A great deal of media coverage has been devoted to the persistent instability in Colombia and ongoing negotiations between the FARC and the Colombian government. However, little attention is paid to the effects that this conflict has had on Colombia’s southern neighbor, Ecuador, and the tenuous relations between the two nations.
Ecuador’s border with Colombia only has five official crossing points, although the heavily-forested and mountainous region contributes to a series of unofficial entry points that are used by both locals and rebel insurgencies from Colombia. The illicit activity along this border is, in many ways, due to the intense efforts of the Colombian government, with hearty U.S. assistance, to drive groups like the FARC out of urban areas and eradicate the drug crops that are believed to fund their activities. Unfortunately for Ecuador, such operations (like Plan Colombia) are pushing drug production and violence towards and even across its poorly secured northern border.
The result includes incidents such as the one on August 8, when an Ecuadorian soldier was killed in a firefight with FARC rebels who crossed into Ecuador’s Sucumbios province. In September a lawsuit brought by Ecuador against Colombia at The Hague was settled for $15 million, in which Colombia was accused of spraying herbicides across the border in order to eradicate illegal coca crops. These herbicides contain dangerous chemicals such as glyphosate that are harmful to Ecuadorean farmers in the region who are exposed to the herbicides over long periods of time. Colombia’s long-lasting civil insurgency has also impacted immigration into Ecuador, which has the largest refugee population of any Latin American nation – of its around 125,000 refugees and more than 20,000 asylum-seekers, about 98 percent are Colombian.
Diplomatic relations between the two nations have been tense, to say the least. In 2008, Colombian forces bombed a FARC hideout 1.8 kilometers across Ecuador’s side of the border, killing Raul Reyes, one of the group’s most wanted commanders. Ecuador responded by cutting off diplomatic relations with its neighbor, which were only restored to the Chargé d’Affaires level later that year. This incident, whose U.S. involvement was recently disclosed in a report by the Washington Post, further unified the Correa government of Quito and that of Chávez in Caracas against the American-backed Uribe government in Bogotá. Ecuador’s diplomatic relations with the United States, while not as acrimonious as those between the U.S. and Venezuela, also face several obstacles. Aside from its issues with operations along the Colombian border, the Correa administration has also been boisterously critical of California-based oil company Chevron, which has been embroiled in a lawsuit after Texaco – later absorbed by Chevron – was accused of dumping thousands of gallons of oil into the Ecuadorean Amazon. In turn, the United States and global human rights organizations have accused Ecuador of continuing human rights violations against indigenous populations despite its reformed 2008 constitution.
For all of this, the U.S. government may lack concern about the effects of the drug war it sponsors in Colombia on Ecuador. Still, these effects are lasting. As the campaign against the FARC continues to unfold, it is likely that Ecuador’s northern region will only become more involved. While relations between the United States and Colombia on one side, and Ecuador on the other, are currently strained, these nations may need to revisit their diplomatic situations in order to arrive at a comprehensive solution to their related woes.