In a parallel turn of events, the presidents of Ecuador and Malawi have each kicked out one of the most important diplomats in their countries in the past month, signaling a turning point in the priorities of their international relations. As they pull away from the northern countries that have influenced them so, Malawi and Ecuador will find each other on the other side of the world, knocking on China’s door.
On the 5th of April, the Ecuadorian government declared U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges ‘persona non grata’ and asked her to leave the country as soon as possible. The move was a reaction to a Wikileak cable Hodges sent to Washington D.C. in which she commented on the public knowledge of corruption cases affecting high-ranking police commanders. Hodges wrote that Correa’s government was aware of these corrupt practices, but did nothing because they wanted someone who could be easily manipulated. The President strongly denied the allegations and accused Hodges of disloyalty for not informing the government of the corruption episodes she and the U.S. embassy were aware of.
These days few people in Ecuador so much as raise their eyebrows to Correa’s anti-U.S. policies and actions, and less so by his complete lack of diplomatic skills. An ally of Chavez, Correa takes pride in defying the north, and despite declarations from the Ecuadorian government of not wanting to affect their relationship with the U.S. after the expulsion of its ambassador, there seems to be little precaution taken to improve such relationship.
Meanwhile, the Malawian leader, Bingu wa Mutharika, is also known for defying the powers of the northern hemisphere of his side of the world. On more than one occasion the President has made decisions that go against the advice of the international donors who fund a large portion of his national budget. Since the beginning of the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, Mutharika has grown tense and short-fused with his opponents.
In fact, this sentiment that was lingering in the international community of Lilongwe like a bad smell, was what British High Commissioner, Fergus Cochrane-Dyet, told his government in a cable that was leaked to the media. Cochrane-Dyet said Mutharika was becoming ‘autocratic’ and ‘intolerant of criticism’.
The 77 year-old President, who must have attended the same seminar ‘President Means Almighty’, which Correa certainly went to and probably helped organize, reacted very tolerably by declaring Cochrane-Dyet ‘persona non grata’ on the 26th of April.
And so, the two ‘non gratas personas’ returned to their corresponding northern nations, and each of their governments deemed the expulsion to be ‘unwarranted’, ‘unjust’, ‘undeserving’, and other words that convey the message ‘heeeeeyyy!!!!’
But this time, Malawi and Ecuador have an ace up their sleeve, or so they think. Right before the expulsion, there were reports that said Mutharika’s advisers told him not to worry about Britain’s aid to Malawi in making the decision towards Cochrane-Dyet – a bold advice, considering the UK is Malawi’s biggest bilateral donor – because Malawi’s relationship with China is steadily growing and the Chinese would be able to cover the gaps if the British stopped giving aid.
Apparently no one in that meeting pointed out the fact that, while China is being very generous with the amount of loans to Malawi to build things that will have little to contribute with the development of the country, going further into debt with China – the tab is already over $90 million – is playing with fire.
And on that note, Ecuador is burnt to a crisp. Recently Correa’s government signed an agreement for the Import and Export Bank of China to provide US$1,700 million, which will be used to build the biggest hydroelectric plant in the country. The loan, which will be given in a period of 15 years with a grace period of 5 years, has a 7.4% interest.
For years the countries in the north have been warning the ‘third world’ countries they give ‘aid’ to that asking for more than they can afford to pay back will destroy any progress their economy has achieved. For Malawi, which has been growing at a steady pace the last five or six years and managed to pull itself out of the top 10 poorest countries list in the world, the risk is tangible. For Ecuador, on the other hand, it’s not so obvious as the country’s economy is counting on the petroleum that has not yet been extracted from underground.
Time will tell, but if Malawi and Ecuador are expecting to be rescued, China’s foreign policy make it an unlikely hero.