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Cablegate: Scenesetter for Secdef Meeting with Ecuadorian Mod

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SIPDIS

OSD / DAN MCDONALD

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/06/2014
TAGS: PREL MASS MOPS SNAR PTER EC CO VE
SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR SECDEF MEETING WITH ECUADORIAN MOD
SANDOVAL

REF: A. 07 QUITO...


id: 137595
date: 1/16/2008 20:49
refid: 08QUITO53
origin: Embassy Quito
classification: CONFIDENTIAL
destination: 07QUITO2556|07QUITO2570|07QUITO2616|07QUITO953
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C O N F I D E N T I A L QUITO 000053

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

OSD / DAN MCDONALD

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/06/2014
TAGS: PREL MASS MOPS SNAR PTER EC CO VE
SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR SECDEF MEETING WITH ECUADORIAN MOD
SANDOVAL

REF: A. 07 QUITO 2570
B. 07 QUITO 953
C. 07 QUITO 2556
D. 07 QUITO 2616

Classified By: Ambassador Linda Jewell, for Reasons 1.4 (b&d)

1. (C) Please accept my thanks for receiving Dr. Wellington
Sandoval, the Ecuadorian Minister of Defense, during the
Minister's January 23-26 visit to the U.S. Minister
Sandoval's visit comes at a time of opportunities and risks
as Ecuador carries out political and economic reforms through
its Constituent Assembly. While the Correa government
clearly presents some concerns and uncertainties, cooperation
on counter-narcotics and Northern Border security has in fact
been very good to date. Sandoval is pragmatic, positively
inclined, and well-positioned to play a helpful role on these
issues moving forward. I am convinced that dialogue with the
MOD will maximize our prospects for continuing constructive
bilateral military cooperation to our mutual benefit. Our
goal during the Minister's visit is to demonstrate U.S.
interest in advancing relations with the Correa government on
issues of mutual concern.

Fragile Democracy, Correa's Commitment to Change
--------------------------------------------- ---

2. (C) Our top goal in Ecuador is to promote and support
democratic stability by strengthening democratic
institutions. A critical component of this effort is
limiting the corrosive effects of the regional drug trade on
Ecuador, as well as the risks associated with Colombian
guerrilla activity along Ecuador,s Northern border region.
Ecuador is a fragile democracy caught in a cycle of political
instability reflecting popular disillusionment with
traditional institutions. Inaugurated in January 2007,
Rafael Correa is the first president since the 1979 return to
democracy to enjoy popularity in all regions of the country
and among a broad array of class and demographic groups.

3. (C) Correa won election by successfully presenting
himself as the "change" candidate to a population frustrated
by the chaotic and corrupt governments of recent years. Thus
far, Correa has proven adept at maintaining public support
using a combination of confrontational tactics, pragmatic
deal-making, and programs to assist the poor. He is seeking
adoption of reforms through an unbounded Constituent
Assembly, inaugurated on November 29. The Assembly is
rewriting the constitution, which would be approved in a
subsequent referendum, and adopting laws that take effect
immediately. It has declared the Congress, elected in 2006,
in indefinite recess. Our position is that constitutional
reform is an internal Ecuadorian issue, but that it is
essential that the reform process proceed in a manner
consistent with the region's democratic values.

4. (C) While Correa is sympathetic to some of Chavez's
ideas, Correa's policies reflect primarily Ecuadorian
realities and dynamics. He is a nationalist first, and a
leftist second. He chafes at Ecuador,s traditional
dependency on the U.S., but is not avowedly anti-American (he
and other close family members have lived in the U.S. and he
expresses a genuine affinity for many aspects of U.S.
society). He does not want to be seen as following anyone,s
example, but rather charting his own course.

Northern Border
---------------

5. (SBU) Ecuador shares a 400-mile border with Colombia in
areas of heavy narco-terrorist activity. USG efforts in the
area aim to prevent spillover of drug cultivation and illegal
armed group activity into Ecuador. They include development
assistance to improve the quality of life and spur licit
economic growth; counter-narcotics aid to curb smuggling of
precursor chemicals, cocaine, and heroin; and
military-to-military assistance to strengthen Ecuador's
ability to secure its Northern Border and control its
territorial waters.

6. (C) The Ecuadorian Army's Fourth Division has engaged the

FARC in a series of operations along the border with Colombia
since last November (Ref A). These operations demonstrate
previously uncharacteristic resolve and coordination by the
Ecuadorian military to press the attack and to continue
surveillance and patrolling its border to engage additional
FARC camps.

7. (C) The GOE's political will to control its Northern
Border and to remove incursions of armed insurgents within
its territory appear to have increased after Minister
Sandoval's fact-finding trip to the Northern Border last
November. The MOD was surprised to find a heavier than
expected FARC presence and a local population unwilling to
reveal this presence. Ecuadorian policy under this and
previous governments is to refrain from labeling the FARC as
terrorists and to maintain a neutral position on Colombia,s
internal conflict, not just for ideological reasons but to
avoid becoming a target of FARC attacks (especially the
strategic oil infrastructure located near the Northern
Border). Yet Sandoval has been unusually outspoken about how
FARC incursions represent a threat to Ecuador's sovereignty.
I recommend that you praise GOE efforts along the Northern
Border and assure the Minister of our continued assistance.

Counter-Narcotics Cooperation
-----------------------------

8. (C) Ecuadorian leaders have identified narcotraffickers
and other criminal organizations as a threat to national
sovereignty, and are focusing the police, military, judiciary
and others on disrupting and dismantling these organizations.
Since 2001, the Embassy's Narcotics Affairs Section (NAS)
has provided almost $94 million to enhance the capacity of
the anti-narcotics police throughout Ecuador, to assist the
military in providing security for citizens and protecting
Ecuador's sovereignty on the northern and maritime borders,
and improve the criminal justice system. However, the GOE
has been critical of the cuts in NAS funding, down to just
over $7 million in 2008 from nearly $20 million in 2004, in
light of the GOE,s continued anti-narcotics efforts. It
would be helpful for you to explain that these cuts are due
to worldwide budgetary pressures, and do not reflect
Ecuador,s efforts or cooperation, which has been excellent.

Plan Ecuador
------------

9. (SBU) We understand that Minister Sandoval will raise
Plan Ecuador, which was unveiled by President Correa in April
2007 as a guide to GOE and international donor development
activity in the Northern Border region thru 2018. Long on
general themes and short on specifics, the Plan lists seven
goals in development activity (Ref B). If the Minister asks
for USG support, your response could be that we appreciate
the importance of integrating developmental and security
efforts. Improved coordination by the GOE of both national
and donor community programs is useful. USAID has focused on
development support in the region for several years,
providing over $78 million in assistance since 2001.

Manta FOL
---------

10. (C) The U.S. military presence in Manta remains
controversial, and President Correa has repeatedly vowed that
he will not renew the agreement when it expires in November
2009. We regard this as a sovereignty-based position linked
to domestic politics, rather than an indicator of weakening
GOE commitment to broader CN efforts or bilateral military
cooperation. Prior to an intensive Embassy public affairs
effort over the past year, most Ecuadorians had a limited or
misinformed perception about the FOL. Polls in 2006 showed
that a strong majority of Ecuadorians opposed "foreign
troops" on national soil. Attitudes have softened thanks to
our efforts to create a more informed public. In an August
2007 poll, 75 percent of respondents agreed that Ecuador
should collaborate with the U.S. in the fight against
narcotrafficking, and the positive answers to FOL-specific
questions hovered around 50 percent, and higher in Manta
itself. Correa is mindful of the FOL,s relative popularity
in Manta based on economic benefits and is seeking to fill


that gap post-2009. He is pursuing a plan to make Manta the
"gateway for trade" between East Asia and South America,
taking advantage of the excellent deep water port and the
potential offered by the airport (Refs C and D). You will
want to emphasize that FOL operations are producing important
results in the fight against transnational crime, benefiting
both countries.
JEWELL

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