On the Quito Embassy Raid

Photograph Source: YouTube chanel: https://m.youtube.com/@cambio21tv – CC BY-SA 3.0

When armed Ecuadorian police gathered outside the Mexican embassy in Quito last Friday evening, a casual observer might have thought they were there to protect it. Instead, they launched an attack: brandishing assault rifles, police climbed the walls, entered the building by force and kidnapped Ecuador’s former vice-president, Jorge Glas, who had that day been granted political asylum by Mexico. Within ten minutes Glas was being driven away.

The consul, Roberto Canseco, was filmed as he tried to chase after the car but was bundled to the ground by police. Visibly shaken, he told an interviewer that this ‘can’t be happening’, that officials were injured in the attack and that Glas’s life may be in danger. Shortly afterwards, another video shows a handcuffed Glas, barely able to walk, being led onto a plane to be transported to a maximum security prison in Ecuador’s second city, Guayaquil. Yesterday he was taken to hospital after an apparent suicide attempt and was reported to be in a coma.

Glas was a key member of Rafael Correa’s left-wing government, which lost power in 2017. Both men were charged with corruption, in what many regard as an ongoing case of ‘lawfare’ – a tactic used by some Latin American governments to remove their opponents from political life (Lula’s imprisonment in Brazil was the most notorious example). While Correa was given asylum in Belgium, where he now lives, Glas spent several years in prison.

Last year, facing new charges, Glas fled to the Mexican embassy and appealed for asylum. Granting his request last week, Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, said he considered Glas to be a victim of political persecution. In response, Ecuador’s government declared Mexico’s ambassador persona non grata. Conseco was left in charge of the embassy, but by Sunday all its staff had left the country and Mexico had broken off diplomatic relations.

Ecuador’s violation of the Vienna Convention, which protects embassies and their staff, had no precedent in Latin America. Even in Chile under Pinochet, foreign embassies which gave asylum to the regime’s opponents were respected. Officials in Quito cited an incident in Havana in 1981, when Cuban troops entered Ecuador’s embassy to capture a number of armed dissidents who had taken its ambassador hostage, but the events were hardly comparable.

Correa’s government had relied on the protection offered by the convention when, for almost seven years, it gave asylum to Julian Assange in London. The British government reportedly considered the option of forcing entry to the Ecuadorian embassy to arrest Assange but never did. When he was eventually arrested in April 2019, it was only after a right-wing administration in Quito had revoked his asylum status.

In a rare display of unity, almost all Latin American governments condemned last Friday’s attack, though Washington merely called on both parties to resolve their differences ‘according to international norms’. Perhaps US officials recalled how, four years ago, armed police had forced their way into the Venezuelan embassy in Washington.

A drug-related crime wave has made Ecuador one of the most violent countries in the hemisphere. The president, Daniel Noboa, resorting to militarised solutions, is being aided by the head of the US Southern Command, General Laura Richardson. It is inconceivable that he would have launched the embassy raid without advising US officials first. He may also have felt more confident about doing so less than a week after Israel blew up the Iranian consulate in Damascus, killing sixteen people. At the UN Security Council the next day, the Ecuadorian representative denounced Israel for violating the Vienna Convention.

Original article for the London Review of Books blog