Article by Mark Weisbrot.
On Thursday, the United States expelled the ambassador from Ecuador, in retaliation for Wednesday’s expulsion of the US ambassador from Ecuador. This now leaves the United States without ambassadorial relations in three South American countries – Bolivia and Venezuela being the other two – thus surpassing the Bush administration in its diplomatic problems in the region.
US Ambassador Heather Hodges was declared “persona non grata” and asked to leave Ecuador “as soon as possible”, after a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks showed her saying some disparaging things about Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa. In the cable, she alleges that President Correa had knowledge of corruption by a former head of the national police.
Although the Bush administration intervened in the internal affairs of countries such as Bolivia and even Brazil, it was somewhat better at keeping its “eyes on the prize” and avoiding fights that would distract from its main goal. The prize, of course, is Venezuela – home to the largest oil reserves in the world, estimated by the US Geological Survey at 500bn barrels. Washington’s goal there for the last decade has been regime change. The Bush team understood that the more they fought with other countries in the region, the less credible would be their public relations story that Venezuela was the problem.
It’s nothing personal, really – Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez could have chosen to be the perfect diplomat and he would still be treated in much the same manner by the US government. And it’s not the oil itself, since Venezuela still sells the US more than 1m barrels a day and there is a world market for oil, in any case. It’s just that any country with that much oil is going to have regional influence; and Washington just doesn’t want to deal with someone who has regional influence and doesn’t line up with its own goals for the region – not if it can get rid of them. And they have come close to getting rid of Chávez, in the 2002 coup – so they are not giving up.