Juan Manuel Herrera/OAS

Figuring out Ecuador’s Foreign Policy: From Lukashenko to Assange

A July 31st guest post in Latin America’s Moment, a blog of the Council on Foreign Relations handled by Shannon O’Neil, discusses the differences between Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa and his eccentric Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez. To summarize, the blog post compares and differentiates the two leaders, arguing that the “left-leaning presidents share a common rhetoric (frequently labeling opponents as oligarchs or imperialists), charismatic personalities, a disdain for (and often exaggeration of) U.S. influence in the region, and a taste for forging relationships with some of the world’s most notorious pariah states (Iran and Belarus).”

Nevertheless, Stephanie Leutert, the guest blogger on Latin America’s Moment argues that Correa cannot hope to become a new Chavez (should the Venezuelan leader lose the presidency due to the upcoming election or for health reasons). “With double the population, triple the landmass, and five times more annual oil production, Venezuela has been able to back up its initiatives with significant funds. While Correa’s rhetoric is as feisty, his bank account is much less, limiting his ability to guide South America’s affairs,” Leutert writes.

Both sides of the coin are very true. However, the analysis does fall short of highlighting how, while small, Ecuador has carried out some provocative foreign policy initiatives during the Correa government and it has become fairly well noticed in the international arena. One of Correa’s most famous, anti-Washington moments came when Ecuador chose not to renew an agreement with the U.S. over the renting of the military installations in Manta.

The last American troops left that country in 2009 after a 10 year period in which the base was used for anti-drug U.S. military operations. Subsequently, Washington opened a number of bases in neighboring Colombia. More recently, Ecuador has had some other interesting foreign policy initiatives. For example, in late June/early July, Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus and known as the “last dictator of Europe,” visited Ecuador. A number of security agreements were signed during the meetings between Correa and the controversial European head of state.

In addition, in mid-July, a Chinese ship used to train young naval cadets, arrived at Guayaquil. Of course, growing relations between militaries, particularly between China and Latin American states, is nothing new, but this is always an interesting development worthy of being mentioned as it shows how Beijing is finding new potential allies on the other side of the Pacific. But even more newsworthy is the fact that the Australian Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, is currently in the Ecuadorean embassy in London despite requests for extradition by the Swedish government. According to Reuters, Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino has promised to wait until the end of the London Olympic Games on August 12 to announce a decision.

As a security researcher, I have learned a lot from the thousands of documents WikiLeaks has made public and have used them extensively for my professional work. Hence, I have mixed feelings regarding what should be Assange’s fate. I do, however, find it intriguing that it was Ecuador, out of all countries, who offered Assange asylum.

In any case, returning to CFR’s argument that Correa is no Chavez, this is most likely true. But thanks to a number of initiatives, Correa has made sure that Ecuador has become noticed in the international arena, to the point that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently commented that, regarding the relationship of economic development and culture, “and that exists also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador; Mexico and the United States,” Romney said at a fundraiser in Jerusalem’s King David Hotel. Romney added that culture “makes all the difference.” Seems even Republican politicians are talking about Ecuador these days.

For the record, between Ecuador and Chile, there is a country called Peru that has experienced major economic growth over the past few years. However, unlike Correa, Peru’s last president, Alan Garcia, or especially the incumbent, Ollanta Humala, have not tried to behave or be compared to Chavez. If anything, Humala has distanced himself from the Venezuelan leader as much as possible.