Russia Lifts Suspension on Imports of Ecuadorian Bananas After Collapse of US-Ecuador Arms Deal

Another embarrassing setback for US foreign policy, this time in its so-called “back yard” (or as Biden calls it, “front yard”).

Well, that didn’t take long. Ecuador’s “Weapons or Bananas?” dilemma appears to be over, just weeks after it began, leaving mucho huevo on the face of both US and Ecuadorian government officials. On Friday (Feb 16), the Russian government announced it was lifting its ban on the imports of bananas from 5 Ecuadorian companies, which threatened to bankrupt many Ecuadorian banana growers. The Head of Russia’s  Federal Service of Veterinary and Phytosanitary Supervision (Rosselkhoznadzor), Sergey Dankvert said:

“We officially announce that at 4 pm Moscow time on Monday we will have a video-conference with Ecuador’s agricultural watchdog. Today, we announce that the five Ecuadoran companies will be able to continue supplying [the Russian market] on the conditions of guarantees of Ecuador’s service. We will discuss technical details later on.”

The reason for the change of course had nothing to do with bananas and everything to do with Russian weapons and the war in Ukraine.

On January 10, the President of Ecuador, Daniel Noboa, announced that his country would deliver unused Russian military machinery to the United States in exchange for $200 million of US-made weaponry for Quito’s escalating war on the drug cartels. The Russian weapons would then be sent to Ukraine for its defence, though this was strenuously denied by Noboa, who insisted the weapons were nothing more than worthless scrap metal.

Russian authorities declaimed that Noboa’s announcement violated the military treaty signed in 2008 that prevents buyers of Russian weapons from selling or donating them to other countries without Moscow’s prior authorisation. Moscow’s response was to place an import ban on five Ecuadorian banana exporters citing an alleged infestation of humpback flies in a shipment of bananas from the Andean nation.

A few days later, a total ban on the import of Ecuadorian carnations was also announced after other pests had been detected in the flowers. In addition, the Netherlands, Germany, Latvia and Lithuania were asked to block the entry of carnations from Ecuador. The Russian authorities warned the countries that if they did not restrict the entry of carnations, restrictive measures would be applied against other types of flowers coming from their territory.

Days later, other banana exporters were added to the ban. Russia was also talking about substituting Ecuadorian bananas, which account for nine out of ten bananas consumed in the country, with supplies of the yellow fruit from India, Egypt, China, Korea and Thailand. As I warned in my previous article on the topic, Russia’s retaliatory measures could be the final straw for Ecuador’s foundering economy, for which bananas are the third most important export product, after crude oil and crustaceans:

[Ecuador] is the world’s largest exporter of bananas and Russia is its second biggest customer after the European Union. “Russia is an extremely important market for our country’s banana producers and exporters,” said the Association of Banana Exporters of Ecuador (AEBE) in a press release:

“It is the final destination of 21% of all banana exports. 1.46 million crates [of the fruit] are sent weekly to Russia, meaning that this market generates around $757 million per year… In addition, 25,000 workers work across the nation on plantations dedicated to supplying this market, which is particularly important for small producers.”…

Ecuador’s banana growers are already hurting. As the Ecuadorian economist Pablo Dávalos notes, they are bearing the brunt of the fallout from Noboa’s decision to involve the country in the Ukraine conflict and there are no compensatory measures in place. At a recent rally, Fulto Serrano, a representative of Oro farmers group, said the sole cause of the problem was the government’s donation of Russian-made weapons. Noboa, he said, will not be affected by the closure of the Russian market, while thousands of farmers around the country will. The result will be a glut of bananas, leading to a collapse in the price.

U-Turn Time

Ecuador’s government has finally blinked, though some US media outlets, including Bloomberg, have been bizarrely making the opposite claim — that it was Russia that had reversed course following concerns in the Kremlin about a potential banana shortage in the coming months. As Putin said in his recent interview with Tucker Carlson, “in the world of propaganda it is very difficult to beat the United States.”

On Friday afternoon, Ecuador’s Trade Minister Sonsoles García confirmed on X that the Russian embargo on five banana exporting companies had been lifted.

“Good news. 100% of Ecuadoran banana exports to Russia are operational! We will continue working to guarantee fluid trade with Russia, an important destination for our agro-export offer.”

Just days earlier, García had described the potential loss of Ecuador’s second biggest banana export market as “simply a challenge for banana growers and exporters to find new markets.”

Russia Reminds Ecuador of Its “Neutral Status”

The lifting of the import ban was announced following a meeting on Friday afternoon between Russia’s Ambassador to Ecuador, Vladimir Sprinchan, and Ecuador’s President Daniel Noboa in Guayaquil. And the main reason cited by Sprinchan for lifting the ban was Ecuador’s decision to cancel its weapons swap with the US. From Pravda‘s Spanish language edition (translation my own):

Ecuador has reversed its decision to deliver Russian weapons to the United States, the Russian ambassador to the South American country Vladimir Sprinchan told Sputnik after his conversation with Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa on February 16.

This Friday, a meeting took place with the president of Ecuador Daniel Noboa, we spoke in detail about the current state of bilateral relations, focusing particularly on the complications that have recently arisen between our two countries,” reported the diplomat.

The Ecuadorian side confirmed that the country, given its neutral status and permanent membership of the UN, cannot allow itself to be dragged into a conflict by any of the parties involved,” he added.

Ecuador’s position consists of not sending weapons and ammunition to conflict zones and contributing to the resolution of disputes peacefully, through diplomatic measures,” he highlighted.

Russia’s Federal Ministry for Military-Technical Cooperation has repeatedly warned Ecuador that it is illegal for any buyer of Russian or Soviet-made military equipment to transfer said equipment to a third party without prior consent from Moscow. In a recent press conference, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, warned that if the weapons swap takes place, “Ecuador will be breaching its international obligations, which could have negative consequences for our future bilateral cooperation.”

The Ecuadorian investigative news portal La Posta laid the blame for this latest diplomatic fiasco on the US State Department’s shoulders for directly contradicting President Noboa’s [admittedly absurd] justification for handing the Russian-made weapons to the US in the first place — namely that they are essentially scrap metal and therefore not fit for battle. Zakharova tore Noboa’s alibi to shreds in just one sentence: 

“If [the weapons] were indeed scrap metal, as they call it in Ecuador, it would be hard to imagine Washington proposing to swap it all for modern equipment, for a not inconsiderable sum.”

Another Diplomatic Disaster

Just over a year ago, as Ukraine’s weapons shortages were rapidly intensifying, the US government began asking Latin American countries to donate Russian-made weapons for the Ukrainian war effort or to swap them for more modern US equipment. In a January 2023 interview with the Atlantic Council, General Laura Richardson, the commander of the US Southern Command, said:

There is a total of nine [countries] that have Russian [military] equipment in [the region] and we’re working to replace that Russian equipment with United States equipment if those countries want to donate it, too.

None of the nine countries (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru and Venezuela) showed any interest in the proposal, despite pressure from the United States and Germany. But that changed in January when Noboa, the son of Ecuador’s richest man, announced his decision to hand over Ecuador’s arsenal of Russian-made weaponry, which he described as worthless scrap metal, in exchange for $200 million of US-made equipment.

But then, Kevin Sullivan, a senior US State Department representative, directly contradicted Noboa’s “scrap metal” alibi by admitting on Ecuadorian television that Ecuador’s Russian-made weaponry would indeed be heading to Ukraine, where they would be used to try to kill Russian soldiers. And just like that, Noboa’s whole charade came tumbling down.

That was over a week ago. Now, the weapons are staying put in Ecuador. Ambassador Sprinchan said on Friday that he is “confident” Ecuador will not be sending Soviet weapons to Ukraine via the US, adding that the Andean nation “has a great responsibility and commitment to contribute to the resolution of conflicts in the world through peaceful means and diplomatic instruments.”

Initially, Ecuador’s government neither confirmed nor denied Moscow’s claims. Meanwhile, many Western press outlets were serving up a very different version of events in which the Kremlin lifted the import bans due to concerns over potential banana shortages and price rises. No mention was even made of the Russian ambassador’s statements in articles in Newsweek (“Putin’s Bananas Ban Backfires as Russians Told to Grow Their Own Fruit“), Bloomberg (“Russia Blinks on Banana Ban as Ecuador Swaps Weaponry With US“) and Moscow Times (Russia Lifts Ecuador Banana Ban After U.S. Arms Deal).

The article in Bloomberg even chalked up the reversal as a “foreign policy victory” for the Noboa government:

Ecuador, the world’s biggest banana exporter, solved the impasse “with little noise and quickly thanks to a capable career commerce team,” said Michel Levi, a professor of foreign relations at Universidad Andina Simon Bolivar in Quito…

With the end of the ban, President Daniel Noboa — a millennial heir to a banana fortune — chalked up a second foreign policy victory in a week after Ecuador’s national assembly ratified a free-trade agreement with Russia’s ally China.

In its defence, Bloomberg did report a day later (Feb 17) that Russia was claiming that Ecuador had agreed to cancel its weapons swap with the US, but this is still not reflected in the original article. Then, on Monday, the Foreign Minister Gabriela Sommerfield confirmed what many of us already knew — that Ecuador “will not be sending any war material to any country that is in an international armed conflict.”

It is, of course, just one more in a long line of US foreign policy blunders, this time in its so-called “back yard” (or as Biden calls it, “front yard”). If Washington cannot even cobble together a credible military partnership with a country as small as Ecuador without making both it and the Ecuadorian government look silly, what hope does it have of countering rising Chinese and Russian influence in its direct neighbourhood? It also means that weapons-starved Kiev will have to wait even longer — presumably an eternity after this debacle — to receive Russian or Soviet-made weapons from Latin America.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Candide

    Many of us who follow news of our “neighborhood” closely, noticed how delicately some of the inverted news was phrased. Thanks to Nick Corbishley and NC, we are getting a far more interesting story. The list of other countries invited to break their arms disposition agreements was quite interesting as well.

  2. ChrisFromGA

    If Bloomberg is now on the propaganda bandwagon with Business Insider, Forbes, and other formally legitimate business media, that’s a bad development. Their job is to report on business objectively, not to be a mouthpiece for the US State dept.

    At any rate, thanks for covering this and shining some light on a very dark corner. Glad to see that Ecuador came to their senses. Losing that market would have been disastrous.

    1. Paris

      It’s not really “now” that Bloomberg and others are on the propaganda business… it’s been some time, and in all business matters that involve national interests.

      1. ChrisFromGA

        I guess I was being too kind to Bloomberg. I have noticed their editorial pages being biased for some time now. But if as the article suggests, they’re outright printing false information, as in the weapons deal with the US still being on, when it isn’t, that’s a new low for them.

        There is a problem for any news organization that does this – it only “works” once, then when the lie is revealed, you’ve lost your credibility with your readers forever.

      2. digi_owl

        Hell, i will never forget when Bloomberg screamed about China putting listening devices into computer parts. Only nobody could find any evidence of such even after months of searching.

        Never mind that Snowden had already provided the world with images of NSA agents intercepting Cisco products to do plant just such devices.

        One may well wonder if the reason DC went after Huawei equipment was not because they had Chinese backdoors installed, but that NSA already had Ericsson and Nokia backdoored. And the eyes were routinely using them to spy on each other to keep politicians in check.

    2. Feral Finster

      “Their job is to report on business objectively, not to be a mouthpiece for the US State dept.”

      Their job, at least formally, is to make money for their shareholders, and I am sure that they like lucrative government advertising, “insider access” and other perks that come with being a loyal courtier to the State Department.

    3. CA

      If Bloomberg is now on the propaganda bandwagon…

      [ Should there be the least doubt, simply look to past writings by Noah Smith or writings now by Tyler Cowen. The hysterical quality of the political-economic analysis should be shocking, but evidently passes.

      Notice, for instance, analysis of the undermining of the Argentine economy by the new supposedly conservative administration. ]

  3. The Rev Kev

    I suppose the essence of this story is ‘entitled son of a wealthy man gets slapped down hard by reality.’ It was a fight he picked with a superpower that he did not need to and apparently he never checked into how that superpower could hit back. If he thought that the US was going to rush in and buy all those bananas to bail him out, then he was sorely misled. But now India – a fellow BRICS country to Russia – has seized their opportunity and started their first shipments of bananas to Russia. The quantities are small but it puts Ecuador on notice that they can actually be replaced. And this helps Russia to get rid of all the Rupees that they have accumulated-

    1. CA

      February 8, 2024

      Ecuador’s National Assembly approves free trade agreement with China

      QUITO) — Ecuador’s National Assembly on Wednesday approved the free trade agreement between Ecuador and China, according to local authorities.

      China is Ecuador’s second-largest trading partner. China and Ecuador formally signed the free trade agreement on May 11, 2023, making Ecuador China’s 27th free trade partner.

      The approval marks the completion of all legal approval procedures for the agreement on the Ecuadorian side.

      According to the agreement, China and Ecuador will cancel tariffs on 90 percent of tax items from each other, of which about 60 percent will be canceled immediately after the agreement comes into effect.

    2. jrkrideau

      If I am reading Wiki correctly, Daniel Noboa is the son of Álvaro Noboa, a wealthy man who owns Bonita Bananas.

      It may be that Daniel managed to get his father’s company locked out of a lucrative market?

  4. Aurelien

    There’s a wider point here, which is that in general defence exports have to have an End-User Certificate before they are approved for export. This process (which is a legal requirement in most countries) is in effect a promise that the equipment will not be resold to another customer without the supplier’s permission. I don’t know what the exact circumstance of the Ecuador deal were, but any similar tricks with Russian equipment could encounter similar obstacles.

    1. Paris

      Yeah, maybe the American Banana Republic could have bought all of little sister’s banana production huh. And just throw it away in the bin for all that matters. Can they really win the bidding war lol, it doesn’t seem so likely.

      1. Feral Finster

        They probably could, and, as I said, the US has a lot of pressure points it can exploit.

        This is unfortunately not over.

  5. Skip Intro

    Putin clearly dodged a bullet here! He wisely saw the US trying to apply the same sanctions trap they pushed Europe into. We can all totally imagine many thousands of stolid Russians taking to the streets over shortages of bananas. Now all those ‘Banana Яevolution’ t-shirts, pickets, and press releases the usual NGOs have been producing will go to waste, and Vicky Nuland’s banana-donor tour with the Widow Navalny is now but a trail of crushed dreams and canceled hotel reservations.

  6. hk

    Korea (presumably South) exports bananas? :O The world (and the climate) has changed!

    That Russia included South Korea as a possible alternative to Ecuador is itself a fascinating little tidbit. The only place in SK where bananas could be grown profitably (at least, in the past) are Cheju Island and, maybe, southwestern tip of the peninsula which has interesting political shades…

    1. c_heale

      Living in Korea, I can safely say that bananas grown in Jeju-do are a minimal quantity compared with imports. I have never seen one. Any grown here would attract a premium price and would not be exported.

      Most of the bananas I see here come from the Phillipines.

  7. Bill Malcolm

    Where was General Chiquita when the US needed him in this latest bout of stupidity to arm Ukraine? AWOL. In the dank depths of the United Fruit Co archives, in er, Switzerland, by golly, along with a museum quality array of whips once used to keep those Latinos maximizing banana yield or else circa 1910.

    I like bananas, and so do my younger siblings and we all decades ago resented being made fun of by PMC colleagues for ingesting froo-it meant for the lower classes. Bananas are tasty, have potassium, and go very well with ice cream and toppings. Of course, nobody called their colleagues PMC in those days, but it was fellow engineers, docs, lawyers and accountants who turned their noses up at the poor old banana. The Kiwi fruit was on the rise, after all.

  8. elkern

    Like most weapons, Sanctions work best when you merely threaten to use them.

    In years past, the US was able to strong-arm many countries with just the threat of Sanctions (as Russia did to Ecuador in this case). But now, after decades of actually using/abusing economic Sanctions as a weapon, that tool no longer work for us. We have alienated not only the countries which are the target, but also most of our “friends” who we strong-armed into enforcing *our* Sanctions, often at some cost to their economies.

    It’s somewhat ironic, actually, that the US – ostensibly the Belly of the [Financial] Beast – has lost power because of market forces which it claims to worship!

  9. DavidZ

    the point of the Russian stand was to telegraph to all countries, with Russian equipment, suitable for the Ukranian armed forces, there will be retaliation.

    the 200 million in guns etc is a drop in the 75 billion the US has sent + whatever the rest of the NATO/EU have.

  10. ChrisRUEcon

    Got a feelin’ that those responsible for getting the arms from Ecuador are feelin’ like they just wanna go home right now … LOL

    A beautiful bunch of ripe banana
    (Daylight come and me wan’ go home)
    Hide the deadly black tarantula
    (Daylight come and me wan’ go home)

  11. Eclair

    Thanks once more to Nick, for writing deliciously explanatory pieces about the doings in small, far-away countries, that allow us to fit another piece in the world mess puzzle, all without making our eyes glaze over.

    In related fruit news, Washington State this week celebrated the lifting, last July, of India’s retaliatory tariff on its apples, after over a million boxes of the fruit were shipped.

Comments are closed.