Ecuador’s Correa lashes out at U.S. embassy for spying

QUITO (Reuters) – Ecuador’s leftist President Rafael Correa on Friday accused the U.S. embassy of spying on the country’s police and military, adding the espionage was a factor in his expulsion this week of the U.S. ambassador.

Ecuador on Tuesday told Washington’s envoy Heather Hodges to leave the Andean country over diplomatic cables reporting alleged police corruption that were released by WikiLeaks.

“The serious thing is that WikiLeaks said they (the U.S. embassy) have informants in the police and armed forces … This is espionage,” Correa said in a radio interview, adding the embassy had a duty to inform his government if it had evidence of a crime, but had not done so.

Correa is an ally of left-wing governments in Venezuela and Bolivia, both of which ordered U.S. envoys out of their countries in 2008.

Calling the expulsion “unjustified,” Washington is expelling the Ecuadorean envoy in the country and scrapped a round of trade talks in a tit-for-tat move.

The Ecuadorean government said the cables signed by Hodges’ office suggested senior Ecuadorean police commanders were aware of corrupt practices in the force and that one U.S. embassy official believed Correa’s office also knew it.

Correa acknowledged there is corruption in the police force and said his government is striving to stamp it out.

“The serious issue is that if they have information from inside the police, instead of letting the government know … they say nothing, and they try to involve the country’s President,” he said in the radio interview.

Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said on Wednesday the decision to expel Hodges was made to defend Correa’s honor, even though trade ties with the United States might suffer.

The United States is Ecuador’s largest trade partner. The OPEC-member country shipped about 35 percent of its exports to the United States in 2010.

(Reporting by Eduardo Garcia; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)

Ecuador’s Correa lashes out at U.S. embassy for spying