A recently released WikiLeaks cable sheds light on the distrust between President Correa and the U.S., caused in part by FARC links to Ecuador’s political establishment, as this nation became a key logistics and drug running center for rebels in the south of Colombia.
The U.S. State Department cable, released via Colombian newsweekly, Semana, summarizes the controversial career of Ricardo Patiño the day he was appointed Foreign Minister on January 21, 2010. Patiño is better known for his alleged role in trying to manipulate the repayment of Ecuador’s foreign debt, a scandal that forced out him out of the Finance Minister’s Office in 2007.
The cable cites several unnamed sources alleging that Patiño asked for campaign money for President Rafael Correa from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC).
“Two separate GRPO sources, one highly credible, have alleged that Patiño obtained and managed Venezuelan funds for Correa’s campaign. An uncorroborated report from a GRPO source indicated that Patiño also solicited funds from the FARC for Correa’s campaign,” the cable reads.
While the citation of “uncorroborated” sources in a U.S. State Department cable barely qualifies as a credible charge of “links” between Patiño and the FARC, the text is still an indication of the distrust between President Correa and the U.S. This distrust recently culminated with Ecuador’s expulsion of the U.S. ambassador, due to revelations of police corruption made in another cable.
The troubled relationship between the U.S. and Ecuador has been colored by ongoing allegations that the FARC have attempted to infiltrate Correa’s inner political circle. The FARC is increasingly dependent on Ecuador as a logistics base, smuggling drugs, arms and explosives across Colombia’s southern border. There has even been recruitment of Ecuadorean citizens by the FARC. However the FARC have reached out to senior officials in the Correa administration, seeking to encourage a permissive environment to allow the rebels to continue operating in Ecuador’s northern provinces.
Some of these accusations about Correa-FARC links stem from revelations made in the Angostura commission report. Appointed by the president, the commission was charged with investigating the Colombian military attack on a FARC camp in northern Ecuador in March 2008, which killed FARC commander Luis Devia Silva, alias “Raul Reyes.”
The commission found that the former ambassador to Venezuela, retired general Rene Vargas Pazzos, met with Raul Reyes near the Colombia-Ecuador border in 2003. The commission also alleges that one of Vargas’ properties was rented out to Oliver Solarte, a drug trafficker who worked with the FARC’s Southern Bloc and who sought refuge in Ecuador.
Other accusations of links between the Correa administration and the FARC were reportedly contained in the laptops and hard drives found in Reyes’ camp after the bombing. These allegedly contained damning evidence of ties between the FARC and the Ecuadorean government, later supported in part by the findings of the Angostura commission.
Some of the most serious accusations culled from the laptops involved Security Minister Gustavo Larrea and his deputy Ignacio Chauvin. In a letter dated January 18, 2008, Raul Reyes reportedly wrote that he met with Larrea (whom the rebels gave the alias “Juan”) and talked about cementing ties with the guerrillas. Larrea allegedly offered Reyes to reshuffle the military and police command near the border, replacing “hostile” officers with ones who would not interfere with FARC activities.
Larrea admitted to meeting with Reyes but said it was done with knowledge of the Colombian government, in order to discuss the release of kidnap victims. Nevertheless Correa dismissed Larrea from office.
The vice minister of security, Chauvin, also faced accusations of ties with the FARC, after he admitted having frequently met with the Ostaiza brothers, Jefferson, Miguel and Edison. The three were among the top drug traffickers in Ecuador and did frequent business with the FARC’s main drug contract in Ecuador, Oliver Solarte.
One of the FARC’s main international political contacts, Nubia Calderon, was also tied to several Correa administration officials. She escaped from the bombing that killed Raul Reyes and, with alleged assistance from Ecuador, found political asylum in Nicaragua. She wrote an e-mail to Reyes in 2006, asking to meet with retired general Rene Vargas Pazzos, who also reportedly wrote her a letter of reference in 2003.
President Correa took swift action to distance himself from many of these accusations. But as indicated by the U.S. cable citing Patiño as another suspected political collaborator with the FARC, even in 2010 there were lingering suspicions that Correa worked alongside people who have maintained contact with the rebels.
Meanwhile, there is still ample evidence that the FARC are using Ecuador as a refuge. Other drug-trafficking organizations, namely, the Sinaloa Cartel, have also reportedly increased their presence in the country.
That the FARC have an interest in reaching out to Ecuador’s political elite is clear – that they have done so in the past is also clear. The question now is what the FARC-Ecuador relationship looks like today, and whether many top officials – political, military and police – can still claim ignorance.
Below is the full transcript of the cable, published by Semana.
date: 1/21/2010 23:21
origin: Embassy Quito
SUBJECT: New Foreign Minister Patino from Left Side of Correa's
REF: QUITO 5; 094 QUITO 841; 08 QUITO 1062; 07 QUITO 1607
07 QUITO 290; 06 QUITO 2937
CLASSIFIED BY: Andrew Chritton, Charge d'Affaires; REASON: 1.4(D)
1. (C) Summary: On January 21, President Rafael Correa named
Ricardo Patino as Ecuador's foreign minister, applauding Patino's
loyalty to Correa's political project and great ideological
consistency. A political fixer in Correa's small inner circle,
Patino has had very limited contact with the Embassy. Patino
announced that his first priorities would be promoting the
UNASUR-U.S. relationship and an Amazon rainforest conservation
project called Yasuni-ITT. President Correa's disapproval of the
MFA's handling of the Yasuni-ITT project triggered former FM
Falconi's resignation (ref A). Patino's appointment suggests an
renewed ideological cast to Foreign Ministry actions, which could
easily slow or impede U.S. initiatives. End summary.
2. (S/NF) Patino has been the liaison between the Executive and
the National Assembly and involved in organizing the PAIS
movement's committees of the citizens' revolution. The founder of
Ecuador's branch of Jubilee 2000 (a debt forgiveness international
NGO), he influenced the GOE position on nonpayment and seeking a
deep discount on certain commercial debt. He left the Finance
Minister's office in 2007 after allegations that he manipulated the
debt market. GRPO sources have alleged that Patino received funds
for the Correa campaign from Venezuela and the FARC. More detailed
biographic information follows.
3. (S/NF) BIOGRAPHY
A trusted confidant of President Rafael Correa, Richard Patino has
served in three ministerial positions in the Correa government:
Political Coordination (since December 2007), the Coast (July to
December 2007), and Economy and Finance (January to July 2007).
As Minister for Political Coordination, Patino has managed the
Correa government's interactions with social groups, local
governments, and the National Assembly. His work as the link
between the Executive and the National Assembly has been criticized
by the opposition and government allies. Assembly member Dalo
Bucaram of the government-aligned Ecuadorean Roldosist Party (PRE)
told us that Patino stood in the way of an open dialogue between
the Executive and the Assembly's political parties. The PRE
requested that Patino no longer serve as the link to the Assembly,
but Correa ratified him in that position. President Correa's
estranged brother Fabricio has called Patino a terrorist and
criticized him for giving orders to the National Assembly. Patino
has participated in an array of negotiations with social movements
on different topics, including indigenous demands, flour subsidies,
transportation issues, pensions, and street vendors' rights. A
staffer with the National Electoral Council (CNE) told us that an
official working for Patino called all the shots at the CNE.
Patino was involved in establishing Committees of the Citizens'
Revolution of the Proud and Sovereign Fatherland (PAIS) Alliance
(ref b). He refused to appear before a National Assembly
commission on that subject, arguing that it was a party, not
One of the goals of the Ministry of Coordination of Politics,
according to its website (www.mcpolitica.gov.ec), is to establish a
relationship with political parties and organizations in the region
with which the government has affinity. Patino's international
role included accompanying Correa to an ALBA summit; promoting Plan
Ecuador and the Yasuni-ITT initiative in Europe; travel to
Venezuela and Bolivia; and speaking for the government on the March
2008 Colombian incursion into northern Ecuador.
Patino was a member of a government-appointed debt audit
commission, the report of which was used to justify the GOE's
decision to default on part of its commercial debt in late 2008
(ref C). He was part of a government delegation that traveled to
other countries to argue that the Ecuadorean foreign debt was
illegitimate. His focus on the debt issue was apparent in 1999
when Patino helped establish the Ecuadorean branch of Jubilee 2000,
an international NGO calling for forgiveness of developing country
Patino's performance as Minister of Economics and Finance was
controversial, and he struck Embassy staff at the time as inept on
economics. He stated that Ecuador might not honor its
international debt obligations, and then made the payments a few
days later. In May 2007 a video became public where Patino made
comments that seemed to imply manipulation of the debt market, for
which he was censured by Congress (ref D). The Department of
Justice and the Securities Exchange Commission initiated an
investigation of him at that time (Post does not know the results).
Patino's move to head the newly-created Ministry of the Coast in
July 2007 isolated him from this scandal, but was considered a
demotion. In theory the Ministry of the Coast oversees various
sub-ministerial government offices in Guayaquil.
Former Ambassador Jewell made a courtesy call on Patino in February
2007 (ref E). During that meeting, Patino congratulated himself on
the ease with which he prepared his first budget, called some debt
illegitimate, and welcomed the opportunity to work with the USG on
microfinance and supporting small businesses.
In 2006, Patino was the national political director for the PAIS
Alliance, Correa's political movement, during the presidential
campaign. Two separate GRPO sources, one highly credible, have
alleged that Patino obtained and managed Venezuelan funds for
Correa's campaign. An uncorroborated report from a GRPO source
indicated that Patino also solicited funds from the FARC for
Correa's campaign. In addition, Patino enlisted support for Correa
from members of the former Ecuadorean terrorist group Alfaro Vive
Carajo (ref F).
When Correa was Minister of Economy and Finance in 2005, Patino was
his Chief of Staff and then his Vice Minister of Economy. Patino
was the coordinator of the Technical Advisory Committee of the
GOE's Inter-ministerial Employment Commission and an outside
consultant for the International Labor Organization. He taught at
the University of Guayaquil's Economics Department and the Superior
Polytechnical School of the Coast.
Patino has a master's degree in development economics from the
International University in Andalucia, Spain (2001). He obtained
an undergraduate economics degree at the Autonomous Metropolitan
University of Iztalapa, Mexico (1979). A press article reported
that Patino supported the Sandinista National Liberation Front in
Nicaragua after graduating in Mexico.
Patino was born in 1954 in Guayaquil (which is also Correa's home
town). He is married to Miriam Alcivar and they have one daughter.
According to Guayaquil sources, Patino is rumored to be homosexual.