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LATIN AMERICA | 07-04-2024 09:14

Ecuador in diplomatic storm after raid at Mexican Embassy

Ecuador slammed by Latin American peers after police storm the Mexican Embassy in Quito to arrest former vice-president Jorge Glas.

Ecuador was lambasted across Latin America on Saturday after security forces stormed the Mexican Embassy in Quito to arrest graft-accused former vice-president Jorge Glas, who had been granted political asylum there.

Special forces agents surrounded the embassy with a battering ram, and at least one scaled the walls, in an almost unheard-of raid on diplomatic premises that are considered inviolable sovereign territory.

The incident Friday night prompted Mexico to quickly sever diplomatic ties with Ecuador. Governments including Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Peru and Honduras also denounced the storming.

"This is a flagrant violation of international law and the sovereignty of Mexico," President Andrés Manuel López Obrador wrote on X.

Nicaragua followed suit and searing rebukes poured in from governments across the political spectrum, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Cuba, Bolivia and Venezuela.

López Obrador said authorities "forcibly entered" the building to arrest Glas, who is wanted on corruption charges and had been at the embassy since December before being granted asylum on Friday.

He said he would file a complaint against Ecuador at the International Court of Justice. The Vienna Convention, a treaty governing international relations, states that a country cannot intrude upon an embassy on its territory. 

 

'This is crazy'

On Saturday, the embassy remained surrounded by police and the Mexican flag had been taken down.

Mexico's Foreign Minister Alicia Bárcena said diplomatic staff would leave the country on commercial flights and with the support of "friendly embassies."

Glas, 54, was vice-president under leftist president Rafael Correa between 2013 and 2017.

He was released from prison in November after serving time for receiving millions of dollars in kickbacks in a vast scandal involving the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.

He faces another arrest warrant for allegedly diverting funds that were intended for reconstruction efforts after a devastating earthquake in 2016.

Ecuador's government said Glas had been transferred to a maximum-security prison in the port city of Guayaquil, whose jails serve as de facto headquarters for the violent drug cartels plaguing the country.

Former president Correa, who has been exiled in Belgium since 2017 and was sentenced in absentia to eight years in prison for corruption, wrote on X that "not even in the worst dictatorships has a country's embassy been violated." He said Glas "was struggling to walk because he was beaten."

Mexico denounced "physical violence" against the head of mission Roberto Canseco, who was pushed to the ground by officers while trying to prevent the invasion.

"How is it possible, it can't be. This is crazy!" a shaken Canseco told local television. "This is totally outside the norm."

 

Diplomatic spat

The storming of the Embassy came amid a mounting diplomatic spat between Mexico and Ecuador this week.

Lopez Obrador had irked Quito by comparing a rise in crime in Mexico ahead of June elections to 2023 election violence in Ecuador, in which popular candidate Fernando Villavicencio was assassinated.

The Mexican president said the murder had caused a drop in the popularity of leftist candidate Luisa González in favour of the 36-year-old President Daniel Noboa.

Noboa came to power vowing to crack down on the narco violence that has brought the once peaceful nation to its knees.

He said López Obrador's comments "offend" Ecuador, and expelled the Mexican ambassador, who has yet to leave the country.

In response, Mexico granted political asylum to Glas in what Noboa described as an "illicit act."

Before the arrest, Ecuador said that, according to international conventions, "it is not legal to grant asylum to people convicted or prosecuted for common crimes and by competent ordinary courts."

Ecuador is no stranger to granting asylum to those trying to escape legal proceedings. 

Its London Embassy was for seven years the home of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange who was trying to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faced accusations of sexual assault which were later dropped.

 

Breaking norms

Noboa "broke all the behavioural blueprints of traditional diplomacy," Roberto Beltran Zambrano, a professor of conflict management at the Private Technical University of Loja, in Ecuador, told AFP.

Nicaragua also cut ties with Ecuador, citing the "unusual and reprehensible action" of the Embassy storming. 

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva condemned the operation "in the strongest terms" and expressed "all of my solidarity" with López Obrador."

The Organisation of American States (OAS) said in a statement it rejects "any action that violates or puts at risk the inviolability of the premises of diplomatic missions." 

Spain on Sunday condemned the raid and called for "respect for international law".

"The forced entry into the Mexican Embassy in Quito is a violation of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. We call for respect for international law and concord between Mexico and Ecuador, sister countries of Spain and members of the Ibero-American community," Spain's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The 1961 Vienna Convention governing diplomatic relations state that the diplomatic or consular premises "shall be inviolable." But it also says the premises should not be used in any way that is "incompatible" with diplomatic and consular functions.

In Buenos Aires, President Javier Milei's government said that it condemned the actions in Ecuador and called for "the full observance" of "obligations arising from the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations."

The US State Department, saying that it values both countries as partners, condemned the raid for violating the Vienna Convention and added that it “takes very seriously” respect for diplomatic missions. It called on Mexico and Ecuador to resolve the matter following international norms, according to a statement by spokesman Matthew Miller. 

 

– TIMES/AFP/BLOOMBERG

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