Editor’s note: Ecuador ambassador to the United States, Nathalie Cely, responded on the weekend to recent news commentary critical of Ecuador for its asylum consideration for intelligence leaker Edward Snowden. Her response appeared in a number of newspapers and websites.
By Nathalie Cely
The Edward Snowden affair has turned into something of a global diplomatic third rail: all who touch it get burned. My country, Ecuador, has been subjected to howls of criticism – much of it unrelated to the case – for simply having received an asylum application from Mr. Snowden. These critics have decided to threaten and accuse first, review the facts later.
Few have noted that Ecuador is required, according to both our constitution as well as international human rights conventions we have ratified, to review each and every request for asylum we receive, no matter how we feel personally about the applicant, and no matter the political or diplomatic consequences. This neutrality, consistent with international law, best serves the integrity of a system that is based on human rights considerations only.
This of course does not fit the simplistic narrative of our critics, who want to paint us as yet another Latin American country deliberately provoking the U.S. But we did not seek this controversy: it found us. Ecuador was one of more than twenty countries from which Mr. Snowden sought asylum, and we along with many others have publicly stated that we cannot review the request; the law only allows for such a request to be processed if that individual is within the territory of the nation he is petitioning. And we have no knowledge of any future plans or intentions of him coming to our country.
End of story? Not so fast.
Some are now using this unfounded controversy as a springboard for misguided criticism of Ecuador’s government and laws, and further, calling for decades-old trade preference programs that benefit both our countries to be ended.
Those who want to argue against continued healthy U.S.-Ecuador relations must look at the facts. For instance, for all the claims that Ecuador was simply seeking to use the Snowden affair to somehow provoke the U.S., few have acknowledged Ecuador’s public statements about how there remains open and friendly dialogue on the issue between our two countries.
And those who argue that Ecuador’s ending of certain bilateral narcotics cooperation efforts is a sign the country is not interested in fighting the drug war conveniently leave out that the current administration in Ecuador has spent six times more on security than the last three administrations combined, and ten times more now than in 2008. In fact, these same critics are the ones who recently called for the cancellation of the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Enforcement Act (ATPDEA), which for more than twenty years has served as a successful, cost-effective tool to fighting the drug trade in Ecuador. All these efforts have paid off– our country is virtually free of drug production and was recently named by the United Nations as one of the most effective countries in the fight against drug trafficking.
This is no time for those in the U.S. to be finger-pointing. It makes little sense to claim to be on the side of human rights while criticizing Ecuador for following our international human rights obligations. It makes even less sense when these same critics fail to note that the U.S. has been unable to ratify a number of important international and regional human rights conventions, while Ecuador has ratified and respects every single one.
The truth of the matter is that since 2007, the policies of the Correa administration in Ecuador have resulted in massive improvements in the social and economic conditions in our country—infrastructure, education, poverty alleviation, and health care have all seen significant improvements. We have the highest college enrollment of those in poverty in all of Latin America, thanks to a new Constitutional guarantees of higher education scholarships. And we are working with international legal experts, including the American Bar Association, on a multi-year effort to overhaul and strengthen the country’s judiciary, weeding out corruption, building a modern infrastructure and legal training, and implementing strict, independent standards to evaluate and select thousands of judges, ensuring that the process is a legal—not political—one. Today, as a result of these efforts, poverty has fallen from 37.6% in 2007 to 27.3%, our country is the second-fastest growing economy in Latin America, and we have been praised by the United Nations for having the third-highest Human Development Index gains in the Americas.
Our media also is thriving with a diversity of debate, including vocal government critics who air their grievances and critiques every day in print, broadcast, and online. The government has granted licenses to hundreds of new media outlets in recent years, balancing an expanded media with our requirements to protect the rights of individuals from persecution or defamation. This is a delicate balance—one which all countries grapple with in their own ways and according to their own histories—and after years of national discussion, including a referendum by the people of Ecuador, a series of important media reforms have recently taken place that we are confident will broaden and democratize the diversity of opinions—such as by limiting the power of media oligarchs and special interests and promoting marginalized groups to have a voice– and ultimately encourage responsible and constructive dialogue.
Like any bilateral relationship, there will be differences of opinion from time to time, but that does not mean cooperation cannot, or will not, continue. When Members of Congress recently began threatening Ecuador by using the cancellation of the ATPDEA as political leverage, for instance, we drew a line and stated we would voluntarily renounce the program to ensure any potential decision was untainted by political calculations and made only on human rights considerations.
This decision was not easy—for more than two decades, the ATPDEA was a valuable and cost-effective tool that created job opportunities in both countries, helped Ecuador become essentially free of illegal drug production, and contributed to the security of the entire Western hemisphere.
But our decision regarding the ATPDEA was also made with the conviction that the Ecuador-U.S. trade relationship is a strong and deep partnership that can continue to benefit both countries. There continues to be a steady stream of commerce, and the people of our two countries have a vested interest in ongoing relations—from trade and investment, to promoting regional security, to joint environmental efforts. Thousands of Ecuadorians have chosen the U.S. as their preferred destination for study and entrepreneurship, and thousands of U.S. citizens look to Ecuador as a favorite place to do business, vacation and retire. It is in our common interests to promote this relationship.
It is imperative that we work toward expanding this partnership not only for trade and economic growth, but to keep our neighborhoods safe. That is why Ecuador in fact sees this as an opportunity to explore a new, stronger trade partnership to support and enhance the nearly $20 billion in bilateral trade and investment that we enjoy each year.
Through ongoing dialogue and communication, we can bring greater prosperity to millions of citizens in both our countries. That should be a common goal that we all can agree upon.
Photo caption: Ecuador president Rafael Correa