- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Regarding Ecuador

The ambassador of Ecuador believes his country deserves a second look from foreign investors, as the Andean nation begins to recover from years of economic stagnation.

“We’re a country that’s really worth looking at,” Ambassador Raul Gangotena told reporters at a recent luncheon.

Ecuador has stabilized its economy by adopting the U.S. dollar as its currency, and oil revenue is up. Inflation has fallen to 7 percent from a staggering high of 96 percent in 2000. The economy is expected to grow at a rate of 4 percent this year. However, about 65 percent of the population of 12 million still lives in poverty.

Mr. Gangotena is looking ahead and hoping that many social factors will help lead to greater prosperity.

“We are a country that is growing in peace and ethnic cooperation,” he said, referring to the 77 percent of the population that is “mestizo,” mixed-race Ecuadoreans of Spanish and indigenous Indian blood.

They used to be “despised” by the minority of pure Spanish ancestry that still controls the economy, he said.

“That’s not the case anymore,” the ambassador said.

President Lucio Gutierrez was elected in 2002 with strong mestizo support. He appointed an Indian, Nina Picari, as his foreign minister.

A former army colonel, Mr. Gutierrez is the first military officer to win the presidency in a free election. Although he ran as a leftist, he has promoted free-market reforms and established close relations with the United States, especially in the war on terrorism and the fight against drug trafficking.

“We’ve never had such healthy and dynamic relations with the United States,” Mr. Gangotena said.

However, he expressed disappointment with the U.S. delay in approving Ecuador’s request for more military aid to fight drug trafficking. In September, military officials at the U.S. Embassy in Quito endorsed supplying Ecuador with an additional 24 river patrol boats.

“We are not lacking the will of President Bush, or the secretary of state or the secretary of defense,” said the ambassador, who blamed “bureaucratic entanglement” for the delay.

Ecuador spends $600 million a year to maintain troops on its borders with Colombia and Peru to try to stop drug lords from using its territory to ship illegal narcotics to the United States.

“We have passed the limits of our resources,” Mr. Gangotena said.

Lithuania’s complaint

Lithuania’s embattled president yesterday summoned U.S. Ambassador Stephen D. Mull to complain that the United States is supporting opponents who want to remove him from office.

President Rolandas Paksas told reporters in the capital, Vilnius, that State Department officials privately expressed their opposition to him in meetings with Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis on a recent visit to Washington.

“In diplomatic practice, these types of things should not be tolerated. One state should not get involved in another state’s internal affairs,” Mr. Paksas said.

The president is facing an impeachment vote over his suspected contacts with Russian mobsters. Mr. Paksas has refused to step down and strongly denies any wrongdoing.

Mr. Paksas created a scandal when he conferred Lithuanian citizenship on Russia Yuri Borisov, his main campaign donor. Mr. Borisov has been linked to illegal arms trading and blackmail. Lithuania’s Constitutional Court invalidated Mr. Borisov’s grant of citizenship.

The Baltic News Service yesterday quoted Mr. Valionis saying, “Our Western partners see the Constitutional Court’s finding that President Paksas violated his oath and the constitution by granting citizenship to [Mr. Borisov] as a key argument [in the impeachment proceedings].”

Parliament is expected to vote in mid-April on whether to remove Mr. Paksas.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected].

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