- The Washington Times - Friday, July 24, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Several recent developments make it imperative for the United States to end the trade preferences it gives to the leftist government of Ecuador.

On July 15, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said that in his new role as president of the Union of South American Nations, he will try to create a regional organization to shut down critics in the media. This frightening move against a free press came two weeks after Mr. Correa began efforts to shut down Ecuador’s Teleamazonas television network.

On July 16, Ecuador’s state-owned Petroecuador oil company seized the oil fields of the Anglo-French Perenco Corp. This was despite a demand in May from an official arbitration body of the World Bank that the Ecuadorean government stop seizing oil. The expropriation of oil is nothing new. In 2006, Ecuador did the same thing to the American Occidental Petroleum Corp.

Most damning of all, Associated Press reported on July 17 that “an hourlong video” of a rebel leader “appears to dispel any doubts that Colombia’s largest rebel army gave money to the 2006 election campaign” of Mr. Correa. That army, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known by its Spanish acronym, FARC), is officially labeled a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. The Council on Foreign Relations identifies the Marxist FARC as an outfit known for major cocaine trafficking, kidnapping, hijacking, assassinations and other murders.

The FARC leader on the video reads a letter discussing “assistance in dollars to Correa’s campaign and subsequent conversations with his emissaries.” FARC is known to operate out of camps on Ecuadorean soil and is one of the most destructive agents fighting against the Colombian government, which is a close American ally.

Mr. Correa has denied any knowledge of FARC funding of his campaign and has vowed to investigate, a pledge that may be akin to the wolf investigating who killed the sheep. As the Economist magazine concluded, with prototypical British understatement, “outside Ecuador, the FARC video will do nothing to encourage the idea that Mr. Correa, whatever his political talents, is a responsible statesman.”

Despite all this, Ecuador still enjoys preferential trade treatment with the United States as part of the Andean Trade Preference Act, which was renewed in June for Quito for six more months by President Obama. On June 9, however, the Business Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and three other major business organizations protested, writing that because of “breaches in the basic rule of law that are occurring in Ecuador … we believe that the automatic renewal of Andean preferences for Ecuador would send the wrong message to other developing countries.”

Recent developments bring to mind the dispute with Chevron Corp., in which Mr. Correa’s government is supporting a $27 billion lawsuit for ill-proven damages, involving purported pollution for which an earlier Ecuadorean government already had cleared Texaco (which is now part of Chevron) back in 1998. As we have noted before, Ecuador’s court system has been denounced as unreliable or corrupt by the United Nations, the International Bar Association and the U.S. State Department.

A government that tries to destroy a free press while seizing foreign businesses and harboring terrorists is a government with no credibility. Ecuador merits neither trade preferences nor respect, but only suspicion.

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