Unacceptable blow to diplomatic institutionality

In the space of a week, two serious attacks undermined the institutional basis of diplomacy. On April 1, the Iranian Consulate in Damascus was hit by missiles, attributed to Israel, killing 16 people, seven of them members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Four days later, a police commando broke into the Mexican Embassy in Quito, kidnapped Jorge Glas, former Vice President during the government of Rafael Correa and the first year of Lenin Moreno’s administration, and harassed the head of the Foreign Ministry, Roberto Canseco, the highest representative of the embassy present at the time.

The attack on the Iranian Consulate led to an emergency meeting, at the request of the Iranian government, of the United Nations Security Council, which took place on April 2. The Council did not condemn the attack on the diplomatic mission due to the opposition of the United States, the United Kingdom and France.

The European Union had more decorum and the following day condemned the attack and demanded respect for the inviolability of diplomatic and consular headquarters and personnel, in accordance with the 1961 Vienna Convention governing diplomatic relations and the 1963 Vienna Convention on consular relations.

Intrusion into the Mexican Embassy

In a sort of legal suicide, Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa immediately declared himself responsible for ordering the kidnapping of Jorge Glas from inside the Mexican embassy. The Mexican government had granted asylum to Glas the day before.

Nobia invoked the 1954 Caracas Convention on the Right of Asylum, according to which political asylum cannot be granted to convicted criminals unless the charges on which the conviction is based are of a political nature. However, it also states that it is up to the State granting asylum to decide whether the case has a political motivation.

He ignored Article 22 of the Vienna Convention, which establishes that diplomatic missions enjoy full immunity and extraterritoriality that prevents the host government from entering an embassy without the authorization of the head of the mission. If the Ecuadorian government believed that Glas did not meet the requirements for political asylum, it could have denied him safe conduct.

There is no legal loophole to get around full the condemnation of Noboa’s reckless action. With the invasion of the embassy, Noboa managed to unite the Holy See, the Organization of American States (OAS), the European Union, Russia, the United States, Canada and all the governments of the region, from Maduro to Milei. The only exception was an abstention from the Bukele government of El Salvador.

The postulates of international law are well known to the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry. As a rotating member of the UN Security Council, Ecuador’s United Nations representative, Ambassador José De la Gasca, had just voted in the Security Council April 2 (minute 53) to condemn the attack on the Iranian Consulate in Damascus. On that occasion, De la Gasca pointed out that the attack on the Iranian diplomatic facilities went against the principles enshrined in international law, and that it had cost civilian lives and destroyed civilian infrastructure. “Nothing justifies this type of attack, wherever it comes from,” he said, and called on all states to respect the inviolability of diplomatic and consular offices. These acts must be duly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice, he added.

Given the categorical defense of international law on April 2, Ecuador’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alejandro Davalos, statements at the OAS to justify the assault on Mexico’s diplomatic headquarters are paradoxical. Davalos set forth arguments such as interference of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Ecuador’s internal affairs and the Noboa government’s stance that Glas cannot receive political asylum since he is a convicted felon.

A bit of history

In early January 2018, then President Lenin Moreno, recognized for his neoliberal turnaround and close alignment with the United States, and for deactivating Unasur, dismissed Jorge Glas as Vice President. Glas had been detained since October on trial for illicit association in the corruption scheme of the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. The Vice-President was imprisoned for four and a half years with an interval. In November 2022 he was released as a result of a writ of habeas corpus filed before the courts, which granted him provisional freedom. These events occurred in a scenario in which the judicialization of politics and lawfare have become frequent tool in Latin America.

The region’s most well-known case is that of Dilma Rouseff, who was unjustly removed from the Presidency for having redirected budget appropriations–a common practice of all heads of state in Brazil. President Lula da Silva served 580 days in prison as a result of convictions. In the first instance, Judge Sergio Moro sentenced him for alleged corruption offenses, which removed Lula from the presidential race and paved the way for the election of Jair Bolsonaro, who rewarded Moro by appointing him Minister of Justice. In March 2021, the Federal Supreme Court, Brazil’s highest judicial court, annulled the conviction due to the numerous irregularities committed by Moro. Telegram conversations unveiled by the digital newspaper The Intercept proved that the judge and prosecutors cooperated to convict Lula.

The former Ecuadorian vice-president, facing a new persecution, requested asylum in the Mexican Embassy. He entered as a guest on December 17 of last year and eleven days later, the justice revoked the conditional release that allowed him to leave prison in 2022 and ordered his capture and return to prison.

According to Mexican Foreign Minister Alicia Barcena, the two governments were in consultations on the matter. On April 3, the Ecuadorian government expelled the Mexican ambassador Raquel Serur for statements made by President Lopez Obrador that day in his daily program “Las Mañaneras”, in which he linked the murder of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio with the electoral triumph of Noboa in August 2023. Before Villavicencio’s assassination two weeks before the elections, Noboa did not even appear in the first five places in the polls.

What is in store for Ecuador?

The Mexican President also said publicly that it is not possible to carry out a vile assault such as the one perpetrated on the Mexican Embassy in Quito without the knowledge of other countries or powers. On April 13, he presented the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague and requested that Ecuador be suspended from the UN until its government offers a public apology for the violent aggression against its embassy and diplomatic personnel in Quito.

The Foreign Minister explained that Mexico demands that the government of Daniel Noboa recognize that it violated the fundamental principles and norms of international law, with the purpose of guaranteeing reparation of the moral damage inflicted to the Mexican State and its nationals. Mexico also requested that the Court establish the precedent that any State that acts as Ecuador did will be definitively expelled from the UN without the possibility of a veto from the permanent members of the Security Council. Barcena also pointed out that following the severance of diplomatic relations, Mexico has suspended trade negotiations with Ecuador, in reference to the talks that were being held to negotiate a free trade agreement between the two countries.

The resolution approved at the OAS on Wednesday, and the one adopted at the virtual Summit of Presidents of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) on April 16, are merely declarations and invocations. The non-binding status does not, however, detract from their political importance.

On April 9, a virtual meeting of foreign ministers took place within the framework of CELAC that called for a presidential summit on Friday, April 12 later postponed to April 16 at Mexico’s request. At that meeting of Foreign Ministers, some countries (Argentina, Costa Rica, Peru, Paraguay and Uruguay) issued a joint communiqué, put obstacles in the way of holding the Summit, considering, that President Xiomara Castro, who holds the pro tempore presidency of the organization, does not comply with the procedures for convening the meetings.

At the virtual summit, Mexico requested that Celac join in its complaint against Ecuador before the International Court of Justice. But the summit was not as well received as expected among the 33 member countries and some members did not attend, many of them claiming that it was an unusual last-minute meeting, without the necessary consensus and without the announcement of an agenda. The virtual summit was attended by the presidents of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Guatemala, Guyana, Mexico, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Venezuela, in addition to the president of the convening country, Honduras.

Both governments called for dialogue to resolve the conflict in the resolution approved in the OAS,. A possible solution would be for the Ecuadorian government to deliver Glas to Mexico, although Noboa seeks to project a firm image of fighting impunity since he is not very efficient. In January, Jose Adolfo Macias Villamar, alias Fito, the leader of “Los Choneros”, the largest drug trafficking cartel, escaped from prison.

Another effective way to achieve that goal could be to review Ecuador’s list of exporters to Mexico and cut imports. Mexico is Ecuador’s sixth largest trading partner. This method has already been tried in the case of bananas, when Ecuador agreed to sell used Russian weapons to the United States to be sent to Ukraine. Russia, one of the main banana importers from Ecuador, threatened to suspend imports, in response to which Noboa suspended the agreement with the United States and the Russians continued eating Ecuadorian bananas.

The intrusion of police forces in the Mexican Embassy in Ecuador has a strong electoral impact in both countries. The Ecuadorian government held a referendum on April 21, seeking approval of 11 questions on labor issues, international arbitration and citizen security, five of which involve changes to the Constitution. While the population approved nine of the eleven questions, all of them referring to internal security, most of which were already being implemented in practice, those referring to labor and international arbitration were rejected.

The Noboa government is only five months into its administration, which began after former President Guillermo Lasso dissolved the Congress and called for presidential and congressional elections to prevent him from being prosecuted for corruption. Noboa will participate in the elections in February next year and has adopted the “iron fist” policies in the fight against crime and impunity as electoral banners, emulating Salvadoran President Nahib Bukele. But according to an analysis in Código Vidrio that measures the mood of users in social networks, negative comments related to about Noboa rose to 82% on the day of Glas’ kidnapping.

In the case of Mexico, the presidential elections will take place on the first Sunday of June and President AMLO’s successor candidate, Claudia Sheimbaum, leads the polls with 60%– 18 to 24 percentage points% with respect to the second-place contender. The images released by the government from the security cameras of the Embassy in Quito are so damning that it is difficult for the opposition not to close ranks regarding the diplomatic claims. AMLO called for more forceful responses after the initial tepid messages from the United States, Canada and the OAS. The US and OAS later rectified its position.

An attack on a foreign embassy in Latin America didn´t happen even during the most violent times of military dictatorships. Along with the world’s silence in the face of the attack on the Iranian Consulate in Damascus, these are signs that show the breakdown of an international institutional structure based on rules.

Ariela Ruiz Caro is an economist with a master’s degree in economic integration processes from the University of Buenos Aires, and an international consultant for CEPAL, the Latin American Economic System, and the Institute for the Integration of Latin America and the Caribbean, among others. She has been an official of the Andean Community, advisor to the Commission of Permanent Representatives of MERCOSUR and Economic Attaché of the Peruvian Embassy in Argentina. She is an analyst of the Americas Program for the Andean/Southern Cone region.



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