Ecuador expels Argentina ambassador in escape of convicted minister; Tram ridership tops 20,000 a day; Latam airlines adds Los Angeles cargo flights

Mar 15, 2023 | 2 comments

The government of Ecuador announced Tuesday it has expelled the Argentine ambassador after a former minister convicted of corruption escaped from Argentina’s embassy in Quito. Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Holguín reported that the decision to declare Ambassador Gabriel Fuks persona non grata was taken after several meetings in which the government demanded clarification about how Maria de los Ángeles Duarte was allowed to leave the embassy.

Duarte had been living in the embassy, where she had been granted asylum by the government of Argentina, for three years.

“Considering there are inconsistencies in the information provided by the ambassador,” Holguín said, “the principle of good faith and mutual trust between states has been violated. This is violation of international law as well as diplomatic rules,” he added.

Former Transportation Minister Maria de los Ángeles Duarte

The Government of Alberto Fernández announced shortly after that it will act reciprocally, expelling the Ecuadorian ambassador in Buenos Aires.

Following her departure from the Argentine embassy, Duarte travelled to Venezuela and was received by Ambassador Oscar Laborde and Argentine consular officials in Caracas.

Ecuadorian police investigating Duarte’s escape say they believe she was assisted by the staff at the embassy.

Holguín said he learned of Duarte’s escape through an “information leak” Monday and says the Argentina diplomatic office of Argentina has refused to provide more information or security videos. “Unfortunately, we believe the fugitive received official assistance in the escape.” He added that Duarte’s Tweet on Tuesday confirmed his suspicions.

Duarte was convicted along with other government officials, including former president Rafael Correa, of “bribery and other corrupt acts” in 2019. She was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Tram ridership tops 20,000 but the service faces a parts shortage
Cuenca’s tranvía is carrying more than 20,000 passengers a day and the numbers are rising, says system director Jorge Moscoso. “During peak hours in the morning and afternoon, we sometimes operate at full capacity with standing room only,” he says, adding that numbers will double when integration with the city’s bus system is implemented.

In a Monday radio interview, Moscoso said the tram faces several serious problems. “We are pleased that the service is getting more use but we are worried that we are not getting replacement parts in a timely manner,” he said. “Although we placed orders for electronic components and parts to replace damaged exterior panels months ago, we have not received them. We are unsure if the delay is due to manufacturing issues at the Alstom factory in France or to contract disputes. Unfortunately, Alstom is the only supplier of these parts since we purchased the system from them.”

Moscoso said he could not comment on the disputes the city has with Alstom, saying they date back to the tram’s construction phase. “Talks are continuing and we hope they reach a resolution quickly.”

Moscoso also said that a new order of electronic tram rider cards will arrive within the next three weeks. “We have sold out of our supply so the new ones are desperately needed,” he said. “Since the beginning of operations in 2020, we have sold 150,000 cards.”

Latam Airline adds Los Angeles cargo flights
In a sign that Ecuador exports are growing, Latam Airlines announced Monday that it is adding a cargo flight from Quito to Los Angeles. The airline said the new route will primarily serve exports of the flower industry which continues to recover from the slow-down caused by the Covid pandemic.

Currently, the so-called “flower flights” serve Miami and Amsterdam. Through connections, Latam cargo also serves Houston, Manaus and Viracopos.

Citizen Guard evicts homeless from under bridges
The Cuenca Citizen Guard continues its campaign to remove homeless people from under bridges on the Rios Tomebamba and Yanuncay. Through Monday, the Guard said it has removed 13 men and four women from the bridges. The Guard referred those evicted to public and private social services that provide assistance to the homeless.

In a statement, the Guard said it was sympathetic to the circumstances of homeless people but was more concerned with public safety. “Our effort is a response to robberies and personal attacks, particularly near the bridges adjacent to the Universities of Cuenca and Azuay,” it said.

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