Foreign Policy: Diplomatic…Cocaine? | By Otto J. Reich and Ezequiel Vázquez Ger

March 9, 2012 9:44 pm0 commentsViews: 5

Ecuador has headlined many newspapers in recent weeks due to President Correa’s attacks against the independent press. The international media, however, has not yet focused on an international scandal that is brewing for the Correa regime. Only a few days ago Italian policediscovered 40 kilograms of cocaine being smuggled into the country in Ecuador’s diplomatic pouch.

Diplomatic pouches are the means by which governments send classified correspondence and articles intended for official use to their diplomatic missions abroad. These pouches are regulated by the Vienna Convention, which states that “the packages constituting the diplomatic bag must bear visible external marks of their character and may contain only diplomatic documents or articles intended for official use,” and that the bag “shall not be opened or detained.” Also, each bag should carry a waybill that lists all the documents or goods being transported, among other information regarding to its content.

On November 21, 2011 in the Official Register No. 212, the Ecuadorian government adopted a provision governing its interpretation of the Vienna Convention, thereby establishing a number of “exceptions” to the waybill on the diplomatic pouches. This stated that the shipping of works of art, jewelry, crafts, and other items with no commercial value for exhibitions of cultural and commercial promotion abroad, were exempted from carrying this waybill.

At the same time, these Ecuadorian provisions introduced a new legal form called “extraordinary diplomatic pouches,” which can contain objects such as works of art and crafts, that is, objects that are not necessarily for official use, and, mentioned earlier, are not required to carry a waybill.

In mid-January, Italian police in Milan discovered one of the “extraordinary diplomatic pouches” sent by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ecuador, containing 40 kg of cocaine.  This cargo, valued at over 2 million Euros in street value, was distributed in different vases that were supposed to be used in a play by an Ecuadorian artist. Immediately afterwards, five Ecuadorian citizens were arrested for alleged links to the case. Among them was Jorge Luis Redobrán Quevedo. According to a letter sent by Ecuadorian opposition Congressman Enrique Herrería to the Attorney General of Ecuador, Quevedo is someone with a close relationship to Central Bank President Pedro Delgado (who also is President Correa’s cousin), to President’s Correa sister, and who also maintains constant relations with the Ecuadorian Consulate in Milan.

This is not an isolated case of drug trafficking. Last week, during an anti-narcotics operation in the port of Guayaquil, the police, which apparently still believes in enforcing the law, seized a shipment of 119kg of cocaine hidden inside a container of mashed bananas about to be exported. The company that owns the shipping container had already been denounced two years ago by Congressman Cesar Montufar because of the company’s main shareholders was Mr. Galo Borja, who at that time was Vice Minister of Foreign Trade and responsible for commercial relations with Iran, among other nations.  Montufar correctly asserted that the Minister of Trade should not be engaged in the business that he is charged with overseeing for the State.

These are but two cases of how the Ecuadorian government has sanctioned a permissive environment for illicit activities within its territory. Through formal arrangements such as the new mechanism of “extraordinary diplomatic pouches,” through the apparent involvement of members of its government in drug trafficking, through a virtual elimination of the visa requirement of unknown persons to entry the country, or through financial agreements with Iranian banks that facilitate money laundering operations, Rafael Correa’s Ecuador has become an ideal territory for lawlessness and deceit.

Otto J. Reich is president of the consulting firm Otto Reich & Associates LLC. He is a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, and U.S. ambassador to Venezuela. Email: ora@ottoreich.com / Twitter: @ottoreich

Ezequiel Vázquez Ger is an associate at Otto Reich Associates LLC and collaborates with the non-profit organization The Americas Forum. Email: evazquezger@ottoreich.com/ Twitter:@ezequielvazquez