The United States has announced the withdrawal of key anti-drug personnel from Ecuador in an apparent tit-for-tat reaction to the recent expulsion of US military officials, further widening the ever larger gaps in its regional counternarcotics operations.
The US Assistant Secretary of State and head of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) William Brownfield has announced the INL will pull out of Ecuador in late September, reported AFP.
According to Brownfield, the move reflects the "reality of the nature of cooperation" between the two countries.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Ecuador
The move comes less than two weeks after the US closed its military office attached to the US Embassy in Quito and removed 20 military personnel from the country, following a formal request by Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa.
In reaction to the military expulsion, US Southern Command (SouthCom) commander General John Kelly said it formed part of a "general loss of influence" for the United States in the region, reported EFE.
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As General Kelly has pointed out, this is just the latest example of the United States' declining clout in Latin America. While this fits into the context of it scaling back its involvement in the region, it also has a lot to do with politics.
Both Bolivia and Venezuela expelled their US ambassadors in 2008. That same year, Bolivian President Evo Morales ejected the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and in 2013, he pushed out USAID. In that case, as well, the United States reacted by withdrawing the INL from the country.
With US personnel now set to leave Ecuador, where operations have already been reduced since the enforced closure of a military base in 2008, the United States will lack a counternarcotics presence in three of South America countries that play an important role in the regional drug trade.
Bolivia is a coca producer and a transit nation for Peruvian cocaine, and Venezuela is a significant drug transit and export nation. Meanwhile, there are signs Ecuador is taking on an increasingly significant role in the drug trade, both as a meeting point for global organized crime, and as a departure point for drugs heading abroad. The country's cocaine seizures rose 30 percent in 2013 compared with 2012 figures, indicating that the US withdrawal comes at a critical moment.
While such moves are weakening the US on the ground capacity in its "war on drugs," it is also facing a political onslaught in the form of calls for drug policy reform, and moves to liberalize drug laws.