Cablegate: Correa Administration Counteroffensive On


DE RUEHQT #0433/01 1361238
O 151238Z MAY 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L QUITO 000433



REF: A. 07 QUITO 953
B. 07 QUITO 906
C. QUITO 357

Classified By: DCM Jefferson Brown for Reasons 1.4 (b&d).

1. (C) Summary: In the lead-up to the May 15 release of the Interpol report on the seized FARC computers, the Correa government is trying to strengthen its position through accusations against Colombia and the United States, a European trip aimed at garnering support for Ecuador's stance, and an angry reaction to S/CT statements accompanying release of the annual terrorism report. While the MFA has engaged in a dialogue between Vice Foreign Ministers as part of the OAS mediation effort, including proposing a new bilateral mechanism to resolve disputes, progress in re-establishing diplomatic relations remains slow. Although the Carter Center ended its mediation efforts, deferring to the OAS, it continues to facilitate an Ecuadorian-Colombian dialogue. (End Summary)

Correa in Europe to Discuss Colombia and Plan Ecuador

2. (C) President Correa is on a May 11-14 visit to Spain, Belgium (for EU meetings) and France as part of a public affairs campaign to garner support for the GOE's claims that Ecuador is the "victim" of Colombia's internal conflict and not guilty of inappropriate ties with the FARC. While MFA Director General of Europe Maria del Carmen Gonzalez told PolOff that the main purpose for the President's trip to Europe is to raise support for Plan Ecuador development goals and for the Yasuni-ITT project (Refs A & B), Correa's attention seems most focused on the ongoing tensions with Colombia and the situation of FARC held hostages, including Ingrid Betancourt.

3. (C) In Spain, Correa reportedly said that he was there to discuss initiatives such as Plan Ecuador, "a response of peace, development and justice, in contrast to Plan Colombia which is combative and military." Spanish President Rodriguez Zapatero is quoted as saying that "at no time have I had any information that would make me think that Ecuador has participated in supporting movements such as the FARC." In France, Correa offered Ecuadorian territory for any humanitarian action helpful for the release of Betancourt, and made another call for the "immediate and unconditional release of all hostages." President Sarkozy departed after 20 minutes of a joint press event, while Correa stayed on, which Ecuadorian commentators interpreted as a lack of support for Correa.

GOE Declares Victims of March 1 Attack Were Executed

4. (C) In a preemptive strike aimed at swaying public opinion before release of the Interpol report and further computer documents, President Correa announced on May 10 that Ecuador will initiate legal action against Colombia at the OAS for the "executions" of three people during the March 1 attack. Minister of Government and Police Fernando Bustamante said that autopsies performed on three bodies recovered from the attack show evidence that the victims were executed while they were still alive, and did not perish in the bombing. He added that the Ecuadorian victim Franklin Aisalla died of head wounds, and not in the bombing.

GOE Suggests U.S. Involvement in Colombian Attack

5. (C) In another element of the public opinion campaign, Minister of Defense Javier Ponce reiterated on May 8 previous GOE suggestions that the March 1 attack must have been carried out with the assistance of some other power, insinuating U.S. involvement. He claimed that the Super Tucanos, the aircraft used by Colombia in the March 1 bombing, are technically capable of being modified to launch GPS guided bombs, but that sources within the Ecuadorian Air Force and Embraer, the manufacturer of the Super Tucano, have revealed that the likelihood that the Colombian planes had received this type of modification was zero. Therefore, he asserted, Colombia did not execute the attack alone. Defense

Minister Ponce demanded the next day that the Colombian
government provide the GOE the videos that were taken by the
planes used in the attack and full reports/flight logs tied
to the bombing.

6. (C) Correa similarly claimed during his May 10 radio address that an Ecuadorian technician who traveled to Brazil to speak with Embraer was told that the planes used in the attack were incapable of launching the American missiles recovered from the bomb site, asking "who then launched the missiles?" He again sought to dismiss the upcoming Interpol report due to be released on May 15, saying that he is "not in the least interested in what Interpol, the Colombian government or the famous laptops have to say," and has repeated this several times since. Also in his radio address, Correa said Chavez told him that he had no links to the FARC and that he believed him. In contrast, he continued, people have refrained from discussing Ecuador because "they know that the proof against us is very weak and that our position is strong in that we can show that we had no links with the FARC."

GOE Responds to Country Report on Terrorism

7. (C) The GOE publicly refuted statements by State Department Counterterrorism Coordinator Dell Dailey following the release of the Country Report on Terrorism release on April 30 that "Ecuador is not securing its territory as well as we would like." The MFA issued a statement on May 3 rejecting any conclusion that the FARC's entry into Ecuador could serve as proof that the GOE has ties to the FARC, adding that this only shows that Colombia is unable to maintain the conflict within its own borders. The MFA noted that the report itself had been fair and balanced, acknowledging positive GOE efforts on the Northern Border, but called Dell's remarks "interference" in Ecuadorian internal matters and termed it presumptuous to assume that Ecuador's security policies should be crafted for the purpose of pleasing foreign preferences.

GOE Proposes New Mechanisms to Resolve Disputes and Monitor

8. (C) Ecuadorian and Colombian Vice Foreign Ministers, who met previously in Panama on April 29 as part of OAS efforts to reconcile the two countries, met again on May 13 in Lima, Peru. Ecuador MFA Sovereignty Affairs Under Secretary Jaime Barberis told PolCouns that the GOE sought during the Panama meeting to establish a new mechanism capable of dealing with the many requests by the GOE for compensation from the GOC following killings of Ecuadorians or damage to Ecuadorian property as a result of Plan Colombia. He said that the GOE is not satisfied with previous bilateral mechanisms, such as the Bilateral Border Commission, as it "was too limited in scope, focused on just security issues, and that it had failed." Under Secretary Barberis stressed to PolCouns that the re-establishment of "diplomatic relations would require the re-establishment of trust, not just another mechanism." Barberis did recognize that President Correa, like President Uribe, needs to stop making statements that inflame the situation, describing both as "Latin and passionate."

9. (C) Minister Bustamante said in a May 11 interview that the new bilateral mechanism the GOE sought should "be more agile and define responsibilities, such as the offended party, damages incurred, and the reparations," and should suggest ways to avoid repeating such problems in the future. He also discussed a proposal he said is being analyzed by Colombia and the OAS, to establish an entity of Permanent Military Observers along the border, similar to what Ecuador had with Peru. Bustamante added that the difference this time will be that this entity would not include a U.S. presence, as "U.S. interests are too close." He doubted that Colombia would accept the participation of Venezuela for the same reason.

Carter Center Dialogue Goes On, Mediation Over

10. (C) Carter Center representative Kelly McBride told PolCouns on May 13 that the Center remains engaged in facilitating a Colombia-Ecuador dialogue involving select participants, both in and out of government, from the two countries. The final round of the dialogue is planned for Atlanta the week of May 19, with participation by both President Carter (who was at the late 2007 kickoff meeting, also in Atlanta) and OAS Secretary General Insulza. McBride said the agenda for this meeting has not yet been agreed. The dialogue's third round, held the week of April 21 in Bogota, was delayed several times because the Ecuadorians were reluctant to travel there. During a February meeting in Quito, the dialogue participants had began to develop recommendations on concrete steps toward improved relations, such as a border documentary jointly filmed by Ecuadorians and Colombians and a joint Cabinet meeting on their shared border. The Bogota meeting, however, focused not on the recommendations but on achieving a basic understanding between the two sides. McBride said she thought the Ecuadorians left with a better appreciation of the degree to which the Colombian conflict affected all Colombians' lives, while the Colombians for the first time saw some value in the Ecuadorian commitment to be a country of peace. Colombian FM Araujo spoke to the group in Bogota, as Minister Larrea had in Quito. McBride considered Araujo's remarks, which emphasized the Democratic Security policy, unhelpful to the group's dynamic.

11. (C) McBride confirmed that the Carter Center had ended its mediation effort and defers to the OAS to play this role. She described how President Carter's calls to Correa and Uribe in late March and follow-up by Carter Center Latin America representative Francisco Diez in early April resulted in agreement on a series of small steps, alternating between the GOC and GOE, to help build confidence. The process derailed when statements by the Colombian Ambassador to Mexico provoked Correa's comments in his Mexico CNN interview, and then President Uribe's April 14 communique in response (which made public President Carter's mediation role) (Ref C).

FARC Survivors Allowed to Depart

12. (C) Minister of Government and Police Fernando
Bustamante declared on May 9 that the two Colombian survivors
of the March 1 attack, Martha Perez and Doris Bohorquez,
would not be allowed to leave Ecuador, but that they would be
released from the hospital and could move about freely in
Ecuador. However, the GOE made an about face on May 11, when
the MFA issued a statement saying only that the Ecuadorian
authorities had issued "safe-conduct" for the two to travel,
and allowed the hostages to depart the country for asylum in
Nicaragua the same day they were released from the hospital.
Latin American Association of Human Rights president Juan de
Dios Parra claimed that international human rights accords
prevent a government from opening judicial cases when a third
country offers asylum. Nevertheless, the Prosecutor
General's office has pursued an investigation since March 2,
and Sucumbios province public prosecutor Wirmar Gonzabay
filed charges on May 13 against the two Colombians, as well
as against Mexican Lucia Morett, saying that if necessary the
prosecutor's office will request extradition.

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