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Cablegate: Congressman Mcgovern Visits Ecuador

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UNCLAS QUITO 001091

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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL OVIP PHUM SNAR PTER MOPS MCAP ENRG EPET EC CO
SUBJECT: CONGRESSMAN MCGOVERN VISITS ECUADOR

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Congressman James McGovern traveled in Ecuador
from November 13 to 18, to visit sites at issue in the
Chevron-Texaco oil pollution case, and Ecuadorian border communities
affected by refugees and other aspects of the violence in Colombia.
Congressman McGovern met with Government of Ecuador (GOE) Ministers
and President Correa, and while taking no position on the unresolved
Chevron-Texaco suit, expressed concern about the humanitarian,
health and environmental impacts of oil contamination on local
affected communities and the humanitarian situation on the border,
and pledged to draw greater attention to the plight of refugees.
Foreign Minister Salvador and Vice Defense Minister Miguel Carvajal
asked McGovern for the U.S. Congress to investigate the March 1
Colombian attack against a FARC camp in Angostura, along the
northern border of Ecuador, which McGovern did not agree to. (END
SUMMARY)


COLOMBIAN REFUGEE ISSUES

2. (SBU) Congressman McGovern met with Ecuadorian and Colombian
residents of the border communities of Baranca Bermeja and Puerto
Mestanza, and with Colombian refugees in Lago Agrio, in Sucumbios
province. The delegation heard repeated tales of displacement and
abuse in Colombia and discrimination in Ecuador. Border residents
criticized Plan Colombia, particularly U.S. military support to
Colombia and aerial spraying. These same border residents also
frequently condemned the U.S. military presence in the Forward
Operating Location (FOL) in Manta, Ecuador. NGO briefings mixed
comments on the humanitarian situation with issues such as aerial
spraying with glyphosate, alleged participation of aircraft from the
FOL in military actions on the Colombian border (especially the
March 1 attack), and alleged infiltration of the Ecuadorian security
services by the USG.

3. (SBU) The leader of a Jesuit refugee association condemned USG
infrastructure assistance as "part of the problem," because
assistance is channeled through local governments that the refugees
say actively discriminate against them. Representatives from the UN
High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), International Organization for
Migration (IOM), and the World Food Program (WFP) briefed the
delegation on their analysis of the refugee situation, their efforts
to register and provide protections for refugees, and work to
construct municipal infrastructure. (Embassy Note: UNHCR estimates
that of 250,000 Colombians in Ecuador, 130,000 are in need of
international protection, but only 20,000 are registered. The USG
provides significant funding for refugee programs and assistance in
border towns. USAID committed to convene a meeting of local and
national aid agencies in Lago Agrio in December to better understand
refugees' needs and to discuss what assistance is available in the
area. End Note)

4. (SBU) Representative McGovern responded by stating his respect
and sympathy for the speakers, his long-standing opposition to Plan
Colombia, and his intention to expand understanding of the refugee
issue in the USG and international NGO community through U.S.
Congressional hearings and other measures.


CHEVRON-TEXACO SITE VISITS

5. (SBU) Sites visited in relation to the Chevron case included six
oil well sites, the re-located Cofan indigenous community of Dureno,
Sucumbios province, and a number of communities in the Sucumbios and
Orellana provinces claiming to have suffered from contamination.
Congressman McGovern expressed concern for the cancer, skin disease,
crop failures, and animal deaths attributed to oil pollution. While
not commenting on the merits of the court case, he later stated in
several ministerial meetings in Quito and to the press that there
was a moral issue as well as a legal issue at stake, and that
because Chevron was a U.S. company, its behavior reflected badly on
the U.S. He expressed his view that any court resolution was many
years away, and said he hoped to facilitate a settlement, possibly
based on a clean-up model agreed to by the USG and GOE, or other
third parties.

6. Solicitor General Diego Garcia Carrion initially rejected
entering into negotiations that could lead to the state oil company,
PetroEcuador, being held "responsible" for damages or clean-up
costs. Toward the end of a half-hour meeting, Garcia allowed that
the GOE could enter negotiations with no preconditions. Likewise,
the Chevron-Texaco representative in Ecuador, Jaime Varela-Walker,
did not acknowledge that the company had any motive to settle, but
agreed to share the idea with his superiors.


GOE MEETINGS

7. (SBU) Representative McGovern held meetings with President Correa
and the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Defense, Justice, and Internal
and External Security on November 12. In his private meetings and
during a working lunch, GOE officials expressed appreciation for
McGovern's praise for Ecuador's "incredible job responding to the
largest human crisis in the Western Hemisphere," his commitment to
bring more resources to the refugee problem, and his condemnation of
Plan Colombia. Both McGovern and GOE officials expressed hope for
new policies from President-elect Obama. McGovern repeatedly
praised the Ecuadorian military (who had briefed him in Coca,
Orellana province), and lamented that the Colombian military was not
containing the conflict on its side of the border.

8. (SBU) McGovern's official calls began with a meeting with Foreign
Minister Maria Isabel Salvador. FM Salvador expressed her hope that
the election of Barack Obama would mean better relations between the
U.S. and Latin America, which was living through a "new era," and
had "important ideas." McGovern said he looked forward to good
relations between Ecuador and the U.S., and that he wanted to be a
friend of Ecuador's in Congress.

9. (SBU) McGovern recounted his trip to the Colombian border, where
he saw the refugee crisis first hand. He said that few in the
Congress were aware of the problem. Salvador noted that the
refugees were one of the GOE's most important issues. She said that
although their efforts were recently recognized by the UN High
Commissioner in Geneva, more help was needed.

10. (SBU) McGovern then turned to the subject of contaminated oil
sites linked to Chevron-Texaco. Noting the terrible situation of
the people in affected communities, he said he hoped to work with
the GOE on the problem. He said that safe potable water had been
provided for humans, but that animals were still drinking
contaminated water. He said that in town hall meetings he had asked
how many people had cancer, or had cancer in their families, and
that everyone raised their hands. Children had terrible rashes. He
commented that PetroEcuador was attempting remediation, but was
using inappropriate techniques. He suggested that EPA or USAID
could play a role in the remediation, perhaps designing a model
clean-up. He explained that he feared that even with a decision in
the lawsuit, the loser would appeal and nothing would be done to
correct the situation for many years. He added that perhaps the GOE
could have a role if the parties were willing to come together.

11. (SBU) FM Salvador noted that the Correa government was the first
to have a ministry devoted to human rights (the "Ministry of Justice
and Human Rights"), and that the new constitution was based strongly
on people's rights, including the rights of people on the Colombian
border. McGovern said that everyone he had talked to said that Plan
Colombia had messed things up. He said that he was a long-time
opponent of Plan Colombia, and that what was needed was
community-based development. He said that he opposed fumigation,
because drugs would always be provided if there was a lucrative
market. He stressed that more development assistance and less
military assistance was needed in Colombia, and said that Congress
had begun to recognize this priority in last year's budget.
Salvador noted that the border was long and porous, and acknowledged
that Colombian forces sometimes entered Ecuador, but that before
March 1, a security agreement allowed Ecuador and Colombia to
discuss and respond to incidents. Now there was virtually no
communication after border incidents.

12. (SBU) Congressman McGovern asked how the two countries could
reopen communications, especially on the border. Salvador replied
that the OAS was attempting to mediate, but that progress is slow.
She said that statements by the two Presidents were not helping, and
that Colombia was not providing requested information, including
videos from the March 1 incursion. She said that Colombia needed to
recognize the GOE's efforts against terrorism, narcotics, and
transnational crime. McGovern responded that he was struck by the
complexity of the situation and impressed by GOE efforts to register
refugees and integrate them into the local population. The meeting
concluded with both Congressman McGovern and FM Salvador reiterating
their hope that change brought on by the U.S. elections would
contribute to improving many of the issues they had discussed.
After the meeting, in a pull-aside, FM Salvador asked Congressman
McGovern to consider holding a hearing on the U.S. role in the March
1 incursion. Congressman McGovern told her it was a bad idea.

13. (SBU) In his meeting with President Correa, Congressman McGovern
praised Ecuador's military and humanitarian actions on the border,
condemned Plan Colombia and fumigation, and vowed to try to move to
"a negotiated solution, not a military solution." McGovern committed
to holding Congressional hearings on the border issues in February
2009. He expressed sympathy for people living with oil pollution
and doubt that the lawsuit would solve the problem. He expressed an
interest in mediating a settlement. He warmly praised Ecuadorian
Ambassador Gallegos in Washington.

14. (SBU) President Correa's remarks focused on political and
security issues with Colombia, the "total failure" of Plan Colombia,
and contrasted it to Plan Ecuador, "a plan of peace." The President
stressed the importance of roads, schools, and government services
in the border region, such as providing identification cards and
land tenure registration. He complained that Colombia has only
three military detachments along the border, compared to Ecuador's
thirty. He asked his staff to look into McGovern's report that
PetroEcuador's current clean-up efforts were inadequate or actually
harmful. He spoke proudly of raising the environmental budget, and
complained that it was poorly utilized. Correa concluded by
congratulating Congressman McGovern on "overcoming racism" by
electing Obama, and saying that he hoped President Obama would
"reverse the contradictions" in U.S. policies.

15. (SBU) In his meeting with Congressman McGovern, Minister of
Defense Javier Ponce noted that the conflict up north was not
Ecuador's making, and asserted that Ecaudor would defend its
sovereignty but did not want a confrontation. He said the GOE did
not have links to the FARC. Asked what he would want in terms of
assistance from the U.S., Ponce said he appreciated the
installations the U.S. had provided. Regarding intelligence, he
said it was not an area of interest for cooperation. On training,
he said he was concerned the MOD did not know who the U.S. was
training and in what. He noted that they had already asked the U.S.
for assistance with monitoring chips for boats (to prevent piracy).
Finally, he thought assistance programs, to include the Pacific
coast, were important.

16. (SBU) McGovern asked what could be done to get Colombia and
Ecuador to re-establish relations. Ponce answered that if the U.S.
only supported one side, there would be distrust, and that there
should be a balanced relationship. He added that the CIA has to
change "its old ways." And last, that the U.S. should deal with
Ecuador without conditions on things like the ATPA.

17. (SBU) Following the meeting, Principal Under Secretary of
Defense Miguel Carvajal also pulled aside Congressman McGovern and
asked for assistance from the U.S. Congress in investigating the
March 1 killing of FARC leader Raul Reyes by Colombia. McGovern
replied that it was important to reestablish trust between our
governments, but did not respond to the request.

HODGES

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