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The U.S. Agency for International Development announced on Friday that it would withdraw from Ecuador after President Rafael Correa prohibited the introduction of additional aid programs aimed at strengthening civil society.Acting USAID mission director Christopher Cushing said the move was “a result of the Government of Ecuador’s decision to prohibit approval of new USAID assistance programs.”Observers said the move was indicative of the continued regression of political freedoms in Ecuador, which, as part of Latin America’s Bolivarian socialist bloc, is increasingly hostile towards the United States.The Ecuadorian government has accused USAID of supporting “opponents of the Citizens’ Revolution,” who allegedly include journalists and non-governmental organizations that have criticized the Correa regime.According to a letter from Cushing obtained by the Christian Science Monitor, the regime “informed USAID it could not execute any new assistance activities or extend existing activities pending negotiation of a new agreement governing bilateral assistance.”The decision capped months of tensions between Quito and USAID. Correa has threatened to expel the agency for years, though he insists that all USAID-supported projects are the property of the Ecuadorian government.Ana Quintana, an expert on Latin America at the Heritage Foundation, said USAID’s departure should be interpreted in light of larger regional trends. She called the move “another win for the socialist ALBA bloc.”ALBA is the Spanish acronym for the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America.“Led by Venezuela, the organization is collectively working to rid the region of the U.S.’s influence and solidify their 21st century socialist movement,” Quintana said. “Virtually all member states have kicked out U.S. ambassadors, shut down DEA operations despite the region’s prevailing drug trafficking problems, and are now targeting U.S. development programs.”Correa has frequently accused USAID of advancing U.S. interests in Ecuador by funding groups that supposedly undermine his administration and his larger political agenda in Latin America.One recent target of Correa’s ire was César Ricaurte, director of Fundamedios, an Ecuadorian NGO that advocates freedom of speech and press in the country.El Cuidadano, the government’s official news organ, has attacked Fundamedios and Ricaurte as “opponents of the Citizens’ Revolution” and claimed that the group’s work “lacks technical rigor, verification, and checking of sources.”El Cuidadano has rejected allegations from Fundamedios that the government marginalizes journalists who criticize Correa on the grounds that the group receives funding from USAID.The group most recently documented a police raid on the home of an Ecuadorian journalist who exposed corruption in the country’s oil sector.Other international observers such as the Committee to Protect Journalists have leveled similar accusations regarding Ecuador’s disregard for press freedoms.Quintana worries that USAID’s departure from Ecuador will hamper the type of oversight that groups like Fundamedios provide.