Ecuador has long been overshadowed by its bigger neighbors, dwarfed on the international stage by the bombast of oil-rich Venezuela and the battle royal in Colombia between the government and leftist rebels. Not anymore. Colombia's raid on a rebel camp in Ecuador last month galvanized President Rafael Correa. Suddenly, Ecuador matters.
Having told both the Colombian government and the rebels to stay out of his country, Correa is now taking on the United States. He has ousted top commanders and members of his military who he says have ties to the Central Intelligence Agency and reaffirmed that Ecuador will not renew the lease for the U.S. air base in Manta after it expires in 2009.
Reactionaries in Washington see these moves, particularly regarding the base, as a sign that the left-leaning Correa has finally drifted into Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's orbit. But Correa's stand is not the result of anti-U.S. sentiment stoked by Chavez and exacerbated by the raid. The base is widely unpopular with the Ecuadorean people, and -- as did other candidates running for president last year -- Correa promised the departure of the U.S. military. These are reasonable steps for Ecuador. Correa is distancing his country from Colombia's internal struggles and, like other Latin American nations, redefining its relationship with the U.S.