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Ecuador Demands Removal of World Bank Representative

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa has called for the withdrawal of the World Bank representative in the country because of a dispute with the lending institution. From Miami, VOA's Brian Wagner reports Ecuador is seeking to redefine its ties with the bank and its sister organization, the International Monetary Fund.

Ecuador's foreign ministry said Wednesday that World Bank representative Eduardo Somensatto has been declared persona non grata. It said President Rafael Correa made the decision because of the bank's refusal to release a $100 million loan to the country in 2005.

Mr. Correa, who was economy and finance minister at the time, has repeatedly criticized the World Bank decision, saying officials blocked the money at the last minute and violated the lending deal.

World Bank officials say they received a letter from Ecuador requesting the removal of Somensatto and are studying it. They said the bank remains committed to an open dialogue with Ecuador and to the fight against poverty.

Mr. Correa has repeatedly criticized the World Bank and its sister organization the International Monetary Fund because of what he calls unfair loan agreements. Earlier this month, he announced the government had paid off its $9 million debt to the IMF.

Raul Madrid, associate professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin, says Mr. Correa is seeking to restructure the nation's entire foreign debt.

"He's trying to reduce the commitment, rather the dependence of the Ecuadorian economy on these foreign institutions," he said. "And this is pretty much in line with what a number of other countries are doing in the region."

Madrid notes that Argentina, Venezuela and Brazil have paid off recent debts to the World Bank and the IMF, and decided not to seek new loan agreements with the Washington-based institutions.

He says some countries have been helped by expanding economies and rising prices for key exports like oil. But there also has been growing opposition to the kind of political and economic reforms that are required under typical loan agreements with the World Bank and IMF.

Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, says some of the measures are blamed for economic troubles in the region.

"A lot of the measures really did seem to hurt. You did have, in Latin America especially, the last 25 years have been the worst period of economic growth in more than a century," he said.

Experts say a backlash has been building across Latin America against World Bank and IMF sponsored reforms for failing to live up to their promises of improved living conditions and income equality. Weisbrot says, as a result, voters have backed leftist leaders in recent elections in Ecuador, Bolivia and Brazil.

"I think that's what you're seeing, it's kind of a rebellion that took place at the ballot boxes over the last eight years," said Weisbrot. "These governments are responding to what people voted for, they wanted a change in economic policy."

Mr. Correa and other leftist leaders have emphasized the need to increase health, education and other social spending across the region to make up for decades of neglect.