Ecuador: Correa expels US official


As Ecuadorians prepare for their first general elections under the progressive new constitution adopted in a referendum last year, tensions with the United States continue to rise with the government expelling a key US diplomat.

In his February 7 weekly radio program, Ecuador's left-wing president Rafael Correa officially expelled the US official Armando Astorga, accusing him of bribery, suspending aid worth US$340,000 and meddling in police affairs.

"Mr Astorga, keep your dirty money, we don't need it. We have dignity in this country", Correa said. "We're not going to let anyone treat us as if we were a colony here."

Astorga, who has left the country, is accused of taking computers and sensitive anti-drug police information with him.

Correa also said that Astorga will be sent a final letter proposing that Ecuador donate to the US $160,000 annually towards eliminating torture in the US. Correa explained that "torture is being practiced in prisons like Guantanamo".

Correa, elected in 2006 promising to rewrite the constitution and begin a "citizen's revolution", has been especially critical of US influence in Ecuador, where poverty reached more than 50% and the economy collapsed in 2000 due to economic policies promoted by the US.

Since 1999, the US has had control of the Manta Air Force base on Ecuador's coast. In a victory for the social and indigenous movements, the new constitution bans foreign military bases on Ecuador's soil.

A new round of elections will be held under the new constitution in April, in which every elected official from the president down must stand for re-election.

While eight candidates registered to run for the presidency, most of Ecuador's right-wing opposition — led by the Social Christian Party — remains in disarray, however, and failed on a technicality to register.

Correa faces more of a challenge from the left, where CONAIE — representing Ecuador's 40% indigenous population — and a number of environmental groups remain critical of the Correa government's mining policies, claiming they breach the new constitution.

While the new constitution guarantees legal rights for nature and indigenous communities, new mining laws — and Ecuador's dependence on oil export revenue — have put Correa at loggerheads with a number of the country's social movements.

How Correa and these movements interact will be vital for the struggle to transform Ecuador as part of the Latin America-wide struggle for change continues in the coming year.