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Cablegate: Un Envoy's Visit: All Potatoes, No Meat

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.



E.O. 12958: N/A


1. SUMMARY: Attempting to spur dialog toward an eventual
solution to Ecuador's ongoing court crisis, UN Rapporteur
Leandro Despouy visited Quito March 13-18 for a series of
meetings with pro-government forces, political opposition,
and third-party actors. Great expectations surrounded
Despouy's visit, and political bickering between President
Lucio Gutierrez and his enemies dropped precipitously during
the envoy's stay. Initial readouts showed Despouy
identifying problems, but offering few fixes. END SUMMARY.

2. Despouy, the UN's Geneva-based rapporteur for judicial
independence, arrived in Quito March 13 with the conflict
over Ecuador's Supreme Court in full-swing (Reftel).
Opposition forces were clamoring for the immediate dismissal
of the current tribunal and its replacement with a less
"politicized" body, although they differed on specifics.
President Gutierrez continued to push his referendum
solution, although he introduced an altered text in response
to criticism over the original's complexity. Government
allies PRIAN and PRE, both benefiting from the current
judicial lineup, favored the status quo. Even Ecuadorian
civil society and NGOs lay divided; although most called the
current Court illegitimate, others, like Zero Corruption,
defended it to the hilt.

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3. All welcomed Despouy's visit, at least publicly (the GoE
had tried to delay it until April or May, but eventually
accepted the March date). The opposition and most media
outlets claimed the former Argentinean diplomat would, after
analyzing events of the last four months, declare
unconstitutional and illegal Congress's actions in revamping
Ecuador's Supreme, Constitutional, and Electoral Courts. GoE
and pro-government forces sought the opposite, of course;
that Despouy would agree that Ecuador's judiciary had been
hopelessly politicized, corrupt, and in need of overhaul.

4. On behalf of the Ambassador, Poloff attended a UN Mission
Ecuador-hosted March 16 dinner honoring the visiting
rapporteur. Despouy was pleased with the welcome he had
received from opposition and government alike. He offered
that, while Gutierrez initially had fought the visit, he had
"seen the light" as opposition to the Court mounted -- the UN
rep might be an ally in the president's bid to remain in
office, the theory went, not an enemy.

5. Complicating his work immensely, Despouy noted there were
no real "victims" from the recent judicial shenanigans in
Ecuador, no clearly wronged group. None of his interlocutors
(save the ex-jurists themselves) had demanded the old Court's
return, for example. Yet new members could only offer
political justifications, not persuasive legal arguments, for
the judicial putsch. Gutierrez and allies deserved blame for
their quasi-constitutional sackings of Ecuador's highest
tribunals, Despouy reasoned. But so did the opposition; the
envoy believed the court crisis's roots lay in the November
attempt in Congress, led by former President Leon
Febres-Cordero, to impeach the president.

6. A similar conflict occurring in neighboring nations might
have spawned violence, Despouy ventured, a compliment to
Ecuadorians' peaceful natures. But even Ecuadorians had
their limits. Sooner, not later, the nation needed an
independent, respected judiciary. Although he favored a
limited Congressional role and "cooptacion" -- in which the
Court itself fills any vacancies -- Despouy tabled no
specific proposals for overcoming the current crisis.

7. The rapporteur was similarly vague the following evening.
Via UN Mission Director Mauricio Valdes, he had sought an
urgent private meeting with the Ambassador to discuss his
visit and observation. Appearing drained, perhaps the
product of four hours with Gutierrez that morning, Despouy
downed two scotches in succession and lamented the
president's weaknesses. Poor advisors topped the list;
Gutierrez, himself desiring an amicable compromise, was
surrounded (and influenced) by cronies who sought
unconditional surrender. Congress too was a problem, Despouy
believed, and the president was correct in fearing
additional, politically motivated impeachment attempts.

8. Despite continuing conflict, the UN envoy believed a
solution to the court crisis lay ahead, although how far he
did not mention. Nor did he reveal details of his action
plan to the Ambassador. What would he tell the press upon
departure, she questioned. Despouy looked perplexed, as if
he had not thought so far (12 hours) in advance.

9. Speaking before media March 18, the judicial rapporteur
raised problems, not roadmaps. He had identified "various
irregularities, both in dismissing the old Court and naming
the new." The Court's most recent, controversial maneuver,
wresting administrative and disciplinary authorities from the
National Judiciary Council, also seemed a troubling power
grab. And Ecuador's Electoral Tribunal, composed of
representatives of the nation's largest parties, appeared
less the electoral watchdog, and more a political pork

10. It was imperative that Ecuador establish rule of law,
Despouy urged; a critical prerequisite was an independent
judiciary. The current Court enjoyed no respect, with even
Gutierrez calling it temporary. Any process to replace it
must be constitutional and transparent, however. He would
present his findings to the UN Human Rights Commission upon
return to Geneva, and would follow up on its findings. UN
Mission Quito sources subsequently told the media that
Despouy soon would present his preliminary report. It
represented a "warning shot" to the GoE to resolve the
impasse, fast.

11. COMMENT: We are left believing that Despouy's visit
mattered not for its concrete advances -- which seem
nonexistent -- but for its mere occurrence and catalytic
effects. Summing our views perfectly was administration
critic (and regular US-basher) Carlos Vera, who titled his
March 16 editorial "Stay, Mr. Despouy." Vera attributed the
drop in bickering and Gutierrez's call for dialog to the
rapporteur's attention. Third-country diplomats attending
the Despouy dinner March 16 shared Vera's views. Only the
United Nations, they believed, could save Ecuador from its
current mess, like some deus ex machina from an ancient Greek
drama. In other words, that the "Emperor wore no clothes"
mattered nil to a blind (but wishing to see) public. END

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