During a Thursday morning meeting at the Presidential Palace in Quito, U.S. Vice President Michael Pence and Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno agreed on a wide range of topics, including the fight against illegal drug trafficking, rooting out corruption and establishing new bi-lateral trade agreements.
On Pence’s top issue, the isolation of Venezuela, the two leaders were unable to reach an agreement.
Following the meeting, Pence announced a $1.5 million gift to help Ecuador fight corruption and to strengthen the rights of civil society. In addition, he said the U.S. Congress is considering an appropriation of $3.5 million to support anti-drug initiatives on Ecuador’s border with Colombia.
Efforts to keep drug production and processing out of Ecuador was a major focus of the meeting and Moreno hinted that Ecuador may allow the U.S. to set up an office in Quito for the purpose of providing support. “There will not be another U.S. military base on Ecuadorian soil,” Ecuador’s press secretary clarified later. “We welcome the assistance of any country, including the U.S., but the establishment of foreign military operations here is a violation of our constitution.”
Pence and Moreno also discussed establishing new trade agreements and agreed that there would be an on-going series of meetings between the two countries on the subject.
There was disagreement, however, between the two leaders on how to handle the crisis in Venezuela, with Pence pushing a policy of sanctions and isolation while Moreno promoted dialog and a national referendum on the election of President Nicolas Maduro.
“Compassion alone will not end the crisis of Venezuela,” Pence said. “It will only end when Venezuela regains its freedom and this can only come through strong actions including additional sanctions and removing that government from membership in the Organization of American States (OAS). We respectfully urge Ecuador and all our allies in the region to take steps to further isolate the Maduro regime.”
Although Moreno said he shares Pence’s concern about the legitimacy of recent presidential election as well as the health of democratic institutions in Venezuela, he said further punishment of the regime is not the answer.
“There is no doubt that a terrible crisis exists in that country,” Moreno said. “How else can we explain the fact that two million people have left and that Ecuador is hosting many thousands of them. On the other hand, this is a crisis that must be solved by the people of Venezuela through a public referendum on the election and discussion with all parties about reestablishing fundamental freedoms and the mechanisms of democracy.”
He added that the OAS should play the key role in finding a solution. “If we kick Venezuela out of the organization, what avenues remain for finding solutions?” he asked.
Pence called the meeting “candid, productive and substantial” and said the U.S. is committed to “refreshing relations” with Ecuador. “We feel, once again, that Ecuador and the U.S. are friends and partners on many fronts.”