guayaquil, was appointed
Minister of Transport on July 9. He studied law at the
Universidad de Guayaquil, business at Florida International
University, and negotiation at the University of California
Berkeley.

8. (SBU) Comment: Minister Villagran is young, enthusiastic,
and mentioned several times that he is concerned about
operating transparently. During the 90-minute meeting he
touched upon a wide variety of topics, without giving the
impression that he has established his priorities. He did
not seem to be well-informed about Open Skies, but we will
continue to engage the Ministry of Transportation and
encourage a bilateral discussion on the proposed agreement.
End comment.
JEWELL

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