Former U.S. Ambassador describes ordeal in Ecuador at South Franklin Circle

Heather Hodges holds the dubious distinction of being the first female U.S. ambassador expelled from a foreign country.

“It’s a distinction this girl from Cleveland could have done without,” joked Hodges, who recounted her experience to 140 South Franklin Circle members and guests assembled February 13 for the monthly South Franklin Circle Dialogues Series.

Hodges had been U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador from 2008 until April 2011.  After 31 years in the Foreign Service, she recently retired and became president of the Cleveland Council on World Affairs.   The organization is celebrating its 90th anniversary.

A Westlake native, Hodges’ career also included performing consular work in Venezuela and Guatemala.  In addition, she was Consul General in Bilbao, Spain, and was deputy chief of mission in Managua, Lima, and Madrid.  She served as Ambassador to Moldova from 2003-2006. Her Washington assignments included the Peru desk and Cuban Affairs as well as a fellowship to work on the Senate Subcommittee for Immigration and Refugee Affairs.

Her ejection from Ecuador came at the height of the scandal surrounding Wiki-Leaks, a web site that published thousands of confidential State Department cables in the fall of 2010.

Hodges said that most cables are compiled and written by various embassy staff and designed to report on things of interest to maintain the security of the United States.  The cables are transmitted electronically.

“I’d say I can’t describe the awful feeling. I would wake up at 4:00 a.m. to check the major news web sites to see if any cables related to Ecuador had been published,” described Hodges.  “It was like someone had read your diary.”

Ultimately, the cables slowly leaked and greatly upset Ecuadorian president, Rafael Correa, who declared Hodges “persona non grata.”  She was given a week to leave the country.   Not all Ecuadorians agreed with the action. “On the plane, a woman left a note on my lap that said ‘This is not how Ecuador feels.’ It was very touching,” said Hodges.

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