(Reuters) - Ecuador has expelled the U.S. ambassador to the South American country, triggering a diplomatic spat with the United States that could hurt trade ties between the countries.
Following are some facts about relations between the two nations.
* Ecuador is the third Latin American country whose left-wing government has expelled a U.S. envoy in recent years. In 2008, Bolivia kicked out the U.S. ambassador on accusations he had incited violent protests. A day later, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez followed suit, citing solidarity with Bolivia.
* A critic of U.S. “imperialism,” Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa’s relationship with Washington has been stormy since he took office in 2007. He refused to extend a lease that year letting the U.S. military use the Manta airbase for counter-narcotics flights, and in 2009 he expelled two U.S. embassy officials in another case involving the police.
* The United States is Ecuador’s biggest trade partner and absorbed about 35 percent of all the OPEC member’s exports in 2010, buying everything from oil to broccoli and roses.
* Ecuador sells most of its oil to the United States, which bought 215,000 barrels per day last year, making the Andean country its 11th largest crude supplier.
* Following a 1999 financial crisis, Ecuador adopted the dollar as its official currency. As such, its economy depends on greenback inflows for liquidity.
* About 2 million Ecuadoreans live in the United States. Many of them fled poverty in their homeland on overcrowded boats after the 1999 meltdown. Some 150,000 U.S. citizens visit Ecuador every year and about 20,000 U.S. citizens live there.
* In February, an Ecuadorean court ordered U.S. oil major Chevron to pay $8.6 billion damages for polluting the Amazon jungle. Correa described the award as “the most important judgment in the history of the country.” The California-based company called it a “fraud,” and has appealed.
* Since the 1990s, Ecuador has exported hundreds of products duty-free to the United States under the Andean Trade Preferences Act (ATPA), a program that aims to fight drug trafficking in the region by generating job opportunities.
* The ATPA was originally set to expire on December 31, 2010 but was extended for six weeks. The renewal of the ATPA is pending approval by the U.S. Congress.
* The Ecuadorean government has said it has no interest in negotiating a free trade agreement with the United States, but has said it wants to negotiate a trade for development deal.
* Total U.S. assistance to Ecuador amounted to nearly $60 million in 2009. The State Department’s Narcotic Affairs Section operates sizable programs in Ecuador.
(Sources: Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry, the U.S. embassy in Quito, U.S. Energy Information Administration)
Writing by Eduardo Garcia; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel