Ecuador rejects Argentina’s ‘ultimatum’ to allow convicted former minister to leave the country

Dec 14, 2022 | 20 comments

Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry will not grant safe passage out of the country to former Minister of Transportation María de los Ángeles Duarte. The government of Argentina has granted diplomatic asylum to the ex-minister and is demanding she be allowed to travel to Buenos Aires.

Former Minister of Transportation María de los Ángeles Duarte pictured as she enters the Argentina Embassy in Quito in 2020. She had been convicted of bribery and was sentenced to eight years in prison several days later.

Duarte has been living in the Argentine embassy in Quito since August 2020 following her corruption conviction in the Bribes 2012-2016 case. She is among several government officials, including former president Rafael Correa, convicted in the case.

Argentina’s leftist government claims Duarte’s conviction was politically motivated as was that of Correa, who is currently living in Belgium.

In a Tuesday statement, the Foreign Ministry claimed that Ecuadorian law does not allow safe passage for persons convicted of acts of corruption. “Ecuadorian law does not allow those convicted and sentenced for common crimes to leave the country until their sentences are served,” the Ministry said.

The statement continued: “Political asylum applies to people who have not been convicted in a court of law and who are being persecuted for political reasons. Ms. Duarte was found guilty of bribery in 2020 and sentenced to eight years of detention.”

On Tuesday, the Foreign Ministry summoned Argentina Ambassador to Ecuador Gabriel Marcelo Fucks to complain about an “ultimatum” issued to Ecuador to release Duarte. “We do not take kindly to threats and ultimatums issued by other governments and will explain this is Mr. Fucks in the strongest terms possible,” Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Holguin said before the meeting at Ministry offices.

Leaving Tuesday’s meeting, Fucks told reporters his original intent was to discuss terms of Duarte’s release but that the Foreign Ministry was only interested in delivering a diplomatic complaint.

Holguin said Ecuador does not want to create “bi-national conflict,” but said the law must be followed. “We are very willing to explain in detail the reason for the denial of this request,” he said. “I have made phone calls to the Argentina Foreign Affairs office to discuss this but I have received no response.”

Duarte served as Minister of Transportation and Public Works from 2013 to 2016 in the Correa government but was charged with bribery in 2019. Prior to her sentencing she entered the Argentine embassy “as a guest for humanitarian reasons” and has remained there ever since.