U.S. Embassador to Ecuador Adam Namm told an audience of Cuenca expats Thursday night that ties between Ecuador and the U.S. remain strong despite political disagreements.
Namm assumed his duties in Quito in July, filling an ambassorship that had been vacant for more than a year. Former ambassador Heather Hodges had been expelled by the Ecuadorian government in 2011 following publication of a Wikileaks cable in which she suggested that the head of the Ecuadorian National Police was corrupt.
Namm told an audience of about 75 at the CEDEI Education Center in the historic district that the governments of Ecuador and the U.S. continue to cooperate in many areas, including the training of law enforcement and military personnel in a campaign to combat drug trafficking. The U.S. has also provided Ecuador with equipment and vehicles to help police the northern border with Colombia, he said.
“Our governments share many areas of common interest and we are working to strengthen and expand those ties,” he said, acknowledging that work remains to be done to repair strains created by Hodges' dismissal. He said he recently met with Ecuadorian Interior Minister Ricardo Patiño to reestablish a bi-national dialogue. “We’re in the process of creating an agenda but we probably won’t begin talks until after the national elections in February,” he said.
He said that the U.S. is Ecuador’s top trading partner, enjoying a $4 billion trade surplus, but says he is concerned that the Andean Nations trade agreement, under which Ecuador enjoys trade preferences, may not be extended by the U.S. Congress beyond its expiration in July 2013. Neighboring Peru and Colombia have signed free trade agreements with the U.S., a move Ecuador's government has refused follow.
Another connection between the two countries, Namm said, was the growing number of U.S. expats moving to Ecuador and the large population of Ecuadorians in the U.S. Namm estimated that there are 30,000 U.S. citizens living in Ecuador, with about 5,000 of those in Cuenca. “Cuenca is a beautiful city and I can understand why so many of you have decided to settle here,” he told the audience. “These numbers are growing and I believe that this is a trend that will continue, not just in Cuenca and Ecuador, but in other parts of the world as well.” He said that many of those included in the 5,000 Cuenca count are Ecuadorian-born dual citizens who have returned home from the U.S.
The Ecuadorian government estimates that there are 2 million Ecuadorians living in the U.S., according to Namm.
In a question and answer session, Namm said that one of the U.S. government’s major concerns about Ecuador is the threat to free speech. He cited law suits filed by President Rafael Correa, personally, and the government against newspapers and authors. In response to another question, he said that the asylum case of Julian Assange, holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, is a matter between Ecuador, the UK and Sweden. “At this point, the U.S. has no legal action against Mr. Assange.”
Much of the meeting was devoted to a discussion of services provided to U.S. citizens by the consulate in Guayaquil, including evacuations in cases of natural disasters, and notary, passport, voting and personal emergency services. Consulate wardens who serve the Cuenca area were introduced. Expats were urged to register with the consulate to receive updates from the U.S. government (write ACSGuayaquil@state.gov to sign up). According to Namm, the new, expanded Guayaquil consulate will open in February or March of next year, providing more parking and a more comfortale environment in general.
Photo caption: U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador Adam Namm.