Ecuador: U.S. ambassador expelled over WikiLeaks

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa (R) speaks with US new ambassador Heather Hodges after receiving her credentials at Carondelet Palace in Quito on October 02, 2008. AFP PHOTO/RODRIGO BUENDIA (Photo credit should read RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images) RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images

GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador - Ecuador announced Tuesday the expulsion of the U.S. ambassador, apparently over a 2009 diplomatic cable divulged by WikiLeaks in which the envoy accuses Ecuador's newly retired police chief of corruption and recommends he be stripped of his U.S. visa.

Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino announced the expulsion of Ambassador Heather Hodges at a news conference.

He said Hodges had not adequately explained the presumptions she expressed in the cables that leftist President Rafael Correa was aware of the "supposed acts of corruption by members of the police leadership and more specifically the former commander of the institution, Jaime Hurtado Vaca."

In a separate statement issued by its Washington embassy, Ecuador stressed that expulsion was not directed against the Barack Obama administration.

"It is unfortunate that the published documents on WikiLeaks have made it impossible to continue collaborating with the current ambassador to Quito, but we hope to work with a new ambassador," the statement said.

In Washington, the State Department said in a statement that it considered the expulsion "unjustified, and we deeply regret that the Ecuadorean government took it. The Department will examine its options to respond to this Ecuadorean action."

Hodges was the third U.S. diplomat to be expelled by Correa since he took office in 2007. Correa is a close ally of Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia. The new expulsion will leave all three of those nations without U.S. ambassadors.

Bolivia expelled the U.S. ambassador in late 2008, accusing him of inciting the opposition, while Venezuela has been without a U.S. ambassador since July after objecting to the candidate named by Washington.

Hodges is the second U.S. ambassador to fall victim to WikiLeaks, which has released more than 6,300 State Department cables since November through international news media.

Last month, Carlos Pascual resigned as chief envoy to Mexico after disparaging comments he made in cables divulged by the cyberactivist group angered President Felipe Calderon.

Hodges was called to the Foreign Ministry by Patino on Monday afternoon and issued a diplomatic note complaining about the cable but only learned of her expulsion through the public announcement, said a U.S. official who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to divulge the information.

In the WikiLeaks cable, dated July 10, 2009 and published by the Madrid newspaper El Pais on Monday, Hodges recommends that Hurtado, police commander from April 2008 to June 2009, be stripped of his U.S. visa.

The cable says he used the position "to extort cash and property, misappropriate public funds, facilitate human trafficking, and obstruct the investigation and prosecution of corrupt colleagues."

Separately, Hodges comments in the cable that "corruption among Ecuadorean National Police officers is widespread and well-known" with corruption becoming "more pronounced at higher levels of power."

The cable says internal Ecuadorean police investigations had suggested Hurtado was engaged in "corrupt activities within the ENP since the early 1990s."

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