Expel U.S. ambassadors from your country, accuse the U.S. of plotting coups and trying to destabilize your country, and cozy up to Iran, and what do you receive from the Obama Administration? An “Oops, we’re sorry! We’ll try to do better next time.”
Ecuador’s temperamental President Rafael Correa has often accused the U.S. of plotting against him, especially after he mishandled a domestic police strike in September 2010. In April 2011, he expelled U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges following the release of a WikiLeaks cable he considered offensive. The cable pointed to corruption within the ranks of the Ecuadorian police. At the time, the State Department called the expulsion unjustified.
Correa also shut down the U.S.-operated forward-operating location for anti-drug surveillance at Manta, Ecuador, and may well have provided sanctuary and financial support to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
As former senior U.S. government officials Roger Noriega and Jose Cardenas point out: “Mr. Correa also has rolled out the welcome mat for Iran, giving it access to Ecuador’s banking system, landing Ecuador on the multilateral Financial Action Task Force’s money-laundering watch list, and concluding mining agreements setting the stage for uranium-extraction deals.
The Obama Administration’s response has been to name a new ambassador whose confirmation hearing took place before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on November 8.
Bolivia’s President Evo Morales boast of an equally aggressive anti-American track record. Campaigning for presidential office, he promised to become “America’s nightmare.” In 2008, the avowed “anti-imperialist, anti-neo-liberal, anti-colonial” Morales expelled the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and then-U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg for allegedly inciting pro-autonomy opposition leaders in Bolivia’s eastern lowlands. (The expulsion came in a public announcement, not through diplomatic channels.)
Morales is a staunch ally of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and the Castro brothers in Cuba and also likes to boast of intimate ties with Iran. He hosted Iranian defense minister Ahmad Vahidi in June 2011.
As recently as August 21, Morales accused the U.S. of “inciting a march by indigenous protesters against a Brazilian-financed highway.” He said his “government isn’t ruling out expelling the U.S. Agency for International Development.”
Such serial acts of hostility did not, however, deter the State Department in its efforts to court Morales. On November 7, Bolivian-born Under Secretary of State Maria Otero signed the jaw-breaking Framework Agreement for Mutually Respectful and Collaborative Bilateral Relations between the Government of the Plurinational State of Bolivia and the Government of the United States of America. Reading the fine print means the Obama Administration will plow ahead to select another expel-able ambassador. But, letting everyone know who drives the relationship, Morales declared quickly he would not allow the Drug Enforcement Agency to return.
The State Department argues that having ambassadors in Quito and La Paz would facilitate contacts and allows us to work—despite our chasm of differences—on themes of common interest. But its limp-wristed, turn-the-other cheek diplomacy hardly serves to defend U.S. interests and prestige.