The Jorge Glas Affair

Jorge Glas speaking to reporters

Jorge Glas is an Ecuadoran electrical engineer who served as vice president in the Correa administration. He stayed in office briefly under Correa’s successor, Lenín Moreno, but he was convicted of accepting millions of dollars in bribes in the Odebrecht scandal. He served years in prison and was later sentenced to many more years in prison. While on a kind of parole, he took refuge in the Mexican embassy in Quito in December 2023, claiming he was a victim of political persecution. Last month, the Ecuadoran government raided the embassy and arrested Glas, prompting diplomatic protests from around the world and a dispute between Mexico and Ecuador at the ICJ. (You can read about the proceedings here).

The incident ties together a couple of old strands of Letters Blogatory posts. First is the Julian Assange diplomatic asylum case. The case was full of irony back in 2012, since Assange, a self-proclaimed champion of free speech rights, was seeking asylum from a government that had been persecuting its domestic press. The case also had a fair share of crazy: the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an opinion in 2016 arguing that Assange, who had skipped bail in the UK, where he was at risk of extradition to Sweden on charges of rape and sexual molestation, was somehow being arbitrarily detained in the embassy where he was hiding out. There’s irony today, too, in Ecuador of all countries raiding an embassy to make an arrest, both because of its stance in the Assange case and because Mexico and Ecuador (along with several other Latin American states) are both parties to the Convention on Diplomatic Asylum, while the UK, with most of the world, does not really recognize a right to diplomatic asylum.

Second is Ecuador’s PR campaign at the height of the Donziger case in the US. In 2014, the government invited me and others to Ecuador to visit polluted sites in the Amazon and to attend a conference presenting the government’s side of the case. That trip led to one of my favorite series of Letters Blogatory posts: a post on the conference itself, and a post about what I saw in the Amazon. During the conference, we visited the Carondelet Palace for a ninety-minute meeting with the vice president, Jorge Glas.

The key legal question is the inviolability of diplomatic missions under the Vienna Convention. There are some difficult questions about what inviolability means. Does it prevent the host state from regulating the terms and conditions of employment of its nationals on embassy premises? And so forth. But sending the police to arrest someone inside an embassy does not seem like a close call, even if the embassy did not have the right to grant the person asylum (which in this case raises questions under the Latin American treaty on asylum I mentioned above). We will see how the ICJ comes out on these question, but I am comfortable hazarding a guess in this case that Mexico will prevail on the main question.

I have no knowledge of the facts of the case against Glas, and so I don’t know whether or not he took bribes or whether or not he is a victim of political persecution. I will say that I remember him as a typical engineer, maybe even an “egghead,” very knowledgable about the technical details of oil extraction and much less charismatic and overtly political than President Correa, whose 2014 speech at the Kennedy School I covered just before my visit. Just on a personal level, I wish him well.

Photo Credit: Agencia de Noticias ANDES (CC BY-SA)

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