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09QUITO616 2009-07-21 15:54:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Quito
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1. (C) Summary: On July 17, 2009, the Forward Operating
Location (FOL) in Manta held a ceremony to commemorate ten
successful years of cooperation in counterdrug operations at
the FOL. Although many Ecuadorian government officials had
been invited to the ceremony, the GOE chose not to send any
government or high-level military official and instructed its
Air Base Commander not to speak at the ceremony. More than
40 media representatives attended the ceremony, which was
well-covered in the press. In a subsequent surprise move,
the Civil Aviation Directorate forcibly removed employees of
the private Manta Airport Corporation by presidential decree,
including the Corporation's firefighters, and replaced them
with temporary employees from neighboring airports.
President Correa is scheduled to visit Manta on July 21,
likely to address the DAC take-over. (End Summary)

2. (C) The FOL marked the end of ten successful years of
cooperation in counterdrug cooperation on July 17 with a
series of events, including a ceremony that culminated with
the final counternarcotics flight, attended by over 250
members of the Manabi community and Manta air base. The last
flight landing at the FOL was a U.S. Navy P-3 from its Patrol
Squadron 45 out of Jacksonville. The crew landed on cue and
taxied under a water arch formed by two fire department
trucks, arriving exactly on time. The Ambassador, FOL
Administrator Lieutenant Colonel Pat Curtis and visiting
Brigadier General Jon Shasteen of Air Force South delivered
remarks commemorating ten years of successful
counternarcotics cooperation. Among other successes
highlighted during the ceremony, the Ambassador pointed out
that the FOL supported 5,750 counternarcotics flights,
contributing to the seizure of 1,800 metric tons of illegal
narcotics valued at $36 billion. According to MFA Director
General of Special Projects German Ortega, the GOE's
preference not to attend or provide remarks at this ceremony
and to limit its military participation to the level of the
Manta Base Commander was a "ministerial level decision."

3. (C) The day's events included a community partner
recognition dinner attended by approximately 150 members of
the Manabi province community. Manta Base Commander Col
Mauricio Campuzano, who was prohibited from speaking during
the afternoon ceremony, voluntarily offered remarks in the
absence of the press, expressing his appreciation for the
FOL's contributions over the past ten years. He said that
the U.S. Air Force was "always welcome here," both on the
Ecuadorian Air Force (FAE) base, as well as in their homes.
Earlier that day, the Ambassador, Brig Gen Shasteen and FOL
Administrator Curtis presided over a $2,000 Humanitarian
Assistance donation of a refrigerator and freezer to the
Jesus of Nazareth Soup Kitchen in Manta, and a friendly
basketball match took place between FOL and FAE members.

4. (C) The ceremony was covered by over 40 media
representatives from national and international media
outlets, and was also televised on local television. The
Ambassador provided a one-on-one interview to Vistazo
magazine on July 17; the article will likely appear in the
next weekly issue. Following on the heels of Legislative
Commission member Marcos Martinez' attacks alleging that the
FOL had sunk fishing vessels (reftel), the press did a
reasonable job of communicating the counternarcotics role of
the FOL and some of the counternarcotics results its presence
has provided Ecuador and the region, calling the FOL's
departure "bittersweet."

5. (C) However, the good will expressed by the USG during
the ceremony and community members at the recognition dinner
was overshadowed by President Correa's remarks the next day.

During his weekly radio/TV address, he stated that the FOL
could be relocated to Colombian bases, that "Let them (the
USG) go somewhere else (Colombia) if they want to receive
them there." The GOE also forced television stations to play
a government video on July 16 and 17 in which Defense
Minister Javier Ponce downplayed the effectiveness of the FOL
in maritime seizures, and repeated previous accusations that
the GOE had not been adequately informed about the FOL's
activities by the U.S. military.

6. (C) In a surprise development on the evening of July 17,
the Directorate of Civil Aviation (DAC) under police escort
forcibly removed Manta Airport Corporation (CORPAM) and its
employees from airport management and replaced them with
temporary employees from neighboring airports. The surprise
move included the removal and replacement of CORPAM's
firefighters. Some firefighters working on contract with ITT
(the FOL service provider) had signed contracts with CORPAM
to continue working at the airport once ITT dismissed them.

7. (C) In his July 18 Saturday morning address, Correa noted
that he would visit Manta on July 21 to "address the airport
issue," likely to mean the upset caused by the sudden
takeover at the airport. Correa was not scheduled to stop by
the FOL. Note: It is possible that the Correa administration
orchestrated the takeover to show that the GOE is taking back
Ecuadorian sovereignty at the Manta air base. End Note.

8. (C) Comment: It is disheartening that the GOE chose not
to participate and to restrict its military from speaking at
the FOL ceremony, thereby failing to recognize ten years of
counternarcotics cooperation. It is also annoying that after
several meetings in which government officials stressed the
importance of working together in the transition of FOL
facilities, the GOE chose to attack the U.S. and the FOL's
presence in Ecuador.