The International Criminal Court (ICC) was established at The Hague in 2002 to investigate and prosecute individuals alleged to have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide.
Between 2002 and 2009, the Bush administration implemented sanctions on military aid and Economic Support Funds (ESF) assistance against states which refused to sign “Article 98” agreements with the US. Under such agreements, states agreed not to transfer US nationals to the ICC without the consent of the US government.
As a 2007 US Congressional Research Service Report (CRS Report) made public by WikiLeaks, shows support for these measures waned during Bush’s second term.
US policy-makers became concerned that the sanctions were leading to a loss of US influence in Latin American countries, and were reducing those countries’ capacity to support the US in its “war on terror” and “war on drugs”.
Ecuador was one of 12 Latin American countries that refused to sign an Article 98 agreement and was consequently subject to sanctions.
Diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks detail the variety of underhanded tactics employed by the US Embassy in Quito to persuade Ecuador to sign. It also shows the embassy’s concerns about the “unintended consequences” of ICC-related sanctions for other US policy objectives.
The US’s global push for Article 98 agreements was born out of the Bush administration’s fear that US leaders and military personnel could face trial at The Hague for war crimes and human rights abuses carried out during the “global war on terror”.
A cable sent on November 17, 2004, from the US Embassy in Quito complained that Article 98 negotiations with Ecuador had “stagnated” and said: “Cognizant that increasing deployments of U.S. forces worldwide makes inking an Article 98 with Ecuador imperative, we are conducting another offensive.”
This “offensive” included urging the Ecuadorian military to lobby the Ecuadorian government for an Article 98 agreement, so that it could regain access US military assistance. The cable said: “we are not missing any opportunities to flog the military over the need for Article 98”.
“Big-ticket items”, the cable reported, “such as A-37 upgrades for [air base defence] and additional helicopters … are non-starters until we get an agreement”.
According to the cable, the embassy hoped a “joint special forces counter-terrorism operation featuring Blackhawk helos”, which was taking place near Quito, would lead “battalion- and brigade-level officers to push their HQ superiors for similar goodies”.
The cable said: “The [foreign affairs ministry] continues to believe it can wait us out. It cannot. We are helped by Washington re-opening the second front, calling in Ecuadorian Ambassador Raul Gangotena for meetings with Assistant Secretaries Roger Noriega and Steven Rademaker”.
Another cable sent on November 26, 2004, detailed the embassy’s “game plan” for persuading Ecuador to sign an Article 98 agreement.
This plan was described as “heavy on personal diplomacy and media education” and included hosting “a series of roundtables with interested journalists, hoping to correct Article misperceptions”. It also featured “a possible International Visitor (IV) program for Ecuadorian think-tankers and talking heads, whose support will be vital come ratification time (and who are bashing us now).”
The cable said then-Ecuadorian president Lucio Gutierrez had told then-US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld that he agreed in principle to signing Article 98 agreement, but “it was a hard sell, especially with the left-leaning legislature” and “[h]e would need serious quid pro quo to go forward”.
The embassy therefore considered implementing “Plan Ecuador”, described in the cable as a “mostly PR effort to recast existing USG [US government] assistance efforts as political ‘payback’ for Article 98”.
The cable said: “Believing our aid package already robust but seeing utility in providing deliverables, we deliberated in-house how best to recast and repackage existing programs for maximum political benefit”.
By March 2005, the cables reported, Ecuador was no closer to signing an Article 98 agreement. The US ambassador to Ecuador Kristie Kenney wrote that she was hopeful that imminent ESF cutbacks “might spur the [government of Ecuador] to reconsider their ‘ignore them, they'll go away’ strategies”.
The ambassador saw the appointment of a new Ecuadorian ambassador to Washington, Mauricio Pozo, as another opportunity to leverage the Ecuadorian military’s interest in US aid in favour of an Article 98 agreement.
She wrote: “I have suggested to Ecuador's military leaders that they concurrently lobby their newest envoy for movement on Article 98.”
Further, Kenney wrote, “a ‘deliverable’ or two might help also in the fight for 98”. She suggested the US government consider the extradition from the US of one of a number of corrupt bankers suspected of embezzling millions from Ecuadorian banks, as quid pro quo for signing an Article 98 agreement.
However, the cable also reported the embassy’s concerns about the unintended consequences of the Bush administration’s policy on Article 98 agreements.
ICC-related sanctions had mandated a suspension of International Military Education Training (IMET) assistance to Ecuador which, the cable said, “represents perhaps the most cost-effective manner to influence Ecuador's armed forces”.
Moreover, the embassy was concerned that “other nations, especially China, have rushed to fill the gap”.
A subsequent cable reiterated this concern, saying: “ASPA sanctions, especially those restricting U.S. training opportunities (IMET), are costing us influence with the Ecuadorian military.”
After Alfredo Palacio replaced Guiterrez as President in April 2005, Kenney wrote: “Article 98’s chances in Ecuador sunk from bad to worse.”
Ecuadorian Minister of Government Mauricio Gandara, describe by the ambassador as “the quintessential gringo-basher”, announced publicly that Ecuador would not sign an Article 98 agreement with the US.
However, the ambassador saw some hope in new Ecuadorian foreign minister Antonio Parra, who, she said, “appeared less ideological and more approachable than Gandara and company” and therefore “merited cultivation”.
The ambassador wrote: “Rather than hit Parra with Article 98, perhaps the hottest bilateral potato he'll encounter, we favor an early campaign to educate him on ‘softer’ U.S. assistance and shared interests ... As Parra grows to realize that close U.S. relations benefit Ecuador, he should become less apt to dismiss Article 98 out-of-hand.”
In September 2005, the new US ambassador to Ecuador, Linda Jewell, reiterated the Embassy’s concerns about an unintended loss of US influence in Ecuador in a cable entitled “Democracy Promotion Strategies for Ecuador”.
As this cable illustrates, “democracy promotion” is a strategy by which Western powers seek to influence and contain political and economic change in countries of strategic interest. As such, the term is a euphemism for neo-colonialist practices.
With the third largest oil-reserves in South America, and increasing public opposition to the Western-supported neoliberal economic policies of successive governments, Ecuador was a prime target for “democracy promotion”.
The ambassadorJewell hinder USG ability to effect change”, and were “putting at risk our influence over an entire generation of [military] officers”.
ESF restrictions would also “undermine USG democracy building efforts with local governments and hamper policy reform efforts with a wide array of Central Government institutions, including the Electoral Tribunal, other courts, and the Trade and Environment Ministries”.
Moreover, the cable reported that Palacio had proposed a constitutional referendum, the contents of which would be determined through negotiation with Ecuador’s Congress. This process, Jewell wrote, “presents some risk to [US government] interests”.
The cable said it would be one of the tasks of a “democracy promotion” working group from the US embassy to “[e]ncourage informed debate on electoral and political reforms being considered for inclusion in the referendum, while shielding [US government] security and trade interests from inclusion”.
Specifically, the US wanted its “interests in an [Free Trade Agreement], the Forward Operating Location at Manta, and security cooperation protected from inclusion in any popular referendum”.
In late 2006, Bush waived the military and economic sanctions against Ecuador on the grounds that it was “important to the national interest of the United States” to do so.
The election of Palacio’s left-wing successor, President Rafael Correa, the same year showed that the US was right to be concerned that Ecuadorian democracy, if not sufficiently controlled, could adversely affect its strategic interests.
The new president announced that Ecuador would not sign a Free Trade Agreement with the US. Bush had halted the free trade talks a few months earlier when Ecuador annulled an operating contract with US oil company, Occidental Petroleum Corp., a move the US regarded as a “seizure of assets of a US company”.
In 2007, Correa fulfilled an election promise and told the US that its lease of Ecuador's Manta airbase, which the US military used as a surveillance base, would not be renewed.
In 2008, Ecuador adopted a new constitution that bans the “establishment of foreign military bases or foreign facilities for military purposes” on Ecuadorian territory.
Last year, Correa blocked another enduring source of US influence in Ecuador when he announced that his government would stop sending soldiers to the US School of the Americas.
Graduates of this US army training school have been responsible for carrying out US-sponsored military coups, massacres and torture in Latin America since the 1950s.