WASHINGTON – The State Department expressed deep regret Tuesday over Ecuador’s “unjustified” decision to expel U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges in a reaction to the contents of a leaked diplomatic cable about police corruption in Ecuador.
“The Department will examine its options to respond to this Ecuadorian action,” spokesman Charles Luoma-Overstreet said in comments to Efe.
The cable that spurred the diplomatic flap was disseminated by WikiLeaks and published Monday by Spanish daily El Pais.
“We have asked (Hodges) to leave the country in the shortest possible time,” Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño told a press conference earlier Tuesday in Quito.
He said the decision “is in no way intended to affect relations with the United States.”
Hodges is “one of one of our most experienced and talented diplomats,” State Department acting chief spokesman Mark Toner said after learning of Ecuador’s decision.
The spokesman said that the U.S. Embassy in Quito received Tuesday through diplomatic channels the official communication of the government of President Rafael Correa that the ambassador has been declared persona non grata.
Toner said the State Department has several different options for responding to the expulsion and that it would be “premature” to speculate about which one officials will choose.
In 2008 Bolivia expelled the U.S. ambassador to La Paz, Philip Goldberg, and Venezuela did the same a day later to the head of the U.S. legation in Caracas, Patrick Duddy.
At that time, Washington reacted to these measures with the reciprocal expulsion of the Bolivian and Venezuelan ambassadors.
Patiño said he summoned Hodges to his office on Monday to ask for an explanation regarding the cable, but the diplomat responded that the documents had been stolen and that neither she nor her government would make any comment on the matter.
The expulsion “is directed at an official who (sent) a cable of that nature and who afterwards gave no clarification,” the Ecuadorian minister said.
“Corruption among Ecuadorian National Police officers is widespread and well-known,” according to the July 2009 report to the State Department from the U.S. Embassy in Quito.
The document says that Jaime Hurtado, who commanded the ENP from April 2008 to June 2009, “used his positions to extort bribes, facilitate human trafficking, misappropriate public funds, obstruct investigations and prosecutions of corrupt colleagues, and engage in other corrupt acts for personal enrichment.”
The cable also takes a swipe at Correa for deciding to promote Hurtado to ENP chief.
“Hurtado’s corrupt activities were so widely known within the upper ranks of the ENP that some Embassy officials believe that President Correa must have been aware of them when he made the appointment. These observers believe that Correa may have wanted to have an ENP Chief whom he could easily manipulate,” the message says.
In an interview with Efe, Patiño called that statement “absolutely irresponsible” and “incorrect.”
“It’s absolutely unacceptable. Our government cannot accept this type of information, which was given by the ambassador in our country,” Patiño said. EFE