Ecuador consulate remains open amid tension

Tensions between Ecuador and the U.S. are heightening.

It all began with WikiLeaks — last week, a Spanish newspaper published a secret WikiLeaks cable that revealed the American ambassador to the South American nation, Heather Hodges, making disparaging remarks about the government. Sparks flew, and within days both the nations’ ambassadors had been declared “persona non grata” and were ordered to leave. American officials even hinted at closing certain Ecuadorian consulates.

But in the South American nation’s outpost in New Haven, it’s business as usual.

The sense of crisis is distant in the Ecuadorian consulate on Church Street, which, despite the tensions between the two nations, faces no risk of closure or cuts at the present, consul Raul Erazo Velarde said. And while the upper levels of government work through these tensions, New Haven’s consulate will continue with its programming in support of New England’s Ecuadorians — including an event this Thursday at the consulate, during which Yale Law School students from the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic will outline the rights of immigrant workers in Connecticut.

The international fight began last week, when Ecuador declared American Ambassador Heather Hodges a persona non grata after a secret WikiLeaks cable, titled “Cable sobre la Corrupción,” showed Hodges making negative remarks about Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and his government. In the July 2009 cable, published in the Spanish newspaper El País last week, Hodges alleged that Correa appointed Jaime Hurtado as commander of the Ecuadorian National Police, despite knowing that Hurtado had engaged in major corruption. Accusations against Hurtado include extortion, human trafficking, misappropriation of public funds and obstruction of justice. In the cable, Hodges said she thought Correa may have “wanted to have an ENP Chief whom he could easily manipulate,” and accuses the Ecuadorian government of neglecting to exercise proper oversight of police officers.

“Because of these institutional failings, National Police officers face minimal risk of exposure or punishment when they engage in corrupt acts,” Hodges wrote in the cable. “As with corrupt politicians and judges, this situation is more pronounced at higher levels of power.”

In response to Hodges’ remarks, the Ecuadorian government asked her to leave their country as soon as possible. The Ecuadorian newspaper El Comercio on Monday reported that Hodges will leave Ecuador today. In retaliation, the U.S. government expelled Ecuadorian ambassador Luis Gallegos, and suspended high-level talks between the two nations that were scheduled for June.

“The unjustified action of the Ecuadorian government in declaring Ambassador Hodges persona non grata left us no other option than this reciprocal action,” the U.S. Department of State said in a statement released Thursday explaining Gallegos’ expulsion.

Despite the feud, both nations have stated their interest in reconciliation on the websites of their respective embassies.

“The U.S. is still interested in a positive relationship with Ecuador, so we’ll have to go ahead and continue forward,” State Department spokesman Andy Laine said.

The New Haven consulate is one of Ecuador’s 19 consular missions nationwide; it serves Ecuadorians in Rhode Island and New Hampshire as well as Connecticut. In addition to the New Haven consulate, Ecuador operates consulates in New York City, Boston and New Jersey.

The U.S. census counts 21,000 Ecuadorians living in Connecticut, and consular officials have estimated that at least as many illegal immigrants live in the state, bringing the total population to nearly 50,000. When it opened in 2008, the consulate became the first to open in New Haven since an Italian one opened its doors in 1910.

Jordi Gassó contributed reporting.

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