An Open Relationship: Lasso’s Camaraderie with Iván Duque as Borders Reopen.

  • The Presidents enjoy healthy camaraderie as they agree on border reopenings.
  • The ideologically similar leaders have been strengthening relations since Lasso’s victory earlier this year. 
  • Whilst the date of the reopening has been postponed, their camaraderie is solid as they discuss bilateral interests.
Duque and Lasso
Source: PoliticadeEcuador

Why is Guillermo Lasso in Camaraderie with Iván Duque?

Answer: Lasso and Duque share similar ideology and have enjoyed productive diplomacy as of late.

Even before he assumed office in late May this year, President Guillermo Lasso had sent a clear message of cooperation and openness to his northern neighbour. For his first international trip, he met Duque in Bogotá in April. The purpose of which was principally to strengthen bilateral relations, through a ‘firm commitment to the security of their residents.’ Centre-right Colombian President Duque has been eager to welcome relations with the Ecuadorian former-banker, with whom he shares an ideological common ground, as well as an essential economic relationship. In fact, Duque was amongst the first to congratulate Lasso for his electoral victory this year, after he broke the wave of populism in Ecuador. 

Recent talks in Quito revolved around many of the same issues as in April: security, the penitentiary system, and maintaining positive relations. The most obvious conclusion drawn from Duque’s visit, however, has been the decision to reopen the Ecuadorian border. This move should ‘dynamise’ trade and commerce between the two nations, and protect their people from the criminal extortion often paid to cross the border through alternate means. Since its closing in March 2020, there has been a significant surge in illegal activity in the region and increased presence of human trafficking across the border. Spiking violent crime in Ecuador is largely due to drug trafficking and will likely be mitigated by the decision to reopen as better security coordination is facilitated along the border.

Overall, the two leaders seem to be making great progress on bilateral interests and their camaraderie seems solid as they look to continue mutual cooperation. 

What does Lasso want?

Answer: President Lasso wants the reopening of borders of course, but other strategic goals are present.

The most immediate of Lasso’s motivations is undoubtedly the reopening of the borders, however, it is only one piece in his wider strategy of post-pandemic economic reactivation in Ecuador. Lasso believes this reopening will stimulate international trade. With Ecuador’s vaccination program finding its feet and improvements to the handling of the pandemic, the President is taking strides towards reopening the economy. 

The 586km long land border between the two nations is intrinsic to their symbiotic prosperity. Ecuador is Colombia’s third-largest export destination and Colombia is Ecuador’s fourth-largest. Ecuador also depends on its neighbour as a partner and source of military equipment that serve to protect the countries’ common security interests on the border. All of this will be at the forefront of Lasso’s mind when negotiating relations with President Duque.

While the goal to ‘strengthen relations’ between two nations is often ambiguous, an important result has come out in terms of Ecuadorian trade: entry into the Pacific Alliance. Duque joined Mexico’s AMLO in pledging support for Ecuador’s full membership into the international initiative for the integration of trade. Membership entails further development and an increased push towards the mobility of goods and integration of regional trade, through the free mobility of people, the promotion of intercultural exchange, and the opening of joint commercial enterprise.

While a smooth reopening of the border will be Lasso’s prominent short-term desire, continued cooperation with Duque will also prove beneficial in the long term.

What does Duque want?

Answer: President Duque shares many of Lasso’s goals for the future and also has his own ideological motivations.

While the earlier talks in April served Duque well in welcoming his fellow centre-right politician to the region, these most recent talks in Quito have allowed the Colombian leader to further transmit his desires for the future of the two nations.

The decision to reopen the Ecuadorian side of the border will come as a resolution to Duque, who opened the Colombian side back in May and expected Ecuador to do the same in line with Covid-19 measures. Reopening is a common goal for both leaders and marks a victory for Duque and increased opportunity for Colombian commerce. 

Another factor driving President Duque’s eagerness to strengthen relations with Lasso is an ideological one. As the first centre-right President in Ecuador for almost two decades, Lasso is symbolic of a new stage in Ecuadorian politics. Relations between the two countries prior to Lasso’s election had been somewhat colder. The common explanation (however valid it may be) is that this was due to previous Correist policy that inhibited the two nations’ diplomacy and tolerated illegal activity on the border. 

Another motivation for this cooperation will be to recuperate the support of the Colombian people, who are disillusioned with their president. Colombia experienced wide-spread protests earlier this year, social unrest stemming from a later-scrapped tax reform and police violence. Duque even became the least popular Colombian president in history this year, with a 76% disapproval rating. With elections coming up next year and no further term for him, Duque and his party’s shaky legacy will be a significant driver in how he acts over the next few months. 

Overall, Duque wants to strengthen his relationship with Lasso as much as possible in order to secure better bilateral opportunities for economic reasons, but also for ideological and personal motivations. His support of Ecuador’s full-fledged entry into the Pacific Alliance is a message of solidarity between centre-right neighbours, and one of connectivity to the rest of the region.

What is Lasso Doing?

Answer: President Lasso is doing all he can to reactivate Ecuador’s post-pandemic economy, as well as advocate himself as a president of change.

Seemingly driving all of President Lasso’s policy decisions currently is his strategic vision of opening Ecuador to the world, attracting investors and cementing the country as a heavyweight of the region. 

This much is seen in events endorsed by Lasso such as Ecuador Open for Business 2021 and his efforts to promote connectivity within indigenous groups, as well as the constant promotion of Ecuador’s vaccination programme and reactivation of the tourism industry. This push is also at the core of his requests for full membership in the Pacific Alliance, his meetings with President Duque and AMLO, and his fiscal reforms and zero-debt plan

During his election campaign, President Lasso marketed himself as the ‘change candidate’ and promised to modernise the country, re-establishing the strength of what in his words were ‘undermined democratic foundations’. Since then he has at least begun to reform different areas of Ecuador’s economy and foreign relations. However, recently, public support of the President has somewhat waned in light of scandal, political tension and states of emergency. It is likely that as well as rebranding the image of his country, one of Lasso’s priorities will be a personal rebranding, with the intention of gaining back some of the recently lost enthusiasm of his electorate. There is no doubt that Lasso is making changes, only time will tell if they are the right changes. 

What does this mean for you? 

Answer: A strengthened relationship between precipitates economic recovery, sending a message to the rest of the region.

Although the reopening has now been postponed thanks to the Omicron variant, the two leaders’ camaraderie is showing signs of great solidity. With the support of various Latin American countries for Ecuador’s full entry into the Pacific Alliance, the new year could be potentially very successful for Lasso. 

The ongoing diplomatic development of these countries also has wider-reaching consequences. With the U.S. evaluating its approach to South America, increased conservatism in the region facilitates dialogue, with some experts recommending Ecuador as a potential investment opportunity for the Biden administration. 

Lasso’s mission to open Ecuador to the world is yielding some positive results for the President in unexpected places. Lasso reported ‘productive talks’ with Vladimir Putin, where the theme of trade was discussed, resulting in an invitation for Ecuador to enter into a free-trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union, a first for any Latin American country. These strengthening ties with other nations, both close to home and further afield are demonstrating that Lasso wants, and will likely get, a more significant position on the international stage. 

Should Lasso and Duque continue with this budding bromance, both leaders stand to reap the rewards. Provided that Lasso manages to implement policy to successfully ‘reopen Ecuador to the world’, whilst Duque ensures the safety and movement of his electorate into neighbouring territory, both presidents would be reinforcing and reiterating a message of ‘right-wing viability’ for the region. This message was one that has fallen on deaf ears during recent months for Lasso and has certainly not been proven in Colombia,  but this developing camaraderie could give their governments more international credibility, reinforcing this style of leadership.

Ross Hardy

R&A Alumno