Does the military’s attempt to oust Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa suggest U.S. involvement?

By 05 November, 2010

Following the attempted coup in Ecuador at the end of September, US politician Gloria La Riva has claimed the United States government was involved in the plot to oust President Rafael Correa. Sounds and Colours investigates the claims and looks back at the murky relationship between South America and the worlds premier superpower.

“Without a doubt, the United States was behind the attempted coup in Ecuador.” Without leaving any room for interpretation Gloria La Riva has portrayed her country as the meddling imperialist many of its enemies believe it to be.

The events of September 30th saw the President of Ecuador face up to protestors; tear gas was involved and Mr Correa was given a gas mask and taken to hospital. Once inside he was imprisoned in the hospital wing for 12 hours by police staff before being freed by the army.

“The details of US involvement will come to light with the passing of time,” La Riva added.

She cites the White House’s silence in the affair as an indicator of involvement, unlike when similar events occurred in Venezuela recently when Hilary Clinton publicly backed the coup

There have also been suggestions that the US embassy in Ecuador began visiting areas with pockets of American ex-pats to explain emergency protocols, despite the recent stability of the Andean country.

La Riva, who stood as the Presidential Candidate for the Socialism and Liberation Party in 2008, claims the renewal of the lease on the Manta Air Base, as well as recent disputes between Ecuador and Columbia were behind America’s desire to see change in the country.

Following the closure of a similar military station around the Panama Canal in 1997, the then-President Jamil Mahuad agreed to a 10-year rent-free lease of the base beginning in 1999.

New laws in Ecuador since the election or Mr Correa prevent foreign military bases within the county. Supporters of the move see it as a protection of Ecuadorian sovereignty. As a result when the lease ran out last year it was not renewed.

The Air Base didn’t even hold full-fledged military status within the US Army, and stationed less than 400 men. The main brief was anti-narcotics, and since the closure, operations have moved to a base inside Columbia, where most previous surveillance was aimed.

Is it really likely that the US would risk getting involved in messy espionage over a small anti-drugs base?

There are some hallmarks of previous US, and especially CIA backed insurgencies in South America. Rafael Correa himself has had spats with the US in the past. Following Columbian incursions into Ecuadorian territory in 2008 in an attempt to round up Columbian rebels Correa accused the US of backing the mission with “information and cutting edge technologies.”

He subsequently begun an investigation into his police force and intelligence community, convinced that the services had been infiltrated by the CIA resulting in the removal of much of the hierarchy, the Secretary of Defense was also replaced with a civilian.

It could be that President Correa, who is a close ally of the Venezuelan socialist leader Hugo Chavez, has isolated those who ended up directly involved in the coup with these, and similar moves, but it demonstrates that suspicion has been there for some time about US involvement in Ecuadorian affairs.

Historically removal of left wing leaders in what the US has described as “its own back yard” has been a policy. General Pinochet was placed in charge of Chile following a CIA-backed coup against Salvador Allende. Argentinean Che Guevara was captured in Bolivia based on American intelligence, Fidel Castro has been the subject of numerous failed assassination attempts, as well as an attempted coup in the form of the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

However these events occurred in the climate of the Cold War. Socialism was the enemy of the hour. Today the threat has shifted as events this week have served to remind us, and, while there is often rumours of the CIA acting without orders, the US currently has a President who is himself regularly lampooned for supposed socialist sympathies following his campaign for health care reform.

There is no denying that America has form when it comes to such action, nor can it be denied that in days gone by Rafael Correa would have been a likely candidate. But there remain doubts over what the US would have been looking to gain from any such involvement. Or what level of involvement would vindicate Gloria La Riva’s claims, training, equipment, or compliance through neglect in this case to inform authorities of a potential threat.

The timetable of any such revelations is also vague, in the past these things are either evident immediately or are buried and then only surface again once all individuals involved have moved on.

We must hope that in this and future events the US sticks to its ideals and democracy is allowed to flourish. By removing those who do not agree with certain aspects of US politics they make more enemies. The last thing the world, and especially the US, needs is more enemies.

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