Ecuadorian ambassador to the United States Nathalie Cely Suarez made her first official visit to the New Haven area on Friday to meet with local leaders, including New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr.
Cely’s trip, planned to discuss potential business connections between Ecuador and New Haven, came in the wake of strained relations between the East Haven Police Department — and subsequently, Maturo himself — and the local Latino population. The visit aimed to foster partnerships between institutions in Ecuador and New Haven, including Yale’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.
In her meeting with DeStefano and New Haven’s Ecuadorian consul Raul Erazo Velarde, Suarez showed DeStefano a video about Ecuador’s biodiversity and encouraged him to visit by giving him a tourism planner, according to the New Haven Register. They also discussed DeStefano’s opposition to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Secure Communities program, which checks fingerprints of suspected criminals against ICE databases in an effort to deport criminals living in the country illegally, though DeStefano said the issue pertains to the U.S. government, not foreign ones.
Suarez and Velarde then attended a luncheon at a tapas restaurant owned by Ecuadorian-Americans in East Haven, where they hoped to highlight Ecuador’s culture. Maturo, whose January comment that he “might have tacos” for dinner to support East Haven’s Latino community prompted a media frenzy and an onslaught of local critics calling for his resignation, also attended the lunch.
Prior to her meeting at City Hall, Suarez stopped by the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies for a brief meeting with its staff members and officials from the Ecuadorian consulate in New Haven, said Angela Kuhne, the school’s director of admissions and financial aid.
During the private meeting, Kuhne added, Suarez encouraged transfers and potential partnerships between Ecuador and the University in the form of faculty and graduate and undergraduate student exchanges between Yale and Ecuadorian schools.
“Yale is very interested in diversifying its student body, so there’s mutual interest in that regard,” said Lisa Bassani, program coordinator for the Tropical Resources Institute, the environment school’s research center that funds students’ research on the conservation and management of tropical environments and natural resources.
Meeting attendees talked about a potential role for Yale in Ecuador’s “large-scale” effort to forgo oil development in Yasuni National Park in exchange for $3.6 billion in payment over 13 to 15 years from the international community, Bassani added.
Kuhne said the Ecuadorian government’s conservation plan to prevent the extraction of the area’s extensive oil deposits is an ambitious one, and that the government hopes to enlist the environment school’s help in drafting academic case studies and aims to encourage research in areas such as biodiversity conservation.
Friday’s meeting was only a preliminary conversation, Bassani said, and added that the environment school will continue to follow up with the ambassador in the coming months to discuss the proposed initiatives, which may include a fall conference on the issues raised by the Yasuni protection efforts.
Suarez was appointed ambassador in January.