308. Telegram 1670 From the Embassy in Ecuador to the Department of State, April 16, 1971, 2327Z.1 2

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TELEGRAM
Department of State
QUITO 1670

R 162327Z APR 71

FM: AMEMBASSY QUITO
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 1473
INFO AMCONSUL GUAYAQUIL
USCINCSO/POLAD

QUITO 1670

SUBJ: ECUADOREAN POLITICAL SITUATION -- IMPLICATIONS FOR THE U.S.

1. THE INCONCLUSIVE NON-SOLUTION TO THE GOVERNMENT CRISES EARLIER IN THE MONTH HAS GIVEN RISE TO THE MOST VARIED AND CONFUSED MANEUVERINGS BETWEEN AND WITHIN ALL POWER GROUPS IN ECUADOR. PRESIDENT VELASCO’S BEING CURRENTLY HORS DE COMBAT DUE TO EXHAUSTION AND GRIPPE ONLY INCREASES THE GENERAL CONFUSION AND JOCKEYING FOR POSITION.

2. TWO ESSENTIAL FACTS EMERGED FROM THE SHOWDOWN BETWEEN VELASCO AND THE ARMY. THE FIRST CLEAR RESULT WAS THAT THE PRESIDENT AND HIS REGIME COULD NOT STAND UP TO PRESSURE OF THE ARMY, AND EMERGED FROM THE CONFLICT WITH THEIR AUTHORITY DIMINISHED. THE SECOND FACT IS THAT THE ARMED FORCES, AND PARTICULARLY THE ARMY, REVEALED ITSELF AS A BADLY DIVIDED, CONFUSED AND IRRESOLUTE ENTITY, CAPABLE OF ACHIEVING ITS INITIAL LIMITED OBJECTIVES OF FORCING DEFENSE MINISTER ACOSTA’S OUSTER BUT WITHOUT ANY CLEAR CONSENSUS AS TO WHAT FURTHER DIRECTION IT SHOULD TAKE OR WANTS THE COUNTRY TO TAKE.

3. AS A RESULT, THE FRANTIC MANEUVERING OF EVERY POWER GROUP, POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC, HAS GIVEN RISE TO CONSTANTLY SHIFTING RUMORS, WOULD-BE COALITIONS, MAKESHIFT SOLUTIONS, AND SELF-SERVING PROPOSALS.

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4. THE ARMY, REALIZING THAT IT DISPLAYED POWER WITHOUT FULLER PURPOSE, HAS BEEN ANXIOUSLY TRYING TO PULL ITSELF TOGETHER. BUT IN THE PROCESS THERE IS NO CLEAR EVIDENCE THAT A LEADER OR A GROUP OF LEADERS HAS EMERGED, OR THAT A PROGRAM OF OBJECTIVES HAS BEEN FORMULATED. THE NAVY AND AIR FORCE, NEITHER OF WHICH HAS REAL POWER, HAVE NOT STEPPED FORWARD TO PROPOSE A COURSE OF ACTION, PREFERRING APPARENTLY TO SIT ON THE SIDELINES AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS.

5. CONFRONTATION WITH THE ARMY TWICE IN TWO SUCCEEDING WEEKS WAS A TREMENDOUS PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL STRAIN ON PRESIDENT VELASCO. FOLLOWING HIS ATTEMPTS TO PUBLICLY RATIONALIZE HIS DEFEAT --WHICH INVOLVED NUMEROUS EXCURSIONS BACK AND FORTH FROM QUITO TO GUAYAQUIL--HE WAS SENT TO BED AT THE BEGINNING OF THIS WEEK WITH INFLUENZA COMBINED WITH PHYSICAL EXHAUSTION. THE NEW DEFENSE MINISTER ROBLES PLAZA HAS BEEN BUSILY TRYING TO CALM EVERYONE DOWN, AND GIVEN HIS CONSIDERABLE TALENTS AT THIS TYPE OF THING, HE IS DOING ABOUT AS GOOD A JOB AS ANYONE COULD. HIS FIRST PREOCCUPATION, HOWEVER, IS HIS OWN PERSONAL POSITION, COME WHAT MAY, AND IT IS NOT LIKELY THAT HE WOULD DO ANYTHING TO JEOPARDIZE HIMSELF WITH THE ARMED FORCES.

6. MUCH TALK IS HEARD ABOUT A REPLACEMENT INTERIM GOVERNMENT HEADED BY FORMER QUITO MAYOR, JAIME DEL CASTILLO, OR BY FORMER INTERIM PRESIDENT CLEMENTE YEROVI; OR EVEN BY FAUSTO CORDOVEZ, FORMER DEFENSE MINISTER UNDER YEROVI. SO FAR IT IS DOUBTFUL THAT ANY OF THESE MEN HAVE ACTIVELY SOUGHT SUPPORT FROM THE MILITARY FOR SUCH AN UNDERTAKING OR HAVE BEEN CONCRETELY OFFERED SUCH SUPPORT.

7. THERE ARE INDICATIONS THAT A FEW ACTIVIST ELEMENTS IN THE MILITARY, MAINLY JUNIOR AND MIDDLE RANKING OFFICERS, ARE PROMOTING THE IDEA OF A FULL-FLEDGED MILITARY GOVERNMENT. THE NEW COMMANDER OF THE NAVY, ADMIRAL MALDONADO, ACTS AS THOUGH HE WOULD NOT BE AVERSE TO SUCH A SOLUTION.

8. AS OF MID-APRIL THE SITUATION SEEMS TO BE ONE IN WHICH THE OLD PRESIDENT HAS BEEN STRIPPED OF AT LEAST PART OF HIS POWER, IS IN AT LEAST TEMPORARY POOR HEALTH, AND HAS INCREASINGLY FEW RESERVE OPTIONS TO BE PULLED OUT OF THE BAG TO RESTORE HIMSELF TO HIS OLD POWER POSITION. THE ARMED FORCES WHO PULLED THE RUG FROM UNDER VELASCO MEANWHILE ARE SUFFERING A SEVERE CASE OF HAMLETITIS. DEPENDING ON HOW VELASCO’S HEALTH GETS ON AND HOW SOON THE MILITARY MANAGES TO DECIDE WHAT IT WANTS, IT WILL BE DETERMINED [Page 3] WHETHER, AND HOW MUCH LONGER, THE VELASCO GOVERNMENT SURVIVES.

9. IN THIS SITUATION, THERE WOULD SEEM TO BE THREE POSSIBILITIES. (A) THE ARMY WILL DECIDE, BECAUSE THE VARIOUS FACTIONS WITHIN THE ARMY END UP STALEMATING EACH OTHER, TO BE CONTENT WITH THE LIMITED OBJECTIVE OF PRESERVING THE INTEGRITY OF THE MILITARY ESTABLISHMENT, AND LEAVE VELASCO IBARRA AS PRESIDENT, ASSUMING THE LATTER IS WILLING TO ACCEPT A PRESIDENTIAL ROLE WITH SOMEWHAT CURBED AUTHORITY WHICH IS NOT A FOREGONE CONCLUSION. (B) THE ARMY WILL COALESCE AND AGREE ON A PROGRAM, WHICH MOST PROBABLY WILL RESEMBLE, THAT OF THE VELASCO IBARRA GOVERNMENT BUT WITH THE AVOWED AIM OF BEING LESS “POLITICAL”--I.E., MORE EFFICIENT AND MORE HONEST. IN SUCH A SITUATION VELASCO IBARRA WOULD GO, AND BE REPLACED PROBABLY BY A CIVILIAN, NAMED BY THE ARMY, THOUGH POSSIBLY BY A JUNTA. (C) VELASCO IBARRA COULD SOMEHOW REASSERT HIS AUTHORITY OVER THE MILITARY, BUT AT THIS POINT THIS SEEMS MOST UNLIKELY.

10. IMPLICATIONS FOR THE U.S. - THE MEANDERINGS OF ECUADOREAN POLITICS LITTLE AFFECT U.S. INTERESTS SO LONG AS THE PLAYERS ARE CONFINED TO THE ECUADOREAN ESTABLISHMENT, AS IS THE CASE, AND EVERYONE STAYS ON THE DOMESTIC RESERVATION. IN A TIME OF SEVERE STRESS, HOWEVER, THERE IS ALWAYS THE POSSIBILITY THAT SOMEONE WILL ATTEMPT TO CREATE A FOREIGN DIVERSION TO SAVE OR WIN THE POLITICAL DAY AT HOME. THUS, PRESIDENT VELASCO COULD ATTEMPT TO REGAIN NATIONAL UNITY BEHIND HIM BY PROVOKING A DRAMATIC SCENE WITH THE U.S. THE FISHING ISSUE IS ONE AREA IN WHICH THE GROUNDWORK HAS BEEN LAID FOR A NATIONAL CONSENSUS OF EMOTIONAL NATIONALISTIC REACTION. THE PETROLEUM QUESTION COULD ALSO BE USED AS AN EXPEDIENT TO ATTEMPT TO RALLY SUPPORT BY THE DECLARATION OF SOME EXTRAVAGANT DEMAND. THESE TACTICS COULD EQUALLY BE RESORTED TO BY A SUCCESSOR GOVERNMENT WISHING TO CONSOLIDATE ITS POSITION WITH THE PUBLIC. THERE ARE COUNTERVAILING FORCES WHICH WOULD TEND TO INHIBIT THIS OR A SUCCESSOR GOVERNMENT FROM TAKING THE ACTIONS DESCRIBED ABOVE. BUT WE HAVE NO GUARANTEE THAT THE U.S. MAY NOT BE USED AS THE WHIPPING BOY IN THE MIDST OF A DOMESTIC POLITICAL CRISIS WHERE SHORT TERM GAINS BECOME MORE IMPORTANT THAN LONG TERM OBJECTIVES. GP–3.
BURNS

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL ECUADOR. Confidential. It was repeated to USCINCSO/POLAD and AmConsul Guayaquil.
  2. Ambassador Burns reviewed recent developments in Ecuadorian politics, and concluded they would have minimal effect on relations with the United States. Burns thought is possible one or more of the political groups might create a “foreign diversion” by whipping up anti-United States sentiment to achieve short-term gains.