The Japan NewsEcuador and Japan will next year mark the 100th anniversary of their establishing diplomatic relations. Ecuador, under new President Lenin Moreno, who assumed the office in May, has promoted business-friendly economic policies to attract foreign investment to revitalize the economy. Ecuadorian Ambassador to Japan Jaime Barberis emphasizes his role in making his country more visible in Japan through expanding trade in 2018 and beyond.
The Japan News: What does the year 2018 mean to both Ecuador and Japan?
Barberis: We’re working together to make 2018 an important year for promoting bilateral relations in different spheres. We can advance in the political, economic, commercial and cultural spheres. We’re talking about the possibility of exchanging high-level visits on the occasion of the 100th anniversary. We’re trying to promote a visit by the second part of the year of President Moreno to Japan. So we’re talking about these high-level meetings, high-level visits that will allow us to very much advance bilateral relations.
Both the Embassy of Ecuador in Japan and the Embassy of Japan in Quito have created a commemoration committee to help us celebrate the 100 years. The one in Quito has been very active. One of the things that the committee in Quito has already done is, for example, supporting the creation of a bilateral chamber of commerce in order to assist and to help promote trade between Ecuador and Japan. This is run by Japanese descendants who live in Ecuador. The idea is to promote trade through this chamber. This is something that is very good for the producers of organic bananas, for example. We’d like to have many other products that could be promoted through the chamber to the Japanese market.
Q: Next year also marks the 100th year since Japanese bacteriologist Hideyo Noguchi (1876-1928) researched a vaccine for yellow fever in Guayaquil, Ecuador. [Dr. Noguchi’s face appears on the Japanese ¥1,000 bill. It is said that the portrait was designed with reference to his photo taken in Guayaquil in 1918.]
A: Dr. Noguchi is very famous in my country. There is a street and a school called Noguchi. For us, Dr. Noguchi is a very important person. He was given the rank of medical colonel of the Ecuadorian Army. We will celebrate next year 100 years of diplomatic relations and one of the things the Embassy of Japan in Quito is doing is promoting a medical seminar to deal with communicable diseases, bringing scientists from Japan to commemorate Noguchi.
Q: Since you arrived in February, what are the most striking aspects of Japanese society or Japanese behavior?
A: What strikes me the most is how organized the city is, how clean it is, how punctual the citizens are. My wife has been in certain groups where Japanese ladies participate, and they are always calling her to see if she wants to do something, visit a museum, go to a presentation, trying to make her stay here more comfortable. And it’s always linked to the traditions and culture of Japan, such as participating in tea ceremonies, learning ikebana and learning origami.
I’ve been familiarized with anime, which is new for me and interesting ... I’m learning. I grew up in an era where the only Japanese figure I can remember is Astro Boy [Tetsuwan Atom]. It was on television when I was growing up. So I remember Astro Boy but now you have Doraemon and all this anime that I didn’t know about. Perhaps I’ve seen them but I didn’t know how important it was for Japanese culture.
I studied in the United States during high school in a city very close to [Washington] D.C. because my father was a military man and he was in the embassy. And in high school in history class, [I studied] about the relationship between the United States and Japan. So I knew about the history of Japan, but coming as an ambassador 50 years later you have other perspectives. That’s why I’ve been investigating and learning a lot about the history of Japan.
I went to Hiroshima and Nagasaki with my wife to participate in the peace ceremonies in August. I should be the one to deal with these things, because sometimes you read and you forget. You study when you’re young, but you cannot see the impact or what it meant.
What we have heard in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, you see the reaction of the Japanese population, how they still feel this, and you see this in Hiroshima, during this ceremony, even when it was very warm and everything. It’s amazing.
Q: What brought you there?
A: Because this is something that unites Ecuador and Japan — we’re working for the same thing, we’re part of the United Nations and the main belief of countries that belong to the U.N. is peace. We’re working for peace. I was impressed by the declaration of the mayors of both cities. For me, it was a deep experience to realize that all of us have the obligation of working to abolish all types of mass destruction weapons.
Big new challenges
Q: This is your first assignment in Asia. Did you have any expectations before you arrived?
A: My expectations were very interesting because most of my career has been in Europe and the United States. Going to Asia was new; this was a new challenge, and a very big challenge, because from what I researched, the relations between Ecuador and Japan were not at the best level. So whatever I do will be bringing that relationship to a higher level. And then I found out this celebration of 100 years is in 2018 during my tenure. So this gives me a platform to promote relations.
Q: Why have bilateral relations not been at the best level?
A: Because the government of [former] President [Rafael] Correa did not perhaps give importance to the government of Japan in their relations with Ecuador. The fact that Mr. Moreno won the elections, and he has expressed that he wants to give more importance to fostering relations with Japan — this is a plus. President Moreno participated in the United Nations General Assembly in September and he had the opportunity to talk to Prime Minister Abe as they were at the same table at the reception.
Q: So you have a moment to seize as ambassador.
A: Of course. And because of Japan’s very active agenda and many international events — you have the Olympics and Paralympic Games, and there will be Ecuadorian athletes in those events. You also have candidacies that I hope Ecuador is considering, for example supporting Osaka for the Expo 2025. So there are many, many things.
Q: What do you want to accomplish?
A: My tenure in Tokyo will be five years. I would like to make Ecuador and its culture more visible in Japan. Believe it or not, I would like to, four years from now, talk to any Japanese and [find that] perhaps they can tell me a little bit more about Ecuador. If we can advance our economic, commercial and political ties we could maybe promote not only trade but tourism to Ecuador and other cultural relations.
This year has been the year I’ve been learning and taking opportunities, but I would like to visit more universities and speak about Ecuador. I would like to have a program of working with high schools in order to have my colleagues talk about Ecuador, to tell them a bit about the story of Dr. Noguchi. I would like to tell them about the different worlds, the gastronomy of Ecuador. We are drawing up a program to reach more schools, more high schools, more universities, to talk about Ecuador.
Q: Former President Correa led socialist policies and spent a lot on social programs. President Moreno, facing the problem of the budget gap, has been promoting a new image of Ecuador to attract more money from outside.
A: On the 24th of May this year, President Moreno started a new government. He’s from the same political party as Mr. Correa, but there are some changes because he has realized that without the participation of the private sector you cannot reactivate the Ecuadorian economy. We are working to convey an image of a new Ecuador that has new schemes for attracting investors, to give them the security that investors need to get engaged in important projects that always have a component of being beneficial for the Ecuadorian population.
Q: What do you expect from Japanese companies and government?
A: I think we have to take the opportunity that Japan is looking at Latin America as a region of opportunity. Since I arrived I have heard in official speeches that Japan is looking at Latin America and so I have to find opportunities where I can convince Japanese companies to invest in Ecuador because it’s secure, because it will be a good relationship that will last for many years. This is perhaps the main objective of my mission, trying to promote better, closer economic and commercial relations.
We think especially that we can take advantage of the technology of Japan. We’re working very closely to promote the possibility of cooperating in the area of the production of energy from geothermal energy. It’s from volcanoes, the heat from inside, and Japan is very good at this. JICA [the Japan International Cooperation Agency] has been cooperating with us through programs for the exploration of the geothermal program. And if this proves successful, we expect we would like to have a long cooperation in order to have this type of energy. Geothermal is a very important resource that Ecuador has.
We’re betting a lot on developing, for example, the mining sector. Copper, gold, other minerals that are found in Ecuador. When you think about the Andean region — because it’s the same geography that goes down to Chile — Peru and Chile have extensively developed their mining sectors. Ecuador has not. Ecuador only started to develop this sector four years [ago]. It’s the same minerals, the same resources that you will find in the Andes.
Q: Many Japanese do not have much knowledge about your country. In other words, we are not biased for or against your country.
A: This neutrality means that I have a clean slate to work with. A clean canvas to paint on. I like that idea. So my tenure, my five years, is a special occasion with the 100-year celebration, to make this painting more and more attractive to Japanese citizens. This is what we have to work with.
Q: In Hungary, did you have the same situation in terms of selling the image of your country?
A: Yes, I had the same situation. But I hope I can be successful. [Former] President Correa had taken the decision that he would close all Ecuadorian embassies in the countries where those countries’ [embassies] were not in Quito. If Hungary did not have an embassy in Quito, he was going to close the embassy in Hungary. He took the decision and closed five European embassies in the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Portugal and Poland, because they were not in Quito. And the other embassy that was on the list was Hungary. I was ambassador to Hungary, and I worked with the Hungarian authorities to open an embassy in Ecuador.
I was very happy to have taken that opportunity, that challenge. Here it’s not the same situation but I do think it’s a big challenge to make Ecuador more visible. I think it’s an honor. It’s a very important moment in my diplomatic career, but it’s a big challenge. But I also see possibly a big opportunity to take advantage of the 100-year celebration that Japan is going to host here to make Ecuador more visible.
This interview was conducted by Japan News Assistant Editor Kenji Kato.
Born in 1957, Ambassador Jaime Barberis started his career as a diplomat in 1979. He has been posted to Vienna, Geneva, Washington and Hamburg and served as ambassador to Hungary in 2010-2015 and undersecretary of state for North America and Europe in 2016-2017. He presented his letter of credentials to the Emperor in April.Speech