SÃO PAULO, Brazil – Mexico’s government announced this week that it asked the Church’s help to mediate a diplomatic crisis with Ecuador, made worse after the Ecuadorian police invaded Mexico’s embassy in Quito in order to detain former Vice President Jorge Glas on Apr. 5.

Mexican Foreign Relations Minister Alicia Bárcena said on Apr. 22 that her country’s government sought help from Switzerland and from the Apostolic Nunciature in Ecuador to negotiate Glas’s release and transference to Mexico.

Glas, who was former leader Rafael Correa’s Vice President between 2013-2018, was convicted in 2017 for taking part in a bribery scheme involving the Brazilian building company Odebrecht.

He was temporarily released in 2022 before serving his full sentence. Other charges also attained Correa, who left Ecuador for exile in Belgium. The two left-wing politicians argue they have been suffering political persecution.

Since December 17, Glas had been staying at the Mexican embassy in Quito after another prison warrant was issued against him for his alleged financial malpractice when contracting construction works after an earthquake in 2016.

Mexico decided to grant Glas political asylum on Apr. 5 and asked Ecuador for safe conduct for him, which was denied. Later that day, the Ecuadorian police broke into the Mexican embassy and detained Glas, taking him back to prison. Diplomatic relations between both Latin American countries have been severed since then.

Ecuador’s unprecedented decision, which according to experts violates international laws regarding the foreign countries’ sovereignty over their embassies, comes amid a set of unusual measures taken by President Daniel Noboa, who took office in November of 2023.

During a wave of violence provoked by drug lords in January, Noboa decided to establish a state of emergency and to deploy army troops to fight criminality on the streets in several Ecuadorian cities. The Armed Forces were also sent to a number of prisons that had been dominated by criminals.

Church groups that work with vulnerable teenagers and prisoners accused the government of making numerous human rights violations during the peak of the crisis.

But the President’s popularity apparently grew with that plan. On Apr. 21, Ecuadorians were called to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in a referendum that included 11 questions, many of them concerning Noboa’s security measures.

They were mostly ratified by the majority of voters, like the use of the Armed Forces in the struggle against crime and tougher penalties for serious felonies. Only two governmental propositions, concerning economic topics, were repudiated by citizens.

Noboa’s war on crime and his decision to detain Glas are not disconnected, in the opinion of French-born Father Pierre Riouffrait, known as Pedro Pierre, a long-time human rights advocate in Ecuador who has been working among basic ecclesial communities for decades.

“The government launched a war against poor teenagers and now committed that terrible error of invading a foreign embassy to arrest Glas. Yet, many Ecuadorians see all that as positive actions that were taken by a macho leader,” he told Crux.

Xavier Guachamin, a lay Catholic who is part of a group called Faith and Politics Commission, said that many segments in the Ecuadorian society have a feeling of impunity when it comes to organized crime and political corruption, so measures like the militarization of public security and Glas’s detention have been seen as correct, despite the controversy they caused.

“There’s a general disenchantment with the country’s institutions, including juridical and political branches. So, many see those unusual actions as gestures of bravery,” Guachamin told Crux.

Both Guachamin and Pedro Pierre think that the Ecuadorian episcopate failed to take a more critical tone in its declarations regarding Noboa’s measures.

“Unfortunately, the voices of the Catholics who work with the poor have not been heard in that crisis,” Guachamin said.

For Pedro Pierre, “the episcopate knows that Noboa committed a serious error but it will not say anything in order to avoid any tensions with the government.”

“The Mexican request to the nuncio may help the Bishops’ Conference to assume a more incisive stance,” he added.

Auxiliary Bishop David de la Torre of Quito, who is the Bishops’ Conference’s secretary general, told Crux that no communication has been established with the episcopate till now regarding the matter.

In Mexico, the Ecuadorian invasion prompted strong reactions from the government and from Church leaders, but the topic rapidly lost its visibility due to the ongoing electoral campaigns, affirmed Catholic lawyer Christian Campos. Mexico will hold general elections on Jun. 2.

“It’s not enough to say that it was a grave attack on international law, on human rights, and on a country’s sovereignty. But unfortunately, the issue was not sufficiently debated with the public,” Campos told Crux.

He says Latin Americans have been facing structural problems in their judiciary systems for decades, so they have a general feeling that justice is not usually served, especially when it comes to politicians.

“But I think it’s dangerous rhetoric to say that invading the embassy to detain Glas was justifiable because his crimes are serious,” Campos said. “You can’t violate the law in order to serve justice. It’s a contradiction and it has impacts on the citizens’ ideas.”