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06QUITO995 2006-04-24 22:03:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Quito
Cable title:  

WHA/AND DIRECTOR FRENCH VISITS NORTHERN BORDER,

Tags:   PREL PGOV PHUM EC 
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1. (SBU) Summary: On April 17, WHA Andean Affairs Director
Philip French and Embassy officials visited the towns of Lago
Agrio and General Farfan on Ecuador's northern border with
Colombia. At the USG-funded Lago Agrio police base, the
province's narcotics chief described challenges with
informants and evidence. Ecuadorian military officials of
the 24th Special Forces Group told us of FARC and other
drug-related activity in the border region, highlighting the
permeability of the border and lack of a permanent Colombian
government presence. In General Farfan, a known FARC R&R
spot, USAID projects help strengthen the town's
infrastructure. On April 18 in Quito, opinion makers and
Congress members shared uniformly pessimistic views on
Ecuador's and neighboring countries' elections. End Summary.

Police Combat Drugs Transiting Ecuador


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2. (U) Taking advantage of a visit by WHA/AND Director Phil
French, on April 17 Embassy officials visited Ecuadorian
Narcotics Police installations in Lago Agrio, the capital of
Sucumbios province and a hub for Ecuador's petroleum
production industry. The town is located 20 minutes from the
border, adjacent to Colombia's FARC-infested Putumayo
province. Lago Agrio's National Anti-Narcotics Police base
has new offices, dormitories, and police dog kennels, all
built with NAS and SOUTHCOM funds. Police LTC Victor Hugo
Londono, Sucumbios province narcotics chief, told us his
biggest challenge was not having resources to compensate
informants. Another problem was that the head of CONSEP, the
government agency responsible for combating narcotics
trafficking, was not present in the same province. Until
this representative visited Lago Agrio, police were unable to
do anything with the drug evidence they seized, he said.
Londono said the unit had seized chemicals and cocaine paste,
coming from Colombia through Ecuador, to be smuggled back
towards Ipiales, Colombia.

Military Concerned About Lack of GOC Border Presence


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3. (SBU) At a visit of the 24th Special Forces Group of the
19th Jungle Brigade, 4th Division Military Command in Lago
Agrio on April 17, Group CDR LTC Narvaez and other Ecuadorian
military representatives described the lack of a permanent
Colombian military presence on the Colombian side of the
border in recent decades. The Colombian military utilizes
mobile units for 15-30 day periods in the border area (often
prompting FARC to seek refuge on the Ecuadorian side), and
then pulls its soldiers out. Insurgents then return across
the border. Ecuadorian military representatives said that in
January they had detained two Colombians using Ecuador as an
R&R point. There is only one legal border crossing in the
24th Special Forces Group operation area, but military
contacts acknowledged that the entire border is permeable.
Ecuadorian military representatives described the Center for
Border Attention, a checkpoint built five years ago to comply
with an agreement signed with Colombia to control migration
and commerce. Colombia has yet to build an equivalent center
on its side of the border and meanwhile, the Ecuadorian
center remains unoccupied.

AID Projects Help Border Town


--------------------------





4. (U) USG officials also visited USAID-funded projects in
General Farfan, a parish town of over 1,200 residents 20

minutes north of Lago Agrio on the San Miguel River and
Colombia border. The town is frequented by FARC militants,
who use it as an R&R spot; one local official reported
spotting FARC militants in the town on April 17. During a
tour of town water system facilities, General Farfan
officials described how they were maintaining the water
system. A town representative said the user fees are
successfully collected and meet operational costs of the
system, guaranteeing its long term sustainability. At a
riverfront esplanade, built as a retention wall to prevent
flooding, the town's denizens turned out with pride to
showcase the project, which has also boosted the town's
appeal as a weekend and nightspot destination.

Ecuadorian Leaders Pessimistic About Elections, Stability


--------------------------



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5. (SBU) In Quito on April 18, Congressional deputies Luis


Fernando Torres (Social Christian Party), Hugo Ibarra Parra
(Liberty Movement), and Hugo Ruiz (Democratic Left) shared
their views on the southern border, including Ecuadorian
views on pending elections in Peru. The congressmen agreed
that Ecuador's relations with its southern neighbor would
worsen should Ollanta Humala be elected. They predicted that
in a run-off between Humala and Alan Garcia, a large portion
of Lourdes Flores' supporters would nullify their votes,
benefiting Humala. On Colombia, Ruiz claimed that Uribe's
popularity had reportedly dropped significantly recently.



6. (SBU) If Rafael Correa (former MinFin and populist
presidential pre-candidate with alleged ties to Venezuela's
Chavez) gains indigenous support, the deputies agreed, he
might become a contender to enter the second round run-off.
Should Correa make it to the second round, he would have the
advantage as a populist, and the only candidate with an
anti-system message. All agreed that if Correa won, he would
be a disaster for Ecuador's development prospects. Nobody
thought former President Gutierrez would be permitted to run
for president, due to constitutional prohibitions.



7. (SBU) All agreed, however, that the next elected
President is destined to fail. With Ecuador heading into the
abyss, many Ecuadorians may be tempted to turn to an
authoritarian leader, according to Torres. The Congress
members thought a political alliance to pursue a minimum
agenda was unlikely, given existing long-standing rivalries.
They also doubted there was any chance for an FTA with the
U.S. to be signed this year. Similar pessimism was expressed
in a separate meeting by a group of thinkers and opinion
makers.

Comment


--------------------------





8. (SBU) The lack of a Colombian official presence on
Ecuador's border remains striking, and clearly complicates
GOE efforts to prevent penetration by irregulars. Progress
developing the Ecuadorian side was apparent, during our
visit, but there is clearly a need for more.



9. (SBU) Ecuadorians are generally a pessimistic bunch when
talking about their own political system, which only makes it
harder for them to seize opportunities to advance. We refuse
to buy into the notion that nothing can be done by
Ecuadorians of goodwill to strengthen Ecuador's democracy,
and value the opportunity presented by high-level visits by
Washington officials to encourage key leaders to play a
responsible role.
JEWELL