QUITO, Ecuador — Ecuador and Peru replaced their ambassadors to resolve a diplomatic crisis after a fight between Ecuador’s envoy and two local women in a Lima supermarket threatened to disrupt relations between the two Andean nations.
Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa backed off his May 4 threat to freeze relations with Peru over the issue, announcing Monday night that ambassador Rodrigo Riofrio asked to be removed to help resolve the crisis, according to a statement from the Foreign Ministry.
Peru responded Tuesday by saying it would change its ambassador to Quito in recognition of Ecuador’s decision to accept its request to remove Riofrio, the Peruvian Foreign Ministry said in an emailed statement.
Peru’s government last week requested that Correa remove Riofrio after an “incident” in Lima involving the envoy, according to an April 30 statement from Peru’s Foreign Ministry.
Correa, who threw out President Barack Obama’s representative in 2011 and Colombia’s ambassador in 2010, defended Riofrio, saying he was the “victim of aggression” and that he wouldn’t respect Peru’s request to withdraw the ambassador.
“This decision was made following the request by Ambassador Riofrio,” the Foreign Ministry said in the statement. “In the coming days Ecuador will designate a new ambassador who will represent our country” in Peru.
Both Peru and Ecuador recalled their ambassadors last week for consultations and Peru’s government had asked Riofrio not to return. Correa said May 4 he wouldn’t let Peru’s ambassador back into Ecuador if Riofrio wasn’t allowed to continue at his post in Peru.
One of the two women involved in the scuffle with Riofrio said the altercation began when she and her daughter cut in front of him as he stood in a Lima supermarket check-out line on April 21, according to a news report by Peru’s DiaD television station. Riofrio insulted the women and the daughter hit the ambassador first, according to the report.
Riofrio said in an April 29 statement e-mailed by the Ecuadorean Foreign Ministry that he was sorry for the “personal incident” and didn’t provoke the fight. Riofrio denied he insulted the women and said he only defended himself from the women’s attacks.
Videos distributed by Peruvian newspaper La Republica show a man identified as Riofrio punching and kicking a woman at a supermarket in Peru’s capital.
The fight has sparked protests outside the ambassador’s residence in Lima and a lawyer for the two Peruvian women filed assault charges yesterday, La Republica reported.
Both governments bear some responsibility for escalating the dispute, Michel Levi, coordinator of the Andean Center of International Studies at the Universidad Andina, said Monday in a phone interview from Quito.
“It’s important that Correa fights for truth and justice, but at this point, he’s putting the security and credibility of the state at risk,” Levi said. “The relevant thing here is that there’s a diplomatic crisis created by a street fight.”
Ecuador and Peru signed a peace accord in 1998 ending border wars dating from the 19th century. In August, the two countries said they are planning a joint venture to explore for oil on the Ecuadorean side of their shared border.
The two also signed a $300 million agreement last year to connect their oil pipelines to carry Ecuadorean crude to Peru’s northern port of Bayovar.
Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry didn’t reply to a telephone message seeking comment on Correa’s statements. Attempts to reach Riofrio through the ministry’s press office were unsuccessful. Peru’s Foreign Ministry didn’t respond to a telephone message seeking comment.
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