Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa speaks Jan. 22 at the Carondelet presidential Palace in Quito. (Rodrigo Buendia / AFP)
QUITO, ECUADOR — Ecuador on Saturday stressed it wanted the number of US military staff on its territory reduced, and warned it also would not allow US “espionage equipment.”
“It just makes no sense that an outsized number of US military staff, who report to the US Southern Command, would be here, at the US Embassy,” Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told reporters.
President Rafael Correa said Wednesday he would ask the United States to withdraw American military personnel assigned to its embassy in Quito.
Correa said he became aware of what he described as the oversized presence after learning that four US military personnel were aboard an Ecuadoran military helicopter that came under fire on Oct. 3 near the border with Colombia.
Correa, an economist by training who has long railed against America’s “imperialism” in its Latin American backyard, said Quito was “already taking measures” to address the issue.
In Washington, a US official said that the 50 military personnel cited by Correa were “more than double the actual number.
Patino argued that “to coordinate things, you need two or three. You don’t need 50. We are trying to determine what it is they were doing here.”
It was more than a gentle reminder that international trust in US intentions has not been fostered by the scandal over US cyber-spying.
“We will not be allowing them to install spying equipment, and we are going to find out everything about the staff and teams they have here so we can avoid falling victim to legal offenses like the ones all around the world,” the top Ecuadoran diplomat warned.
Ecuador has no US base. In 2009, Correa opted not to renew a lease that had allowed the United States to operate its counter-narcotics operation in South America.