Beyond the Headlines: Partnering with Ecuadorians for Stability and Prosperity
As any Ambassador is quick to discover, I have learned that the US-Ecuador relationship goes far beyond what a person may or may not learn from the headlines of the international or local media. Understanding Ecuador, and getting to the heart of the relationship between our two countries, requires a broad view and personal conversations with Ecuadorians who are part of this long-standing friendship. Occasional misunderstandings and sometimes sharp differences on specific issues are part of any bilateral relationship, but the US-Ecuador connection transcends these issues. We are partners because we share common goals for this hemisphere that is, ultimately, our neighborhood.
It surprises many people to learn that one of the first Consulates established by the US government in South America was the US Consulate in Guayaquil in 1825. The US government recognized the significance of the relationship with this key port city and, from that point forward, has cultivated ties that include deep cultural, social, political and, of course, commercial dialogue with Ecuador’s coast and highlands. The US Embassy in Quito opened a few decades later, and together with the Consulate General in Guayaquil that remains open today, we support the relationship with a country whose population and challenges are as unique as its geography.
Through the years, notwithstanding many changes in administrations and counter-parts (Ecuador has had 12 presidents over the past 25 years), the United States has been a reliable partner in helping Ecuadorians protect their sovereignty, increase their incomes, find new markets for their products, strengthen democratic institutions and develop a vibrant civil society.
Our goals in Ecuador continue to focus primarily on promoting democracy, fostering economic growth and combating narcotics trafficking. Ecuador is on the brink of significant change, as it prepares to form a constituent assembly later this year that will seek to draft a new constitution. The country has overwhelmingly expressed a desire for change, but there is not yet a consensus on exactly what shape that change should take. Our focus at this stage of Ecuador’s intense internal political process is on areas of shared interest and convergence. Differences will undoubtedly also come up as we move forward. I have often stated that the best way to confront and resolve our differences is through a respectful dialogue based on ways to create the kind of change Ecuadorians want, that will truly improve their lives.
US programs that strengthen democratic institutions to support effective governance are helping reforms take root to the benefit of the people. Ecuadorian efforts to improve the rule of law have been especially successful in the fight against trafficking in persons. Ecuador has passed a strong anti-trafficking law and its justice system is hard at work enforcing it. The US government has consistently supported governmental and nongovernmental anti-trafficking efforts through funding and technical assistance. For example, in the State Department’s 2007 Trafficking in Persons report, Ecuadorian prosecutor Lucy Blacio received special recognition for her firm commitment to the application of the new anti-trafficking law, even in the face of death threats. Ecuador’s continuing determination to stand against trafficking in persons and uphold the rule of law is an important step towards long-term democratic governance and stability.
We also have seen good progress in promoting grass roots democracy at the local level. Encouraging citizen participation in local decision-making and promoting budget transparency and accountability, along with funding tangible improvements in the delivery of municipal services, such as drinking water, sanitation, garbage collection and disposal and street paving, has proven to be a winning combination. In part because of this two- pronged approach, nationwide biannual public opinion polls consistently show that Ecuadorians have high trust and satisfaction with the performance of their local authorities.
Programs that promote economic and social development are also an important part of our agenda. The United States supports expanding economic ties with Ecuador that will increase Ecuador’s economic growth and bring added stability and prosperity to the country and the region. We are currently exploring ways to develop a forum to discuss these issues and are committed to exploring mutually acceptable avenues of economic cooperation and integration. The bottom line is that our cooperation will help Ecuador continue to be successful, increasing the incomes of its citizens and helping the world discover what Ecuador already knows: its products and talents are world-class and successfully competitive in the international marketplace.
The United States has played an active role in Ecuador’s economic and social development. We are convinced that a prosperous Ecuador is important to the greater well-being of the hemisphere. To this end, the US government invested more than $60 million in Ecuador last year in a wide range of projects managed by numerous agencies and departments. For example, one of the US Agency for International Development’s (USAID’s) flagship programs in Ecuador is to stimulate micro-credit lending. Micro-credit creates jobs and boosts productivity, and this USAID program by 2006 reached a total of 435,000 Ecuadorians.
As a testament to the longstanding commitment of the United States, Ecuador is home to one of the oldest and largest Peace Corps missions in the world, enjoying the dedicated services of roughly 160 volunteers every year. The Peace Corps’ Ecuador mission opened in 1962, the year following the organization’s creation. Peace Corps volunteers work in communities throughout Ecuador to promote sustainable agriculture, small business, environmental stewardship, better healthcare, and stronger civil society. The Peace Corps coordinates its volunteer placement with Ecuadorian government agencies, NGOs, and the local communities themselves. As we celebrate 45 years of the success of the Peace Corps in Ecuador, it is impressive to view the results and the legacy of these programs. The best of the United States and the best of Ecuador have come together in Ecuador’s villages, towns and cities to help create better lives for its people.
The fight against narcotrafficking receives significant attention and resources from both our governments. The Ecuadorian military and police have been increasingly expanding their counternarcotics operations throughout the country. US agencies, such as the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Narcotics Affairs Section of the Embassy, Customs and Border Patrol, the Coast Guard and the Department of Defense, have been actively involved in providing intelligence, logistics, training and operations support to their Ecuadorian counterparts. Partly due to the success of joint US-Ecuador efforts, Ecuador is not a narcotics producer, but does remain a significant transit point for narcotics from other South American countries.
In addition to the military and law enforcement counternarcotics cooperation, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has been working very closely with Ecuador’s Northern Development Unit (UDENOR) and local NGOs to promote economic development along the northern border with Colombia. Legitimate enterprises that encourage long-term investment in this region are the best way to remove the economic incentive to participate in narcotics trafficking. The cooperation between USAID and UDENOR has positively affected the lives of over 750,000 people in this region by improving infrastructure and increasing incomes by 50-100 percent or more in communities where we are working. US participation in the “Juntos” campaign, an award winning public information campaign to share the ‘good news’ in the Northern Border region, is a model of our relations with Ecuador—joint partnership to achieve common goals.
I never tire of telling people I meet that the most important aspect of the relationship between the United States and Ecuador is not the government-to-government contact, but the interchanges between thousands of our citizens that take place each day. Travel and tourism, study abroad programs, volunteer service missions including medical assistance, and cultural programs continue to be at the heart of the friendship we enjoy. Recently, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Fulbright Program in Ecuador. This program, like so many others, has helped foster understanding and respect for the cultures and ideas of both the United States and Ecuador. In an effort to catalog and shed light on meaningful people-to-people connections between the two countries, the Embassy recently unveiled a new radio program that serves as an oral history of this friendship. The program’s slogan, “two countries—one friendship” is a fitting summary of what our cultural and educational programs continue to build here in Ecuador.
Ecuador is a country in transition in a region buffeted by significant changes and challenges in recent years. We are committed to helping Ecuador successfully navigate its current process of reform, while recognizing that it is ultimately the citizens of Ecuador, not the United States, who will determine where that process takes them. Ecuador has been marked by a tumultuous political history since declaring independence in 1809, but what has not changed over time is our friendship with the country’s people and our commitment to lend a helping hand. That long-standing friendship is the story that endures, behind the headlines of the moment. Together with the hundreds of US citizens in Quito, Guayaquil, Manta or Ecuador’s provinces who make this partnership a reality, I am proud to be part of this friendship that is producing positive results for our hemisphere.
United States Ambassador to Ecuador