QUITO - President Rafael Correa's allegations that intelligence services in
Ecuador had been infiltrated by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have
led to a shakeup in the armed forces of unforeseeable consequences.
Resignations and dismissals are the order of the day. Wellington Sandoval resigned
as defense minister Wednesday and was replaced by Correa's personal secretary
Javier Ponce. The head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hector Camacho, army commander
Guillermo Vásconez, and the chief of police, General Bolívar Cisneros,
also stepped down.
A high-level Ecuadorian military officer who asked not to be identified told
IPS that the country is at a critical juncture, with only two possible routes:
"either the military as an institution returns to its nationalist orientation
or it submits itself once and for all to impositions from the US."
It is necessary, he added, for "independent and progressive sectors to
regain control over the institution." He also called for "a reduction
of the power of a group that answers to former president Lucio Gutiérrez"
(2003-2005), a former army colonel who was removed as president by Congress
and replaced by his vice president Alfredo Palacio.
The current crisis broke out as a result of Colombia's Mar. 1 bombing raid
of a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) camp in Ecuadorian territory,
which led to a brief rupture in relations between Ecuador and Colombia and sparked
a regional crisis that was quickly overcome through dialogue.
At least two other members of the Ecuadorian high command have also offered
their resignations, said Camacho.
Ponce, the new defense minister, said "this is not setting the stage for
a witch hunt, but for a healthy critical exercise of transparency. The stability
of our democracy is not based on cover-ups but on the courageous analysis of
He also urged the armed forces "to undertake a generous review of their
structures and practices."
On Saturday, Correa denounced in his weekly radio broadcast that the CIA "has
totally infiltrated some of Ecuador's military intelligence bodies."
A few days earlier he had sacked the army intelligence chief, Colonel Mario
Pazmiño, for hiding information from the government, and announced that
further measures would be taken.
According to Correa, the failure to share critical information gave rise to
errors in the country's military and diplomatic handling of the conflict
Sandoval's resignation came two days after the announcement of the creation
of a high-level civilian commission to "determine the extent of unauthorized
links between intelligence officers and units in Ecuador" and "foreign
intelligence agencies," according to the Notimil military news agency.
The agency also reported that an investigation had been launched to determine
whether Pazmiño had provided the government with "timely and complete"
information with respect to the bombing of the FARC camp, which killed the rebel
group's international spokesman Raúl Reyes, who was negotiating
a release of hostages held by the insurgents.
Citing military sources, the on-line news site Ecuadorinmediato said Monday
that "Pazmiño's fall is apparently the result of a series of
complaints and denunciations from higher ranking officers who were disobeyed
by the colonel," who served as army intelligence chief for more than 10
According to the news report, when it began to be revealed that the armed forces
had previous knowledge of the Colombian air strike on the FARC camp in Ecuador,
several military officers complained internally that the intelligence service
had not passed on the information.
Local media outlets reported that military intelligence had been following
Franklin Aizalla, an Ecuadorian citizen who died in the attack on the FARC camp,
without informing Correa.
On Mar. 17, Correa and then defense minister Sandoval learned from the press
that Aizalla had been under surveillance, which Colombia's right-wing President
Álvaro Uribe had been aware of for some time.
Colonel Pazmiño's curriculum indicates "very effective training
by the US and Israeli security bodies," wrote Ecuadorinmediato, which
added that "he handled military intelligence operations in a nearly autonomous
manner, without duly reporting to his superiors, many of whom were unaware of
The military source who spoke to IPS said it was true that Pazmiño had
accumulated enormous influence, but also criticized the negligence shown by
the intelligence chief's direct superiors over the last 10 years.
He also said Pazmiño merits "a dishonorable discharge and a trial
for treason." But, he added, "perhaps there are fears that Pazmiño
knows a great deal about many officers, and could talk."
Alexis Ponce of the Permanent Assembly on Human Rights said "this is the
first time that a head of state has touched on this issue, and I think it is
a historic opportunity to dismantle groups that are autonomously carrying out
parallel intelligence work, often against the very interests of Ecuadorian national
Retired colonel Jorge Brito, one of the army officers who took part in the
January 2000 uprising by indigenous groups and junior officers that toppled
president Jamil Mahuad, brought legal action against Pazmiño in 2001,
accusing him of being the founder of the Legión Blanca (White Legion),
a far-right group that has issued death threats against journalists, human rights
activists and political and social leaders.
With respect to Pazmiño's possible ties to Colombia's intelligence
services, Alexis Ponce pointed out that people living near the site of the Mar.
1 bombing raid were given warning to leave the area, "because there were
going to be armed clashes."
Camacho and US Ambassador to Ecuador Linda Jewell opened a seminar Monday on
"Strategic Opportunities and Challenges", which forms part of the
cooperation between the US Army Southern Command and the Ecuadorian military.
The officer consulted by IPS expressed his opposition to such activities which,
he argued, "condition" Ecuador's armed forces.
He also said that, "besides the CIA's infiltration in the armed forces,
it is essential to take a look at what is happening in the police, who have
traditionally had the closest ties to US security policies for the region."
Former US Southern Command chief Charles Wilhelm said in 2000 that after Ecuador
signed an agreement leasing the air base in the port city of Manta to the US
military, one of Washington's aims was to "reorient" the Ecuadorian
The officer who spoke anonymously to IPS said "part of that reorientation
was the modification of the training received by the Ecuadorian military, to
make it more similar to the training received by the Colombian army."
To bring that about, "it was necessary to eliminate more progressive elements
and modify the social relationship between the military and different social
sectors like indigenous groups," while "implementing more closely
the training agreements signed by the US and Ecuadorian armed forces."
The source said a rift occurred in the armed forces after the January 2000
uprising by indigenous associations and the group of junior officers that overthrew
Mahuad, and that US influence took deeper root at that time.
In January 2004, after the arrest in Quito of FARC leader Simón Trinidad,
US Embassy spokeswoman Marti Estell said the "joint operation, which turned
out perfectly," was "an example of cooperation between the Ecuadorian
and Colombian police," with the support of the US secret services.
A few days after the Mar. 1 bombing of the FARC camp, the Colombian magazine
Cambio reported that members of the Ecuadorian police intelligence services
had helped locate the camp.
(Inter Press Service)