In a recent interview, US Ambassador Michael Fitzpatrick talked about security cooperation and withdrawing visas for high-ranking officials.
US Ambassador to Ecuador Michael Fitzpatrick recently sat down for an interview at the US embassy in Quito. In the 30-minute interview, the Ambassador answered a wide range of questions.
In an interview you gave in December 2022, you spoke about the withdrawal of visas for the so-called ‘narco-generals.’ Is withdrawing visas from high-level people a policy of your government?
This is a state policy of the US government. Not only in Ecuador, but worldwide, it is part of the law.
Our vice consuls are required to abide by US laws and regulations. Which, among other things, says that people who apply for visas have to be within certain limits of behavior and standards.
When they are outside these limits they are not entitled to a visa. So, in this case, it may be someone from the public or private sector, senior officials or not; everyone has to respect the same rules. It is a privilege and not a right to have a visa to enter another country. It is a sovereign decision.
On the topic of corruption in particular, it is something that we would like to do emphatically and clearly. Precisely, to support not only Ecuador, but other countries, to fight corruption, drug trafficking, violence in the streets. The cartels in the prisons here in Ecuador, for example, all these areas.
As I have already said, we do not want thieves or their money in our country. This is a way to prevent the entry into the United States of people who do not have the right, who should not, who do not meet the requirements. Especially if they are going to flee Ecuadorian justice, in this case.
The Council of the Judiciary gave us these figures: 30 prosecutors and 24 judges investigated at the disciplinary level for alleged crimes of corruption or links to organized crime. Is there cooperation, specifically in justice?
We have various training and strengthening programs for public institutions. Whether in justice, prosecution, police or in various ministries and various areas.
I do not know about this data in particular, but we do help several public institutions to maintain internal standards and controls. It is something that the people are asking for and we are coordinating with the Ecuadorian government when they ask us for this cooperation.
The United States government says, “We are withdrawing the visas because there are corruption problems.” Could it be interpreted as a wake-up call to the Ecuadorian government?
Well, when you talk about Government, are you talking about the Executive or all the branches?
From the state, actually.
The state, exactly.
When we coordinate with other public institutions, it is at their request, in collaboration. But of course, we are doing our part to defend our sovereignty and respect our laws. My question is, and where are our partners? In all public institutions, but also in the private sector.
We have also talked about cases of corruption in the private sector. We also collaborate with various Chambers of Commerce, various businessmen, various industry groups, for example, where they approach us, and say: “Hey, we have this problem,” “Let’s see this case,” “Help us maintain international trade, free and transparent.”
These are all efforts to improve the quality of public services. But also, to improve transparency and the fight against drugs, which is a big problem here in the country. So, we are ready and prepared to coordinate these efforts, publicly and privately.
Are there positive responses from the Ecuadorian State?
I would say yes, in general there is. Of course, there are people who sometimes did not want to collaborate. It is also the sovereign right of certain institutions.
But in general, we have seen that there is a clamor in society to advance in this type of strengthening of public institutions to improve security, to help the State, to provide services to the people, in the streets, the fight against corruption, or against gender violence or drug traffickers, for example.
But the people are also seeking and asking for support because, frankly, we see some weakened institutions. We are, like many countries, present in Ecuador to collaborate.
What are the strongest points of cooperation?
We are supporting in terms of training, strengthening of institutions to manage funds, transparency, technology. It depends on each institution.
We have several agreements to share information.
There are now also joint international investigations, such as several cases that are in the press for criminal accusations in Florida. These are all international cases.
Like the ISSPOL case?
The ISSPOL case, the Las Torres case, among others.
They have all violated our laws. That is why they are under investigation in the United States.
Returning to the point of visas, some people have fled Ecuador trying to avoid investigations. But they end up in another country that is collaborating and working, as in this case, with the Prosecutor’s Office under certain international agreements.
Now we have another chance, thanks to the National Assembly, who recently approved the tax and bank account information exchange treaty.
To be able to fight against corruption and money laundering?
Corruption, money laundering or any type of organized crime at the international level.
Like the Odebrecht case, in which the United States, Switzerland, several countries in Europe, Africa and Latin America were involved in the global investigation of this company.
Now, we are going to have many more possibilities to work closely, for example with the Financial Analysis Unit (UAFE) and the Internal Revenue Service (SRI) in particular, but also with the Prosecutor’s Office, to exchange information and investigate people who have evaded paying taxes. It is not illegal to maintain bank accounts in another country, it is illegal not to comply with the laws and regulations and requirements of these countries.
In which institutions is this cooperation concentrated: justice, police, prosecutor’s office?
Everyone, everyone, it is a chain.
You have to have prepared prosecutors, you have to have prepared police officers and also trained judges.
Criminals are now very capable. If the judges and police and prosecutors do not understand the mismanagement of international finances, if they do not understand what they did in the ISSPOL case, which I have studied a lot and to date I do not understand even half of the genius of these thugs. The things they did were unbelievable and if the judges don’t understand what they were doing, they’re going to say, “But where’s the criminality?”
Is there training also then?
Exactly, training and exchange of information. Keep this communication flowing between the experts to say, “Hey, we just saw this new trick they do in Oklahoma, for example, be careful.”
Managing telecommunications, hacking to erase or redirect attention, erasing evidence or digital information, is complicated.
In 2020 we had information on the withdrawal of 300 visas for Ecuadorians linked to corruption cases, including these new cases that you mentioned. Do you already have a figure for 2021?
No, I don’t have a figure precisely because it is something that the vice-consuls do every day when they receive information that implicates someone of any rank, in the public sector, high official or not.
They follow the evidence and if they decide that the person needs to reconfirm the use of the visa or when it is clear that they have violated the rules, we revoke it. It depends on the legal status. Sometimes their relatives are the ones who take advantage of ill-received funds from, for example, corruption cases. But I would say there are hundreds.
Will there be more than the 300 that have already been withdrawn in 2020?
Oh yeah. Sure, more.
Does that mean that the work for the withdrawal of visas has been accelerated or that the alleged crimes of corruption in the country have increased?
Well, I would say, first of all, maybe there is more focus on that requirement, more interest.
But we also received more information from the press, from various individuals and also from the growth of collaboration with the Ecuadorian Prosecutor’s Office and justice.
What’s more: there are more open investigations in the United States on corruption cases here as well. However, we are seeing this situation as a reflection of the larger problem, which is drug trafficking.
Which is seen everywhere, right?
Yes, there are also more people giving us information. The world of Twitter is full of information, but we always have to confirm these claims and not just accept what someone has posted.
That’s an indication, nothing more. But in general, the joint effort is against drug trafficking, against violence. We are deepening our collaboration at the request of the Ecuadorian government and society.
You have mentioned generals, also justice officials. Are there officials from other levels, the National Assembly, Executive and ministries?
Ambassador Fitzpatrick laughs.
You are fishing…
I’m trying. You said you’re not going to name names, let’s at least try ranks.
As I say: we follow the evidence and when there is information, whether from people in high positions, now or in the past.
If there is evidence that says they have crossed the line under our law, which is different than Ecuadorian law for public office, for example, we revoke the visas.
Yes, we have had people, I would say, at least 4 of the 5 branches of the Ecuadorian State. But it is not a surprise. No country is immune to corruption and drug trafficking. Even the United States.
What we seek to do is our part, as I said before, to defend our sovereignty and comply with our requirements of law. The question is where are all the others who are doing their part to control those problems in society or in this case, the State.