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U.S. expels Ecuadorean ambassador in tit-for-tat move
April 7, 2011 / 3:12 PM / 7 years ago

U.S. expels Ecuadorean ambassador in tit-for-tat move

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States moved to expel Ecuador’s ambassador on Thursday and scrapped a round of talks in retaliation for the expulsion of its ambassador in Quito over U.S. diplomatic cables alleging police corruption.

While saying the United States wanted a positive relationship with Ecuador, an OPEC member, the official said Quito’s “unjustified” expulsion of U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges would have to factor into future relations.

Ecuador demanded on Tuesday that Hodges leave, declaring her persona non grata because of U.S. diplomatic cables reporting alleged police corruption that were released by WikiLeaks.

The Ecuadorean government said the cables signed by Hodges’ office suggested senior Ecuadorean police commanders were aware of corrupt practices in the force and that one U.S. Embassy official believed Correa’s office also knew.

“The unjustified action of the Ecuadorean government to declare Ambassador Hodges persona non grata left us no other option than this reciprocal action,” said the U.S. official, who spoke on condition that he not be named.

Ecuadorean Ambassador Luis Gallegos was summoned to the State Department on Thursday morning and informed of the U.S. decision to declare him persona non grata, requiring him to leave as soon as possible, the official said.

‘REGRETTABLE AND UNWARRANTED’

“The United States is interested in a positive relationship with Ecuador but the regrettable and unwarranted decision to declare Ambassador Hodges persona non grata will have to be taken into account going forward,” he said.

The official said the United States had suspended bilateral talks that were scheduled to take place in June.

The formal bilateral dialogue was launched in November 2008 and initially focused on cooperation in economic development, poverty reduction, trade and investment and migratory issues. It has since expanded to cover security-related issues.

It was unclear whether the United States, Ecuador’s largest trading partner, would retaliate further. Local businessmen have said they feared the imbroglio could imperil the extension of trade preferences that is pending before the U.S. Congress.

On Wednesday, Ecuador said it had expelled Hodges to defend President Rafael Correa’s honor, even though the move could damage relations with its largest trade partner.

Correa, who is aligned with leftist governments in the region, has clashed with Washington before. In 2009 he expelled two U.S. Embassy officials for meddling in internal affairs in a case related to equipment for the country’s police force.

Ecuador exports hundreds of products to the United States duty-free under the Andean Trade Preferences Act, a U.S. program aimed at reducing illegal drug production in the region by creating other job opportunities.

The renewal of the Andean Trade Preferences Act is pending approval by the U.S. Congress.

Editing by Bill Trott

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