15 April 2008

Ecuador Flushes Out The Nest of Spies

Ecuador’s armed forces have revealed they are less loyal to their own country and have more ties to the U.S. military than what was previously imagined. This has come to light after the March 1, 2008, attack on a camp of the Colombian guerrilla group, FARC, in Ecuadorian territory by Colombia.

Though the Ecuadorian President, Rafael Correa, was kept in the dark of the details of the attack, its military it appears knew of it in advance and hid facts from him. Correa is now determined to cleanse the military and the national police of foreign influence. His Defence Minister has been replaced and the existing joint chiefs of staff have had to resign.

The influence of the U.S. Southern Command started with the handing over of Ecuador’s Manta base in November 1999 (for a ten-year lease, which the current President says he will not extend) and has had negative effects in the armed forces.

A high-ranking Ecuadorian military official said the institution was going through a crucial time in which there were only two exits: “either the military reasserts its nationalist politics or submits to U.S. imposition” and “the independent and progressive sectors need to retake control of the institution and restrict the power of a group that answers to the former President Lucio Gutiérrez”.

The changes in the Ecuadorian armed forces started after the 1995 war with Peru but deepened after the indigenous-military rebellion of January 21, 2000 which produced an internal schism in the armed forces and the start of the U.S. influence. The former chief of the Southern Command, Charles Wilhem, said in 2000 that one of Washington’s objectives was to “reorient” the Ecuadorian armed forces.

To achieve this, it was necessary to eliminate the progressive elements and to change the military’s social relations with different social sectors such as the indigenous people and also to deepen links between the U.S. and the Ecuadorian armed forces. President Correa denounced in a recent weekly radio address that the CIA “has fully infiltrated some of the organs of Ecuador’s military intelligence”. This infiltration also extends to the national police, whose chief has also had to go.

Days before, Correa removed the director of the Army Intelligence, Mario Pazmiño, for hiding information from him which, according to the President, led to military and diplomatic errors in dealing with the recent conflict with Colombia. Pazmiño’s downfall was the result of complaints from his superiors whom the Colonel ignored. He headed the intelligence wing for a decade, acting very much on his own, maintaining dossiers on others and without answering to his superiors.

Pazmiño started his career during the government of León Febres Cordero and was deeply linked to the security organs of the USA and Israel. A retired officer, Jorge Brigot, who had participated in the uprising of 2000, accused Pazmiño of being linked to Legíon Blanca (White Legion), an ultra-Right group which made death threats against journalists and human rights defenders.

The new Defence Minister, Javier Ponce, poet, journalist and President Correa’s private secretary before assuming this post, said people in the area where a FARC camp was bombed by Colombia had said that the day before the attack, military intelligence officers had asked them to leave the place as there would be clashes. Days after the bombardment, the Colombian magazine, Cambio, said Ecuadorian intelligence agents were linked to the finding of the camp.

This suggests Pazmiño’s links with the Colombian military. The link goes back to at least 2004 when a FARC leader, Simón Trinidad, was captured in Quito and the a U.S. embassy official welcomed it as an example of cooperation between the police of the two countries and the U.S. secret services.

Even at the peak of the crisis involving the Ecuadorian military, there were joint seminars with the Southern Command on “Challenges and Strategic Opportunities” for the two militaries. A U.S. spokesman said the event would be an opportunity for the Ecuadorian armed forces to define a national security strategy”.

Days before this, on March 31, Ecuadorian military officials attended a ceremony in Colombia for handing over an advanced control centre set up by the Southern Command for the Colombians.

The new Ecuadorian Defence Minister says nothing will be achieved by hiding facts and that the military needs to revise its structures and practices. President Correa is setting up a civil-military commission to explore CIA’s infiltration of the military and the police and says he will root it out.

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