Ecuador Boots World Bank as Correa Continues Crackdown Against Opponents

The World Bank, already gripped by the unfolding battle in Washington between its president and its board of directors, has a new crisis on its hands today: A rejection slip from Ecuador.

The bank's representative in Ecuador, Eduardo Somensatto, was declared "persona non grata" Thursday by the government in Quito and told to leave the country immediately, a well-placed source inside the bank’s headquarters told Fox News. "The bank is now in a crisis mode over it," says the source. "They are developing a communications strategy for informing the staff before it leaks to the media."

The Embassy of Ecuador declined to confirm or deny the expulsion.

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa had announced on April 21 during his weekly radio program that he planned to expel Somensatto, but it was unclear if he would follow through on the threat.

According to Correa, the World Bank held up a $100 million credit in 2005, when he was economic minister, following concerns the bank had about a new law governing oil funds.

"They punished a sovereign country for modifying a national law," Correa charged at the time, adding that his government "won't put up with blackmail from this international bureaucracy."

"[W]e are nobody's colony," he said at the time.

The World Bank has said it denied the credit because Ecuador violated an important loan requirement after Correa dissolved an oil fund earmarked to pay foreign debt.

The source inside the bank said that Ecuador had "long disliked the bank" and that the expulsion could be timed to add to the growing pressure being placed on Paul Wolfowitz to resign as bank president.

Ecuador currently owes $748 million to the World Bank. Correa has announced plans to cut back the country's reliance on both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. He was elected president in December 2006 with a mandate to put "life before debt."

Ecuadoreans want to "overcome the nefarious neo-liberal state legitimized in the 1998 Constitution," Correa said at an April 15 press conference. Correa then attacked the World Bank, and announced that his government had finished paying off its remaining debt to the International Monetary Fund. "We don't want to have anything to do" with the IMF, he said.

Correa, meanwhile, continued his crackdown against opposition leaders.

Six ousted opposition lawmakers fled Thursday to Colombia after an Ecuadorean prosecutor requested they and their colleagues be arrested for sedition, the Associated Press reported.

Prosecutor Elsa Moreno accused two dozen ousted lawmakers of disregarding authority after they declared themselves to be legitimate congressmen based on a ruling this week by Ecuador's Constitutional Tribunal.

The tribunal was then dismissed by Congress, as Correa tightened his hold over all branches of government. On Tuesday, Correa disregarded the tribunal's ruling and surrounded Congress with police to prevent the lawmakers from returning.

Alfonso Harb, one of the six ousted congressmen who fled to Colombia, on Wednesday said the prosecutor's request for the arrest warrants represents "political persecution against the opposition congressmen ... We were dismissed unfairly in violation of the constitution."

More than half of Congress was fired in March by an electoral tribunal that accused the lawmakers of interfering with a referendum on the need for a new constitution.

An overwhelming 82 percent of voters last week approved the election of a constitutional assembly that Correa hopes will reduce the power of political parties.

Ousted Congresswoman Gloria Gallardo, also in Colombia, said lawmakers feared for their lives and were evaluating whether to request political asylum from Colombian authorities. She said they fled Ecuador to escape the "political persecution they are suffering" because of Correa's government. Correa said he opposed the prosecutor's request to a judge for the arrest orders. The judge, Elsa Sanchez, said she was studying the request.

Correa warned, however, that if any of the dismissed lawmakers tried to enter Congress by force, "it will be necessary to send them to prison."

Correa is Ecuador's eighth president in a decade. During that period, Congress has dismissed three unpopular presidents, violating impeachment proceedings in the process.

On Wednesday, Thomas Shannon, the top U.S. diplomat for the Americas, voiced support for political reform in Ecuador, saying "the Ecuadorean people spoke with a firm voice on the referendum."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.