By Liam Higgins
According to a Quito political science professor, the story of an alleged U.S. spy operation intended to destabilize the Ecuadorian government is an “amateur production that combines fraud and slapstick.”
According to Rodrigo Salazar, “The spy charges have almost no basis in fact and appear to be a bungled attempt to divert attention from economic problems in Ecuador,” he says. “This is a second-rate performance of the theater of the absurd.”
The spy story was first reported last week by Telesur, a Latin Amiercan cable television station funded primarily by the Venezuelan government. The station aired a video alleging that critics of President Rafael Correa are being supported by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The story was also reported in the Ecuadorian government-owned newspaper, El Telegrafo, with a link to the video.
According to the video, the CIA-led effort to undermine Correa includes Quito Mayor Mauricio Rodas, retired military officers, and politicians Andrés Páez, and Gustavo and Marcelo Larrea, among others.
The video includes images purporting to show the Colombian Air Forces’ 2008 attack on a FARC guerrilla camp in northern Ecuador. The intrusion into Ecuadorian air space, ordered by then-Colombian defense minister and current president Manuel Santos caused a diplomatic uproar between the two countries that went unresolved for more than two years. Santos has since apologized to Correa for the incident.
The U.S. government supplies military aid to Colombia to fight left-wing guerrillas and drug trafficking.
The problem with the video images, according to Salazar, is that they have nothing to do with the 2008 Colombian bombing mission. “The video is from a Brazilian military training film and you can see the Brazilian insignia on the wings and fuselages of the airplanes,” he says. What’s worse, Salazar says, is that the pilots in the video are speaking English with a Spanish accent. “How silly can you get? It’s as if Ricky Ricardo from the old “I Love Lucy” tv show was sitting in the cockpit.”
The video claims that the CIA spy ring is being directed by Karen Hollihan, a board member for the Miami-based Inter-American Institute for Democracy (IID).
According to Salazar, the IID is a conservative non-profit think tank that opposes progressive and leftist governments in Latin America, including those in Ecuador, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Brazil. “I have no sympathies for IID and understand that they receive funding from the U.S. Neither do I doubt that the U.S. would like to see regime change in Ecuador and in other countries — they have a long history of meddling in our affairs. But, on the other hand, if there’s really a spy plot involving the mayor of Quito, journalists, and military officers, and if Ms. Hollihan is really a spy master, the video does a very poor job of proving it.”
Ecuador President Rafael Correa claims that the allegations made in the video are true and has asked why other Ecuadorian media, besides government outlets, have not covered the story. “Why is no one concerned that attempts are being made to undermine Ecuador’s government?” Correa asked.
Economist and Chairman of Analytica Investments Ramiro Crespo agrees with Salazar that the spy story is mostly contrived and questions Correa’s support for it. “It would be shocking if Correa were to lack the intellectual capacity to see the false reporting for what it is,” he says. “More likely, the whole thing is a diversion seeking to rally loyalists behind a cry for national sovereignty and to distract from ongoing corruption allegations and the weak economy. Yet the whole thing is so ridiculous that it has derailed itself as a communication strategy, leaving the sad spectacle of a head of state appearing desperate to portray himself as a victim of conspiracies.”
The IDD says it considering filing a libel suit in defense of Hollihan.