After Ecuador's sudden dismissal of U.S. ambassador in Quito, something of a diplomatic crisis has developed between the two countries. A careful analysis of the leaked diplomatic cable sheds light on the entrenched nature of corruption in Ecuadorean politics.
In a surprising political move on April 5, Ecuador declared U.S. ambassador Heather Hodges, a ‘persona non grata’ after the emergence of a July 2009 diplomatic cable in which the State Department official accused the Ecuadorean government of high level corruption.
The cable, obtained by the whistleblower organization WikiLeaks and released by El Pais, is a request to immigration officials to revoke the travel visa of Jaime Aquilino Hurtado, who served as the commander of Ecuador’s National Police (ENP) from April 2008 to June 2009. Sent from Hodges’ desk, the cable alleges numerous instances of corruption, including extorting a taxi union, embezzling public funds and facilitating the resale of stolen cars.
In one particularly dramatic case, the cable describes how, when ENP investigators informed Hurtado of certain low-level officials’ involvement in a Chinese human smuggling ring, the commander told them not to pursue the matter further. Acording to U.S. Embassy officials, Hurtado had actually been receiving kickbacks from the operation, and wanted to cover up his tracks. Throughout the rest of his time in office, Hurtado repeatedly halted official inquiries into his own activities, at one point even demoting the director of the national judicial police to the Quito metropolitan police force because of his investigation into Hurtado’s criminal ties.
The most incriminating (and the most publicized) allegation in the cable, however, is the allegation that Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa himself knew of Hurtado’s activities, but kept him on in order to “have an ENP Chief whom he could easily manipulate.” Though at first glance this might seem far-fetched, the remark makes sense due to the political strength of the national police, as evidenced by recent attempts by some ENP officers to destabilize the Correa government.
For his part, President Correa has denied any implication of corruption in his cabinet, and has blamed the remarks on both a CIA plot against his police force and the Ambassador’s own “right wing agenda.” In a separate announcement, the Ecuadorean Chancellor Ricardo Patiño said the the cable’s allegations revealed disturbing facts about American intelligence-gathering. “"We are concerned by the fact that the U.S. Embassy has such internal information," Patiño said in an interview.
However, reports of police corruption in Ecuador are nothing new. In fact, Ambassador Hodges is the third U.S. diplomatic official to be dismissed for making allegations of corruption. In 2009 Correa expelled two mid-level diplomats for attempting to influence his appointment of police commanders by threatening to withhold U.S. aid.
Below is the full transcript of the diplomatic cable, as published by El Pais.
S E C R E T QUITO 000572
E.O. 12958: DECL: 7/6/19
TAGS: CVIS, KCOR, KCRM, PGOV, PREL, NU, EC
SUBJECT: Visas Donkey - Corruption 212(f) Visa Revocation: Jaime
Aquilino HURTADO Vaca (S/NF
Classified by Ambassador Heather Hodges. Reason: 1.4 b and d.
1. (U) This cable replaces Quito 561, which was cancelled. Please
disregard the earlier cable.
2. (S/NF) Embassy Quito is seeking a security advisory opinion under
Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, Presidential
Proclamation 7750, suspending the entry into the United States and
revoking the visas of the above Ecuadorean citizen for public
corruption as defined in Section 1, Paragraphs (a) and (c) of the
Proclamation (namely for misappropriation of public funds and
interference with Ecuador's public processes). This corruption had
an adverse effect on U.S. national interests mentioned in Section 4
of the Proclamation (namely the stability of democratic nations and
institutions, the security of the United States against transnational
crime and terrorism, U.S. foreign assistance goals, and the
international economic activities of U.S. businesses). Jaime
Aquilino HURTADO Vaca has used his office as Commander of the
National Police and personal influence to extort cash and property,
misappropriate public funds, facilitate human trafficking, and
obstruct the investigation and prosecution of corrupt colleagues.
3. (C) Corruption among Ecuadorean National Police officers is
widespread and well-known. Broad sections of the public report
paying bribes related to minor and more significant transactions.
Ecuador faces numerous challenges in combating this problem, since
many citizens prefer the practice of paying bribes to the more
daunting challenge of tackling the endless red tape and delays of
Ecuador's bureaucracy. Ecuador has very weak institutional oversight
of its law enforcement agencies, and the problem has been compounded
by the voters' approval in September 2008 of a new constitution. The
confusion stemming from implementation of the new constitution has
further complicated the already weak system of oversight. Because of
these institutional failings, National Police officers face minimal
risk of exposure or punishment when they engage in corrupt acts. As
with corrupt politicians and judges, this situation is more
pronounced at higher levels of power.
Summary of Corrupt Acts
4. (S/NF) Jaime Hurtado was Commanding General of the ENP from April
2008 to June 2009. In 2007 and 2008 he was Inspector General of the
ENP and prior to that served in the Transit Police. The Embassy has
multiple reports that indicate he used his positions to extort
bribes, facilitate human trafficking, misappropriate public funds,
obstruct investigations and prosecutions of corrupt colleagues, and
engage in other corrupt acts for personal enrichment. Although the
Embassy's information about his corrupt acts comes from recent years,
internal ENP investigations reportedly suggest that Hurtado has been
engaged in corrupt activities within the ENP since the early 1990s.
Until 2008, Hurtado's rank and access within the ENP shielded him
from any direct corruption investigation. However, ENP
investigations into the corrupt acts of colleagues repeatedly turned
up evidence of illegal activities by Hurtado.
Corrupt Acts, In Chronological Order
5. (S/NF) In 2005, a taxi union in the city of Cuenca filed a formal
complaint alleging extortion by Hurtado. A close colleague of
Hurtado's, Major Bolivar VILLOTA, who was serving in Cuenca at the
same time, was later transferred to a command position in the Transit
Police in the town of Sangolqui. After numerous complaints of
corruption committed by Villota in his new position, the ENP's
Inspector General's office began an undercover investigation of
Villota in 2006 which reportedly confirmed the previous allegations
of corruption by Hurtado and Villota. Investigators also later found
that two lower-ranking accomplices of Villota were involved in a
scheme re-documenting and re-tagging stolen vehicles. Hurtado
eventually learned of the investigation, and ordered the undercover
officer conducting it removed and transferred.
6. (S/NF) In September 2007, Villota was arrested by ENP officers on
corruption charges. ENP officers seized over $20,000 in cash, and a
computer in his possession had files including a ledger that showed
he had earned $157,000 from kickback and extortion schemes. It also
showed substantial payments to Hurtado as part of these activities,
as well as $94,000 worth of kickback payments to other ENP officers.
Villota had been slated to be removed for cause from the Transit
Police earlier in 2007, but the computer files showed he had paid an
ENP officer $30,000 to remain in his position. Villota's total
salary from 2000-2007 was less than $30,000, but investigators found
that he had a net worth of over $450,000, which included luxury homes
and a brand new SUV. Some of these assets were registered in the
names of his parents. Villota and a girlfriend were also developing
a tourist property owned by Hurtado. The two lower-ranking
accomplices were found to have jointly purchased properties worth
7. (S/NF) Although he was charged with a variety of criminal acts
under Ecuadorean law following his arrest in 2007, Villota was not
administratively sanctioned or removed from the ENP. Hurtado was
serving as the ENP's Inspector General during this time period and
was the responsible authority to sign paperwork removing Villota from
the force. In late 2007 and early 2008, allegations of additional
corrupt activities by Hurtado surfaced in an ENP investigation of
other lower-ranking ENP officers. These officers were accused of
stealing from official ENP funds and influence-peddling, and the
investigation revealed that Hurtado had influence over them. ENP
investigators also heard allegations that Hurtado had illegally
acquired a property in Ecuador's Cotopaxi province by sending ENP
officers who threatened the legal owner into signing over the
property to Hurtado.
8. (S/NF) In April 2008, Hurtado was appointed Commanding General of
the ENP. (Note: Hurtado's corrupt activities were so widely known
within the upper ranks of the ENP that some Embassy officials believe
that President Correa must have been aware of them when he made the
appointment. These observers believe that Correa may have wanted to
have an ENP Chief whom he could easily manipulate. End Note.) In
late January 2009, the two ENP officers in charge of immigration
enforcement in Guayaquil, Col. Milton Raul ANDRADE and Maj. Manuel
Fernando BASANTES, were each receiving bribes related to alien
smuggling activities. Andrade extorted on average $2000 per week
from ENP officials at the Guayaquil airport, who in turn were
receiving bribes for the safe passage of illegal immigrants through
the airport. The other officials each received on average $1000 per
week in bribes. The group typically moved from five to eight illegal
Chinese immigrants per day through the airport, and received
$1000-$2000 per migrant to ensure their departure from Ecuador to
Central America. The final destination for these illegal immigrants
was nearly always the U.S. ENP investigators attempted to make ENP
Commanding General Hurtado aware of the situation, but Embassy
officials were told that Hurtado was receiving gifts and cash
payments from Col. Andrade, and took no action.
9. (S/NF) Also in late January 2009, Hurtado learned that General
Juan Francisco SOSA, the director of the ENP's Judicial Police, had
begun a formal investigation into Hurtado's activities. In early
February 2009, Hurtado removed Sosa from his position as Judicial
Police commander and demoted him to the Quito Metropolitan District
Chief position in order to derail the investigation. Hurtado also
fired the officer directly in charge of the investigation.
10. (S/NF) In early March 2009, ENP Major Pedro LLERENA, who worked
in the ENP's personnel office, was discovered to have been using his
position to obtain bribes in exchange for ENP position transfers.
Hurtado was reportedly working with Llerena and had facilitated the
paperwork for the transfers in return for a percentage of the bribe
money. During the course of his tenure in the personnel office,
Llerena had received bribes from over 12,000 ENP officials in amounts
ranging from $2000-4000, depending upon the desirability of the
position. Upon learning of these activities, the investigating
officer resigned from the ENP. Hurtado subsequently helped Llerena
attend a training course in Chile in order to help him avoid
Individual Corrupt Acts per Presidential Proclamation 7750
Section 1(a) - Solicitation or Acceptance of Any Article of Monetary
Value, or Other Benefit, in Exchange for Any Act or Omission in the
Performance of Public Functions
11. (S/NF) The Embassy has reports from multiple sources alleging
that Hurtado repeatedly extorted bribes from ENP colleagues in
exchange for protecting them within the institution or facilitating
their activities. Embassy reports indicate that in exchange for
payments, Hurtado participated in schemes extorting bribes from a
taxi union, facilitating the re-sale of stolen vehicles, stealing ENP
public funds, assisting a human trafficking organization, and
manipulating the ENP's assignment processes.
Section 1(c) - Interference with Public Process
12. (S/NF) In his multiple supervisory positions within the ENP,
Hurtado used his power to prevent the investigation or sanctioning of
corrupt colleagues. On more than one occasion this involved having
investigators removed from their positions and demoted. Embassy
reports show that he also assisted in corrupt practices related to
the ENP assignment processes.
Serious Adverse Effects on U.S. National Interest
13. (SBU) The acts of soliciting bribes and of interference in public
processes described here have had serious adverse effects on the
following categories of U.S. interests specified in Section 4 of the
Proclamation: stability of democratic institutions and nations, the
security of the United States against transnational crime and
terrorism, U.S. foreign assistance goals, and the international
economic activity of U.S. businesses.
Stability of Democratic Institutions
14. (C) Strengthening democratic stability and institutions is one of
the Embassy's top priorities. Justice and the rule of law are
fundamental to democracy and depend upon the existence of a credible
and honest police force. Where police officials violate the law with
impunity, faith in government and democracy evaporates. Confidence
in democracy and democratic institutions is very low in Ecuador
today, in part because of corrupt acts like those described in this
cable. These acts reinforce popular perceptions that Ecuador's law
enforcement institutions and government are irredeemably corrupt and
that justice is determined by those with political and economic
Security of the United States against Transnational Crime and
15. (C) A police force free of corruption is necessary to
investigate and prosecute those guilty of money laundering, human
trafficking, and terrorism--all issues with a direct impact on U.S.
homeland security. Several U.S. Government agencies cooperate with
their Ecuadorean counterparts in fighting transnational crime and
terrorism. The acts described in this cable have diminished the
effectiveness of these efforts, making it more likely that criminals
and terrorists will go undetected and unpunished. In addition, the
subject of this cable has provided assistance and protection to human
traffickers, creating opportunities for criminals and terrorists to
enter the U.S.
U.S. Foreign Assistance Goals
16. (C) U.S. Government assistance to Ecuador through judicial reform
and anti-corruption programs has totaled over $14 million in the past
9 years. The corrupt activities described above directly damage the
Mission's work in these areas. The Mission's economic growth
programs are also subverted when high quality foreign investment is
driven away by the type of corrupt interference in the rule of law
that the subject of this cable promotes.
International Activity of U.S. Businesses
17. (C) The corrupt activities described in this cable hamper U.S.
investment in Ecuador. U.S. investors are reluctant to risk their
resources in Ecuador knowing that they could be targeted by corrupt
law enforcement officials. The activities described here have
demonstrably and directly harmed the credibility of Ecuador's law
enforcement system, with attendant direct damage to the interests of
all those subject to Ecuadorean law, whatever their nationality. The
impunity with which prominent police officials are able to extort
bribes and misappropriate public funds is a clear menace to any U.S.
company doing business in Ecuador.
Family and Visa Information
18. (C) Hurtado has two family members who the Embassy believes
should be included in a 212f decision. These are: wife Gioconda
Moemi MARTINEZ Duque (DOB: 03/12/52) and daughter Maria Esther
HURTADO Martinez (DOB: 09/10/80). Since it is believed that Hurtado
has been engaged in corrupt acts since the early 1990s, the Embassy
feels that both of these individuals likely benefited from his
illicit earnings. Hurtado and his family members all have valid
B1/B2 visas issued in Quito on June 17, 2008. The visas will expire
on June 16, 2013.