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Argentina, Ecuador leaders trade barbs over fugitive ex-minister

BUENOS AIRES (AFP) – The presidents of Argentina and Ecuador publicly criticised each other on Tuesday, in a growing diplomatic rift caused by the mysterious appearance in Venezuela of a convicted Ecuadorian ex-minister.

Maria de los Angeles Duarte, fleeing an eight-year sentence in Ecuador over bribery charges, had been holed up in Argentina’s mission in Quito since August 2020.

Argentina had offered asylum to Duarte, who served under former Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa, but Ecuador refused to grant her free passage out of the country.

On March 14, Argentina announced that Duarte had appeared at its mission in Caracas but did not know how she had arrived there.

The incident resulted in Ecuador expelling Argentina’s ambassador and recalling its own from Buenos Aires, measures Argentina then reciprocated.

Argentine President Alberto Fernandez. PHOTO: AFP

In a Twitter post on Monday, Ecuadoran President Guillermo Lasso accused his Argentine counterpart of “putting his personal friendship and political identity” with Correa – who also has been found guilty of corruption – “ahead of the fraternal relationship between the peoples of Argentina and Ecuador”.

Correa, who was president from 2007 to 2017 and has been granted asylum in Belgium, on Tuesday attended a meeting of a human rights group in Buenos Aires.

Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez responded on Tuesday by tweeting a public letter addressed to Lasso, in which he defended his government’s actions and condemned the expulsion of its ambassador as “disproportionate”.

“The seriousness and injustice of that decision show that it is his (Lasso’s) excessive behaviour that truly hurts the relationship between our peoples,” Fernandez added.

“In our embassy, was a refugee who enjoyed full freedom of movement. Argentina had neither the duty of custody over her nor any capacity to limit her movements,” he said.

Lasso later released his own letter to Fernandez on Twitter, defending his decision to declare Argentina’s ambassador persona non grata and accusing the envoy of acting as a “political operator”.

“Collaborating in the escape of a fugitive from justice contributes to impunity, an evil that affects the entire region,” Lasso said.