WASHINGTON – The U.S. government decided to declare the Ecuadorian ambassador in Washington “persona non grata” in retaliation for Quito’s “unjustified” expulsion of U.S. envoy Heather Hodges, officials at the State Department told Efe on Thursday.
The assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Arturo Valenzuela, communicated the decision by telephone to Ambassador Luis Gallegos, who must leave the country immediately, the sources added.
Gallegos’ expulsion is one more step in the escalation of bilateral tension after the government of Rafael Correa decided to declare Hodges persona non grata over the contents of a leaked diplomatic cable about police corruption in Ecuador.
“The unjustified action of the Ecuadorian government in declaring Ambassador Hodges persona non grata left us no other option than this reciprocal action. Ambassador Hodges is one of our most experienced and talented diplomats,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Thursday.
“The United States is interested in a positive relationship with Ecuador,” he added, “but the regrettable and unwarranted decision to declare Ambassador Hodges persona non grata will have to be taken into account going forward.”
The conflict with Quito comes along with others that the United States has had recently with Bolivia and Venezuela. The three countries are members of the Caracas-led Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, or ALBA, and Washington does not now have an ambassador in any of them.
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.
Washington in 2009 reestablished full diplomatic relations with Venezuela, but not with Bolivia.
After Caracas refused last year to accept Larry Palmer as the new U.S. envoy, Washington has been handling its diplomatic relations in both Venezuela and Bolivia on the charge d’affaires level.
The cable that spurred the U.S.-Ecuador flap was disseminated by WikiLeaks and published Monday by Spanish daily El Pais.
“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 this week with Efe, Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño called that statement “absolutely irresponsible” and “incorrect.”
Hodges was sworn in as U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador on July 15, 2008.
Prior to that, she was Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Office of the Director General. She was U.S. Ambassador to Moldova from September 2003 to May 2006.
She joined the Foreign Service in 1980, cutting her teeth in Caracas, Venezuela.
Following Caracas, she served in Guatemala and later in Washington as Peru Desk Officer. In 1987, Hodges received a Pearson Fellowship to work in the U.S. Congress, where she was counsel to the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and Refugee Affairs. In January 1989, she became Consul General at the U.S. Consulate in Bilbao, Spain. In 1991, she returned to Washington to serve as Deputy Director of the Office of Cuban Affairs.
In 1993, Hodges became Deputy Chief of Mission in Managua, Nicaragua. She went on to serve as Deputy Chief of Mission in Lima, Peru, from July 1997 to May 2000 and the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, Spain, from June 2000 to July 2003.
Before she left Spain, the Spanish government awarded Hodges the Spanish decoration of “Isabel la Catolica – Encomienda de Numero” for her contributions to Spanish-U.S. relations. Similarly, the Government of Moldova presented her with the Award of Honor in 2006, and the same year she was awarded a Presidential Meritorious Service Award.
Hodges is a native of Cleveland, Ohio. She has a B.A. in Spanish from the College of St. Catherine, in St. Paul, Minnesota, and an M.A. from New York University and speaks fluent Spanish.
Ecuador expelled two American diplomats -- including First Secretary Mark Sullivan -- in February 2009 for "unacceptable interference in Ecuador's internal affairs."
In July 2008, Ecuador President Rafael Correa refused to renew a 10 year lease on a U.S. air base in the Ecuadorean port city of Manta, which the U.S. used to conduct anti-drug surveillance in the region. The U.S. left the Manta air base in September 2009.