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Diplomatic conflict between Ecuador and Argentina: ambassadors expelled after the escape of a former minister

The Government of Ecuador has resolved this Tuesday to expel the Argentine ambassador after a former minister convicted of corruption escaped from the diplomatic legation in which she was asylum. The chancellor of the Andean country, Juan Carlos Holguin, has reported that the decision to declare ambassador Gabriel Fuks persona non grata was taken after several meetings in which they wanted to clarify how the former Minister of Transportation Maria de los Angeles Duarte escaped from the Argentine embassy in Quito. Considering that there are “inconsistencies in some of the information”, Holguin considers that “the principle of good faith and mutual trust between States” has been violated. The Government of Alberto Fernandez has announced shortly after that it will act reciprocally, expelling the Ecuadorian ambassador in Buenos Aires.

Duarte is now in Venezuela and was received by Ambassador Oscar Laborde and Argentine consular officials in Caracas, after having escaped on Friday, March 10, from the diplomatic headquarters in Quito. The Ecuadorian Police is investigating how the former official escaped, but according to a statement from the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “last weekend there was no presence in the wing of the building where Duarte lived, far from the official residence of the Argentine representative, for which reason they proceeded to make the corresponding tours of the different dependencies, without locating their whereabouts.”

The Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry learned of the leak this Monday afternoon and so far the Argentine diplomatic office has refused to provide more information and security videos about Duarte. In addition, the versions of the Argentine government have not helped to clarify how and who helped the ex-minister escape, who has an eight-year prison sentence for the crime of bribery.

Ecuador has also called its ambassador in Argentina, Xavier Monge, for consultations, who will arrive in the country in the next few hours. The foreign minister pointed out that there is no record that Duarte has left the country on a regular basis, nor that he has done so to Colombia.

Foreign Minister Holguin hopes that “relations can be rebuilt at a time when a high-level dialogue channel is established that allows the recovery of that good intention that the acts of the States have” and explained that after the departure of Ambassador Fuks, Argentina may present a new representative to the country. Only then, he adds, will they analyze the situation.

Duarte was Minister of Transportation in the Government of Rafael Correa and, according to the Prosecutor’s Office, was part of the structure that collected private money from the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht in exchange for state contracts. In the same case, other ministers were sentenced, former vice president Jorge Glas and former president Rafael Correa himself. All declared themselves victims of political persecution.

The policy arrived at the residence of the Embassy of Argentina, in Quito, on August 12, 2020 to avoid serving the imposed sentence and the Argentine diplomatic delegation received her as a guest for humanitarian reasons. In December 2022, Argentina granted Duarte diplomatic asylum with which it hoped to obtain a safe-conduct so that the official convicted of corruption could leave the country. But, the Ecuadorian authorities denied the request.

The Government of Alberto Fernandez has ordered the expulsion of the Ecuadorian ambassador in Buenos Aires by making clear his “surprise and deep sadness” at the decision of the Executive of Guillermo Lasso, whom he accuses of “escalating” the existing disagreement on the situation of the exministers and “take it to the level of prejudice in the bilateral relationship.” A statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs assures that the former minister left the diplomatic legation “without consulting or prior notice to any authority of the Argentine Embassy” and clarifies that “there is no international standard that obliges the Argentine diplomatic authorities to exercise custody over the Mrs. Duarte. Instead, the letter suggests that what happened was due to the “ineffectiveness of the Ecuadorian authorities.”

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