Political turbulences hit Aeromexico

A serious diplomatic crisis between Mexico and Ecuador, in which other countries are increasingly becoming involved, is shaking the sub-continent. It erupted when special Ecuadorian squads raided the Mexican embassy in Quito, in an attempt to detain Ecuador’s former Vice President, Jorge Glas. He had fled to the embassy to escape a prison sentence on corruption charges. Mexico had granted the politician asylum.

Ecuador is an expert when it comes to asylum issues. For years, the country granted WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, the right to stay in its London embassy, sheltering him from the access of the British authorities and thus preventing his extradition to the USA. This may have annoyed Downing Street, but the UK respected the extraterritorial status of the South American country’s embassy. After all, under diplomatic norms, embassies and consulates are considered protected spaces.

From 01JUL – 18DEC, Aeromexico will no longer serve the Mexico – Quito route following a diplomatic spat. Pictured here: Boeing 737 MAX – courtesy: Aeromexico

Outcry of indignation
However, in an attempt to get hold of Jorge Glas, the government in Quito blatantly violated this universally respected rule by raiding the Mexican diplomatic representation in Quito. Glas was found guilty in a disputed legal case by an Ecuadorian court, of receiving US$13.5 million in bribes in what became known as the Odebrecht scandal. This led him to seek asylum in the Mexican embassy which he was granted.
In Mexico, the raid caused an outcry of indignation. The government broke up diplomatic relations with Ecuador and ordered its diplomatic staff back home. Furthermore, the López Obrador administration ordered national carrier, Aeromexico, to suspend flights between Mexico City and Quito from 01JUL24 through to 18DEC24. The route is currently still operated by the airline four times a week. In the meantime, Nicaragua has also broken off diplomatic ties with Ecuador, in solidarity with Mexico. Brazil, Colombia and even the Argentinian anarcho-capitalist, Javier Milei, have voiced harsh criticism of the Ecuadorian government’s step. UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres was “alarmed” by the raid, with his speaker, Stéphane Dujarric “reaffirming the cardinal principle of the inviolability of diplomatic and consular premises and personnel.”

Consequences for cargo
The cancellation of non-stop flights between Mexico City and Quito complicates the flow of passengers and affects cargo transportation as well. Soon, travelers will have to transit at major hubs such as Sao Paulo, Bogota, or Lima, to reach either Quito or Mexico City – the same goes for cargo. A time-consuming exercise.
Among other issues, air freight faces a particular challenge not much spoken about for reasons of piety. Keyword: human remains. Since 2022, more than 115,000 Ecuadorians have left the country to reach the United States to find a job and make a living there, fleeing poverty, corruption, and criminal drug cartels in Ecuador. Among these people were more than 20,000 children and adolescents who traveled alone and often fell into the clutches of human traffickers. Some of them never reached the United States, but died in Mexico.

Diplomatic vacuum hampers processes
Without diplomatic representation, the question now arises as to who is formally responsible for the repatriation of the deceased to their home country. It is currently completely unclear as to who issues the death certificates and exit permits for the bodies of Ecuadorian citizens, enabling them their last journey back home. For the repatriation of a body, a family member normally authorizes the diplomatic corps of the country concerned to make the appropriate arrangements together with the local state authorities. But without diplomatic relations, who will exercise this authority?
Admittedly, the dignified treatment of human remains and their return to their home country in the cargo hold of an airplane, is a marginal aspect of this diplomatic crisis. But the example shows the consequences that actions such as the raiding of diplomatic missions can have, which hardly anyone thinks about at the time of the event.

La Roca – the Alcatraz of Ecuador
As far as air freight is concerned, the supply chain of car parts manufactured in Mexico and flown to customers in Ecuador, will be disrupted as a result of the temporary route cancellation by Aeromexico, local market experts predict. Also affected are urgently needed medical and pharmaceutical goods transported southbound, while in the opposite direction, Ecuador-harvested perishables will take longer to get from the field to the shelves in U.S. supermarkets.
How the diplomatic wrangling over Jorge Glas will end, cannot be predicted at present. The only thing that is clear, is that he is currently jailed in the high security La Roca prison in Guayaquil, notorious for lack of space, violence and recurring prisoner revolts.
Meanwhile, the German government is trying to get in direct contact with 54-year-old Glas. The Foreign Office in Berlin confirmed this to the media. In addition to his Ecuadorian nationality, he also has German citizenship.

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