By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
When Ecuadorian Ambassador to Mexico Leonardo Arízaga Schmegel celebrated his national day last Friday, Aug. 10, he spoke briefly about the historic significance of the date – which marked the 208th anniversary of that South American country’s independence from Spain – but the main focus of his speech was Quito’s ever-broadening ties with Mexico.
“In the first place, I want to pay homage to our forefathers, for their patriotic sacrifices and for offering their lives so that we could today be an independent nation,” Arízaga Schmegel said at the start of the afternoon reception at his Colonia Polanco embassy.
“And it is for me now an honor to represent Ecuador in Mexico, a country that is both a brother and friend (to my own).”
Arízaga Schmegel went on to say that his government appreciates the support that Mexico has offered to Ecuador in the last few years.
In the late 1990s, Ecuador suffered a severe banking crisis as a result of a tight fiscal program, rampant corruption and a dollarization of the nation’s currency under the administration of the country’s then-president, the leftist Jamil Mahuad, shrinking the country economy dramatically and leading to inflation levels of more than 60 percent.
In 2000, Ecuador underwent a coup d’état to oust Mahuad, who was replaced by Gustavo Noboa, who, despite continuing the dollarization process, managed to stop the economy’s freefall and stabilize it somewhat.
After a few more changes in government – some programmed, some not so much – the left-leaning Rafael Correa was elected president in November 2006.
Despite his controversial ties with Venezuela’s populist leader Hugo Chávez and tense relations with both the United States and Colombia (Quito broke off diplomatic ties with Bogota in 2008, although relations were re-formalized two years later), Correa did manage to improve the lot of Ecuador’s underprivileged masses through a divisive economic revolution that included a defaulting on the country’s international debt interest payments and focusing more on social programs and less on oil revenues.
But during his second term in office (he was reelected in 2009), Correa’s stiff austerity measures proved unpopular and he faced strong opposition for his conservative opponents.
In 2012, he courted the ire of the United States, the United Kingdom and Sweden when he granted political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (who is still living inside Quito’s chancellery in London to avoid extradition to Stockholm on charges of sexual assault).
Notwithstanding, Correa won a landslide third term in 2013, but a contentious, secretly negotiated agreement with China to develop oil deposits in Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park, a heavy-handed crackdown on the media and a reduction in public spending led to a decline in overall popularity in 2015.
Correa had hoped to run for yet another term in 2017, but, because of term limits, was instead forced to cede the candidacy to Lenín Moreno, who had served as his vice president from 2007 to 2013.
Moreno won the presidency by a narrow victory and assumed power in May 2017.
Since taking office, Moreno has proven to be less a faithful protégé of Correa and more a globally-minded progressive,
He has taken a strong stance against corruption, improved relations with the United States and Europe (he is currently in the process of having Assange removed from his country’s London Embassy), increased press freedoms and even unleashed a legal investigation into allegations of misconduct by Correa.
In the last 12 months, Ecuador’s long-battered economy has finally begun to show signs of a comeback, although government spending is on the rise.
Moreno’s market-friendly policies have attracted much-needed investment, although the country is now coping with an influx of nearly 600,000 Venezuelan refugees seeking asylum on Ecuadorian soil.
And throughout this entire two decades of political and economic upheaval, Mexico has maintained close and supportive ties with the Andean nation, a point which Ambassador Arízaga Schmegel was keen to make during his national day speech.
Referring to the people of Mexico as both “noble and in solidarity” with Ecuadorians, Arízaga Schmegel said that Mexico and Ecuador continue to share a close agenda in a wide range of fields, including trade, investment, tourism, agriculture and culture, as evidenced by the ongoing exchange of high-level visits on both sides.
He also noted that Mexico and Ecuador have signed a number of important agreements and protocols in the areas of security, defense, judicial cooperation, territorial orders and mining.
“We are currently working to promote our exports to Mexico in order to reverse the historic deficit in our bilateral trade balance and to increase Mexican investment in Ecuador,” he said.
Currently two-way trade amounts to about $760 million annually and Mexico is Ecuador’s sixth-largest trade partner
The two countries have shared a complementary economy accord since 1998, but have no free-trade agreement-
According to figures provided by Mexico’s Foreign Relations Secretariat (SRE), Mexican companies have in recent years invested more than $14 billion in Ecuador.
Arízaga Schmegel likewise said that Mexico and Ecuador are working closely on issues of defense and migration.
Originally known as the Northern Inca Empire, Ecuador was conquered by Spanish invaders in 1533 and was incorporated into the Viceroyalty of Peru until 1740, when it became a part of the Viceroyalty of New Granada.
However, the Creole middle class that began to emerge in the region found Spanish colonial policies discriminatory and agitated for change, finally proclaiming their independence on Aug. 10, 1809.
They and a successor movement were systematically suppressed and their leaders executed, but eventually Antonio José de Sucre routed the Spanish at the Battle of Pichincha, just outside Quito, and Ecuador was freed from colonial rule as part of the republic of Gran Colombia in 1822.
In 1830, it promulgated its own constitution and became a sovereign state.