In a world shaped by bilateral and multilateral trade agreements, where goods and services cross borders with relative ease, it is often difficult to say the same about people. However, President Rafael Correa of Ecuador has been a leader in championing integration efforts, in particular open border policies in the Western Hemisphere. Ecuador’s 2008 constitution has provisions guaranteeing the free movement of people through Ecuador’s borders and the country is planning to pressure the Organization of American States (OAS) to adopt open-border policies that allow all people from the Americas to have free movement across the region.
These initiatives do not come without tension and controversy. Historically, Ecuador has experienced a number of border conflicts—particularly with Peru and more recently tensions over military incursions by Colombia into Ecuador—and understands the importance of border security. How the country reconciles this history with its new rhetoric of open borders has proved to be challenging. On one hand Ecuador is forced to limit diplomatic relations with Colombia and has expressed concern over the number of refugees crossing the border into Ecuador. At the same time, it is promoting integration as official foreign policy. For Ecuador, fully resolving the Colombian border conflict may be a first step toward an integrated regional body.
The United States has expressed concern over Ecuador’s open border policies. One of the most pressing issues seems to be over undocumented immigration and smuggling. The fear is that Ecuador will be used as a staging ground for entry into the United States. These concerns come at a time when undocumented immigration is a heated topic in the United States. Countries from all over Latin America have voiced their disapproval of SB 1070 in Arizona, and Ecuador is planning on opening a new consulate in Arizona to help its nationals. Ecuador may be trying to claim the moral high ground over the United States, but we still have yet to see whether there is substance behind this rhetoric, or if President Correa’s gestures are at best symbolic.