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LATIN AMERICA | 15-03-2023 10:34

Ecuador and Argentina clash in diplomatic row over fugitive ex-minister

Diplomatic spat escalates after it emerged María de los Ángeles Duarte, a convicted former cabinet minister who had been living in the Argentine Embassy in Quito, had escaped to Venezuela.

A diplomatic spat between Ecuador and Argentina escalated Tuesday after it was revealed that María de los Ángeles Duarte, a convicted former cabinet minister who had been living in the Argentine Embassy, had escaped from Quito to Venezuela.

Duarte, who served under former president Rafael Correa, has been sentenced to eight years in jail for bribery, but had been holed up in Argentina's Embassy since August 2020 with her son, whose father is Argentine.

Argentina had offered Duarte asylum, but Ecuador refused to grant her free passage out of the country.

Duarte "was present in the Argentine Embassy in Caracas" from 11am on Tuesday, Argentina's Foreign Ministry said in a statement, without giving any details of how she had managed to escape to Venezuela.

Ecuador reacted angrily, summoning Buenos Aires' representative in Quito, Ambassador Gabriel Fuks, to explain what it called inconsistencies in the Embassy's explanations of how Duarte had escaped and for refusing to hand over video surveillance footage from inside the compound.

Quito then declared Fuks persona non grata and recalled its own ambassador to Argentina for consultations.

Buenos Aires then followed suit, recalling its ambassador from Quito and saying it would also expel Ecuador's ambassador Xavier Alfonso Monge Yoder.

On Monday, Argentina's Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero told his Ecuadorean counterpart that Duarte had "escaped" from the Embassy "without the knowledge of staff" there.

Duarte then fled Quito, entered Venezuela and presented herself at the Argentine Embassy in Caracas without saying how she had arrived there or whether she had been accompanied by her son, a statement by Argentina's Foreign Ministry said.

It added that Duarte "said she has no intention of travelling to Argentina in the short term," although she "made inquiries about documents" that the country could offer her.

"We feel that good faith has been violated," said Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Holguín at a press conference, calling his government's decision to expel Fuks "difficult and sad."

For its part, Argentina's Foreign Ministry said it received Ecuador's "incomprehensible decision" with "surprise and deep sadness."

Duarte was convicted alongside Correa, who was president from 2007 to 2017 and a strong ally of Argentina's former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and other former government officials for corruption in relation to a request for bribes worth almost US$7.6 million in return for state contracts, according to the public prosecutor's office.

Correa, who has been granted asylum in Belgium, where his wife was born, claims to be the victim of political persecution.

Holguín told reporters that he was confident "relations can be rebuilt" between his country and Argentina through dialogue.

 

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