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US 'too hasty' in move to condemn Ecuador
By Richard Lapper in São Paulo
Published: May 22 2006 18:22 | Last updated: May 22 2006 18:22

The secretary general of the Organisation of American States has sharply criticised the US for moving too swiftly to condemn Ecuador over its decision to seize the assets of California-based Occidental Petroleum following a legal dispute.

In an interview with the FT, José Miguel Insulza said the US should have examined the case more carefully before deploring the move and suspending trade talks between the two countries.

"I don't think more than few hours passed between the Ecuadorean announcement and the US response," Mr Insulza said, adding that Ecuador had believed it had been "within its rights". "These kind of things cause resentment ... and that is not good for the hemisphere."

Mr Insulza, who completes his first year in office this week, downplayed fears that the region is becoming increasingly polarised as a result of the growing influence of Hugo Chávez, the radical leader of oil-rich Venezuela. "There has been no sharp shift to the left or the right," he said.

"So far, the only change of real importance has taken place in Bolivia [which elected indigenous leader Evo Morales last December and nationalised its gas industry this month] but we have to await the results of elections," said Mr Insulza. Colombia and Peru go to the polls in the next two weeks, Mexico in July, and Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela before the end of the year.

Criticisms tended to underestimate the extent of the region's political maturity, he said. "Latin America is not a baby. When the left or right win in Europe nobody pronounces about the destiny of the Continent or anything like that. You have to take the political process take its course."

Fragmentation, however, was a concern. Mr Insulza lamented recent tensions within the Mercosur and Andean Pact trade blocs, as well as bilateral tensions between Bolivia and Brazil [over gas nationalisation] and Argentina and Uruguay [over an environmental dispute involving two new Uruguayan paper mills]. "Bilateral conflicts have increased and we have to look for a way to ease these problems more quickly," he said.

He urged governments, multilateral banks and other international agencies to be more flexible in the way they disburse aid to Haiti, whose newly elected President, René Préval, took office 10 days ago.

Donors meet in Brasília on Tuesday to discuss ways of helping Mr Préval revive the country's stricken economy. Not much more than a half of the $1.4bn pledged in July 2004 has actually been disbursed and too little of the spending has resulted in concrete and visible improvements to infrastructure.

"I know that it is not easy but the countries and organisations giving aid to Haiti are treating Haiti as if it was a normal country. We have to look for extraordinary procedures to allow resources to flow." The OAS helped broker negotiations between political parties after the results of Haiti's elections last February were disputed.

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