Argentina and Ecuador Expel Each Other’s Ambassadors

March 16, 2023

María de los Ángeles Duarte and Rafael Correa in Quito, photo: El Comercio

Ecuador and Argentina are going through a tense moment in their relations, generated by the departure of former Ecuadorian minister María de los Ángeles Duarte from the Buenos Aires embassy in Quito, where she had been staying since August 2020.

Duarte – who had political asylum for humanitarian reasons at the diplomatic headquarters – is an architect by profession and was minister of former President Rafael Correa (2007-2017) in several State portfolios. She was in charge of the Urban Development and Housing office on two occasions, between 2007 and 2009, and from 2015 to 2017.

She also served as Minister of Economic and Social Inclusion, from 2009 to 2010; and then, from that year until 2013, as head of Transportation and Public Works.

The bribery case

In May 2019, two years after Correa ended his term in office, the Attorney General’s Office (FGE) opened the Sobornos 2012-2016 case, after a digital media published an investigation titled ‘Odebrecht and other multinationals put president in Ecuador’.

In the case, the FGE pointed out the alleged participation of Correa, Duarte, former vice-president Jorge Glas and other former officials in the financing of proselytizing activities of the Alianza PAÍS party with money from businessmen state contractors. According to that institution, the alleged bribes made during the period covered by the case, from 2012 to 2016, would exceed US$7.5 million.

On May 31, 2019 Duarte was arrested. A day later, she was issued several measures, such as the prohibition to be absent from the country, periodic presentation before the Justice and the use of an electronic surveillance device (shackle).

Less than a year after the investigation was opened, in April 2020, a Court of the National Court of Justice of Ecuador issued a sentence of eight years in prison against the former officials, accused of the crime of “aggravated bribery”; and, in addition, the sentence contemplated the loss of political participation for 25 years.

The case has been controversial because Correa and Glas, in particular, were accused of acting through “psychic influence” to instigate other officials to commit the crime. This controversy caused that in November last year an international seminar was held in the city of Guayaquil to discuss the ruling.

Former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, who participated in the event, considered that the ruling against Correa and the rest of his former officials was an example of “lawfare”, a concept that he translated into Spanish as “judicial war” or “legal war”.

He added that in the Justice’s decision there was “a preconstitution of facts and a sentence that had an objective incompatible with the rational, proportional and contrasted interpretation of the Law”.

For Eugenio Raúl Zaffaroni, former judge of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the main flaws of this case are that “there is no evidence”, but rather a sentence was based on “an accumulation of documents and statements” that do not prove the participation of the convicted.

Refuge and exit

On August 20, 2020, before the Ecuadorian Justice ratified the sentence in the last instance, Duarte took refuge, together with his minor son of Argentine nationality, in the Buenos Aires embassy in Quito, as a “guest for humanitarian reasons”.

In December 2022, the Argentine authorities informed Ecuador of the granting of diplomatic asylum to Duarte and requested the facilities, specifically a safe-conduct in his favor, so that he could leave the embassy and leave the country to Buenos Aires.

However, this did not happen. Last December 13, Ecuador informed Argentina that it would not grant the safe-conduct and even expressed its annoyance, stating that it did not agree with giving “asylum to a person convicted for acts of corruption”.

From Argentina they alleged that after this decision of not granting the safe-conduct, “efforts were made in search of a common understanding”, but they were unsuccessful.

Then, Duarte decided to leave the embassy. In a message she posted on her Twitter account on Tuesday, the former official commented that with the denial of her safe-conduct, the Ecuadorian government turned her into its “political hostage”.

The question still being asked by Ecuadorian authorities is when the former official left the embassy. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed that it held meetings with the Argentinean ambassador in Quito, Gabriel Fuks, who indicated that Duarte would have left the diplomatic office last Friday, March 10, in the afternoon. However, the same ministry points out that “high Argentinean officials have given another version”, stating that her departure occurred on Saturday.

The Argentinean Ministry of Foreign Affairs commented that during last weekend there was no presence in the wing of the building where Duarte lived, far from the official residence of the Argentinean representative, so a tour of the facilities was made without being able to locate her whereabouts.

Subsequently, on Tuesday, the Argentine Foreign Ministry confirmed that Duarte was in Venezuela and went to the Buenos Aires embassy in Caracas, where she was attended by the ambassador, Oscar Laborde, and two officials of the diplomatic office.

He pointed out that the former official did not provide explanations on how she traveled to Caracas nor if she is with her son. She “made inquiries about the documentation that our country could provide her” and “stated that she had no intention of traveling to Argentina in the short term”, the Foreign Ministry said.

Expulsion of Ambassadors

This situation regarding the former minister had been straining the relations between Ecuador and Argentina in the last months, but her departure from the embassy in Quito fueled the conflict.

Ecuador’s decision was to declare Fuks ‘persona non grata’. Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Holguin said Wednesday, in an interview with Ecuavisa, that the measure was taken after “inconsistencies” in Argentina’s versions of Duarte’s departure from the embassy.

“The inconsistencies in each of the arguments that they delivered to our country stating that they had realized that Mrs. Duarte after two and a half years, a little more, of living in the embassy did not appear, these arguments, generated a break in the absolute confidence of the ambassador with our country,” he said.

For the minister, the Argentinean embassy could be complicit in Duarte’s departure from the country. The presidency of Alberto Fernández, on the other hand, affirmed that the expulsion of its ambassador in Quito took them “with surprise and deep sadness”, since it implies an escalation of the disagreement, to the detriment of the bilateral relationship.

Therefore, in response, Argentina took similar action on the Ecuadorian ambassador in Buenos Aires, Xavier Alfonso Monge Yoder.

“In no way it is understood that it is intended to attribute to an express action of the Argentine government that the person mentioned (Duarte) has been able, due to the inoperability of the Ecuadorian authorities, to circulate in Ecuador and leave from that country to foreign countries, evading the control systems arranged by the authorities around the residence of the Argentine embassy in Quito”, emphasized the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Source: Cuba en Resumen