Embassy escape strains Argentina, Ecuador ties

The mysterious escape abroad of a convicted former Ecuador cabinet official from Argentina’s embassy in Quito has prompted the two countries to expel each other’s ambassadors.

Maria de los Angeles Duarte, who served under former president Rafael Correa, was sentenced to eight years for bribery, but had been holed up in Argentina’s embassy since August 2020 with her son, whose father is Argentine, Agence France-Presse reported.

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

However, the Argentine foreign ministry said in a statement that Duarte “was present in the Argentine embassy in Caracas” from 11 a.m. on Tuesday, without giving any details of how she had managed to escape from Ecuador.

On Monday, Argentina’s Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero told his Ecuadoran 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 on Tuesday.

Quito demanded an explanation from Argentina’s ambassador Gabriel Fuks and the video surveillance footage from inside the embassy compound. Fuks was then expelled and Ecuador recalled its ambassador in Buenos Aires.

Argentina reciprocated, recalling its ambassador from Quito and expeling Ecuador’s ambassador.

“We feel that good faith has been violated,” said Ecuadoran foreign minister Juan Carlos Holguin at a press conference, calling his government’s decision to expel Fuks “difficult and sad.”

For its part, the Argentine 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 other former government officials for corruption in relation to a request for bribes worth almost $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.

Holguin told reporters that he was confident “relations can be rebuilt” between his country and Argentina through dialogue.

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