By Mark Weisbrot
On Thursday, the United States expelled the ambassador from Ecuador, in retaliation for Wednesday’s expulsion of the US ambassador from Ecuador. This now leaves the United States without ambassadorial relations in three South American countries – Bolivia and Venezuela being the other two – thus surpassing the Bush administration in its diplomatic problems in the region.
US Ambassador Heather Hodges was declared “persona non grata” and asked to leave Ecuador “as soon as possible”, after a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks showed her saying some disparaging things about Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa. In the cable, she alleges that President Correa had knowledge of corruption by a former head of the national police.
Although the Bush administration intervened in the internal affairs of countries such as Bolivia and even Brazil, it was somewhat better at keeping its “eyes on the prize” and avoiding fights that would distract from its main goal. The prize, of course, is Venezuela – home to the largest oil reserves in the world, estimated by the US Geological Survey at 500bn barrels. Washington’s goal there for the last decade has been regime change. The Bush team understood that the more they fought with other countries in the region, the less credible would be their public relations story that Venezuela was the problem.