For the first time in recent memory, graffiti have sprung up on walls across Ecuador saying, ``Yankee, go home.'' The presence in Ecuador of thousands of United States military reservists who are helping to repair damage from the March 5 earthquake is heightening internal political tension six months before the next presidential elections.
And the resulting debate threatens to create a political distance between the two allies. On July 15, the opposition-dominated congress demanded that conservative President Le'on Febres Cordero oust the troops ``as soon as possible.''
The President rejected the demand, saying that the troops are helping the nation in troubled times and that it would be ``unpatriotic'' to send them home.
Mr. Febres Cordero's left-wing opponents said the US troops are violating Ecuador's sovereignty. The government's reliance on foreign troops for disaster assistance has also sparked a more general debate about Ecuador's exceptionally close ties with the US. The current center-right government is viewed as one of the strongest US allies in Latin America.
Calls by the left for greater independence from Washington are significant, analysts said, because one of the center-left parties criticizing the US troops' presence is the front-runner for next January's presidential elections. He is Rodrigo Borja Cevallos, the candidate for the Democratic Left Party. (Febres Cordero cannot seek new election.)
A member of the Democratic Left Party, congressional president Adres Vallejo Arcos, issued a plea to Washington to take note of the congressional demand for troop withdrawal. ``It's not beneficial for a country to have such exaggerated, close relations with any one other country,'' Mr. Vallejo Arcos said in an interview.
Although the Pentagon earlier this week flew a group of US reporters to the steamy Amazon province of Napo, 115 miles southeast of Quito, to see the rebuilding efforts, the US Embasssy in Quito declined to assess the importance of domestic wrangling over the issue.
Spokesmen maintain that the US National Guard and Army reserves are providing needed assistance under a six-month agreement called for by Ecuador's government.
Under Febres Cordero, Ecuador has installed a free-market economy and broken diplomatic ties with Nicaragua.