In a national broadcast exclusive, we speak with the President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa. He was in New York attending the United Nations Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and Its Impact on Development. In a wide-ranging interview, we speak with President Correa about global capitalism, his decision not to renew the license for the US military base in Manta, the $12 billion lawsuit against Chevron brought by thousands of Amazon residents for toxic oil pollution, Ecuador’s relationship with Colombia, and his advice to President Obama: "To learn more and come to better understand the region, and that [Obama] not let himself be taken along by the power of certain media outlets that are compromised with certain ideological fundaments, and that the heroes aren’t necessarily heroes, and the villains aren’t necessarily villains." [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to our national broadcast exclusive, a wide-ranging discussion with Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, who today is in Nicaragua, a meeting with Zelaya.
Last week, President Correa was in New York attending the United Nations Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and Its Impact on Development. Correa was the only world leader to attend the conference.
He spoke at the General Assembly last Thursday. And President Correa is an economist by training. He outlined the steps by which Latin America could free itself from relying on international financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The former finance minister of Ecuador was elected president in 2006, then reelected to a second term earlier this year.
I interviewed President Correa on Thursday in the Ecuadorian mission here in New York. It was before the coup in Honduras. I began by asking him to comment on the absence of so many heads of state at the UN conference. According to press reports, Western diplomats said the conference was just a platform to attack capitalism.
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: [translated] Well, if this is an attack on capitalism, I think it’s well deserved. Look at the problem it’s got us into. So I don’t understand those who say they’re not here because it might descend into an attack on capitalism. They must have a strong ideological bias, because certainly if they thought maybe there would be an attack on socialism, or had they thought it was going to be an attack on socialism, they would have been delighted to have come.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about why you think at this point capitalism should be criticized, what you think needs to happen now.
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: [translated] Well, what we’ve undergone in recent decades worldwide has been totally insane, and all of this in function of capitalism. If you look at what was done with the workforce in Latin America, it was treated as a vulgar instrument for capital accumulation. Mechanism of exploitation were imposed, such as outsourcing, labor intermediation and the like. Efforts were made to destroy nation states, or at least to minimize nation states, especially in key areas such as the economy, on grounds that were closer to religion than to science, that everything would be resolved by the marketplace.
I could speak at much greater length on this, but the results are plain to see: greater inequality in Latin America. We haven’t resolved the unemployment problem. Indeed, unemployment is higher than in previous decades. We haven’t resolved the problem of poverty. We’ve lost a great deal of sovereignty by implementing policies that didn’t answer to our international reality.
And finally, we’re facing a crisis that we have not provoked, yet we are the main victims, the greatest crisis since the 1930s of last century, where there was a crisis in global capitalism. But it’s not been generated by factors external to the system, but by factors that are of the very essence of the system: exacerbated individualism, deregulation, competition and so on. This clearly shows us that something has to change.
AMY GOODMAN: Ecuador is joining ALBA, the Bolivarian alliance, seen as an alternative to the whole push to expand NAFTA to Latin America. Why? Talk about what you’re doing now.
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: [in English] Why not? [translated] Why not? We are friendly countries, sister countries. We coincide on many points of view. So why not take that step towards integration, and which, among other things, is moving forward much more quickly than other integration schemes that have made the mistake of wanting to include everyone so we are moving at the pace of those who don’t want integration? Those of us who have acceded to ALBA voluntarily want to see the integration of Latin American peoples. And it’s gone forward much more quickly than other integration arrangements. In any event, my answer is “why not?” Why not join ALBA?
Now I’ll tell you why. Just one piece of information to illustrate. At this time in the ALBA, we have 30 percent of all the votes in the Organization of American States. So we now have very specific weight in order to propose other points of view. For example, the Organization of American States — that’s just mentioned in the Organization of American States. But we could say something similar about the United Nations. That alone would justify our entering ALBA, but there are many additional factors.
AMY GOODMAN: You are not talking about a free trade agreement with the United States, but you are with the European Union. Why?
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: [translated] No, we’re not talking about a free trade agreement with the European Union; we’re talking about fair trade for development. And that’s how the agreement was originally posed. First, a block-to-block agreement between the European Union and the Andean community, with three pillars: a political dialogue, cooperation and trade. And this last one, trade, is understood as trade for development.
Unfortunately, all of that has been deteriorating. Among the reasons, because two of the Andean community countries already have a free trade agreement with the United States, and I’m referring to Colombia and Peru. And they have very little to lose in the negotiations with the European Union. So, the first thing that collapsed was the block-to-block negotiation.
And it’s clear that the emphasis was focused on the trade aspect. And I should also recognize that from the European Union, they tried to approach it as a free trade agreement, which has always been rejected by Ecuador. We’re interested in all three dimensions of the agreement: political dialogue, cooperation and trade. And within trade, we’re talking about fair trade, not the idea of free trade, which we see as simplistic, liberalizing everything. And we’re engaged in tough negotiations with the European Union on this.
Now, in the event that we’re not satisfied with the agreements that result, then we simply won’t sign. But I reiterate, we’re not negotiating a free trade agreement with the European Union.
AMY GOODMAN: The US contract with Ecuador over one of the largest US military bases in Latin America, Manta, expires later this year. You will not renew it. Why?
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: [translated] Why renew it? Now, if you’d like, I would renew it with one condition: that they allow me to set up an Ecuadorian military base here in New York. If there’s no problem with foreign bases, then let’s reach an agreement on that. I think that everybody listening is going to find that impossible. And for us Ecuadorians, it also seems impossible, based on our outlook informed by sovereignty, at least with the current government, to have a foreign military base on our soil.
AMY GOODMAN: You also recently threw out a US diplomat, Armando Astorga, calling him insolent and foolish and saying he treated Ecuador like a colony.
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: [translated] Yes. I don’t know if you’re aware that, among other things, because of the dismantling of the state that Ecuador has suffered in recent years, but money for certain police units to operate, including certain intelligence units, police and military, was provided by the US embassy. Well, this itself is sufficiently serious. But it wasn’t even unconditional or spontaneous assistance. Rather, they would choose the directors of those police units. They had them take lie-detector tests at the US embassy. So those units answered more to the US embassy than to the Ecuadorian state.
And we, in the exercise of our sovereignty, wanted to change the director of one of those units. Mr. Astorga, in a totally arrogant manner, sent a letter saying that we need to return or give back everything that the United States has given us — computers, automobiles and so on. Well, they should take it all back then. But Mr. Astorga would also have to leave the country, because we are no one’s colony.
AMY GOODMAN: Mr. President, do you think President Obama represents something different to Latin America and specifically to Ecuador?
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: [translated] Yes, I’m convinced that that is the case. Indeed, we’ve already begun very fruitful bilateral dialogues at a very high level, which never happened with the Bush administration. And not just that, there’s a question of building trust, and I think that President Obama offers trust. Personally, I think he is a transparent individual with the right intentions. So I think things are going to change in terms of foreign policy, US foreign policy, especially with respect to Latin America.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about President Chavez and his comments recently supporting the Iranian president Ahmadinejad. What are your views toward what’s happening right now in the disputed Iranian elections?
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: [translated] We’ve spoken with our chargé d’affaires in Tehran, and he tells me that it’s an exaggerated reaction, because President Ahmadinejad won by too large a margin. We’re talking about at least six million votes. All the surveys show that he was the winner. So this reaction on the part of the opposition can’t be explained. Now, I don’t want to meddle in internal Iranian affairs, but a response of this sort vis-à-vis such a broad victory is somewhat suspect.
In any event, it’s my understanding that the Council of Guard has ordered that the vote be recounted and so on. I would hope that things could be worked out peacefully and that a determination is reached as to who won that electoral contest. But I reiterate, the reports that we are getting from Tehran is that President Ahmadinejad’s victory is too broad, and therefore there’s no way to imagine that he could have lost or that he would have won by fraud.
AMY GOODMAN: And the killings of a number of the protesters, do you condemn that?
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: [translated] Well, one would have to see in what situation those deaths took place. We’re talking about a country of 80 million, in which there have been serious street protests. I am not familiar with the specific conditions in which the lamentable deaths have taken place. Everybody should lament their deaths and be in solidarity with the victims and their families. But obviously, if there’s protest and violence in a country of 80 million, it’s likely that such things can come to pass without that necessarily meaning repression, violations of human rights and so forth. But all the investigations should be undertaken to determine.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you, Mr. President, about another violent crackdown, and it was in Peru against those in the Amazon who were protesting the opening up of the area to mining interests, that has ultimately led to the resignation of the prime minister. Do you condemn President Garcia for what happened in Peru?
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: [translated] Well, I insist we are not going to meddle in the internal matters of any country. That will have to be worked out within Peru’s institutional framework determining the responsibilities that lie in this matter.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, you know exploitation by large corporations in your own country. Tens of thousands of indigenous people have brought suit against Chevron, now ChevronTexaco. An expert appointed by the Ecuadorian judge has said that Chevron should pay $27 billion. Where do you stand on this?
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: [translated] This is private litigation brought by social organizations in the Amazon region against this transnational corporation, Texaco Chevron. And there, the Ecuadorian government has nothing to do, in judicially speaking. Obviously, we have borne witness to the harm caused in the Amazon, and we’re in solidarity with those social organizations. But I reiterate, as the executive branch, we are not a party, and we cannot meddle in judicial matters.
AMY GOODMAN: You have gone to the area, though, and shown support. What is the harm done?
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: [translated] It’s terrible. The oil companies continue doing whatever they please. But at that time, it was really the law of the jungle. There was no processing of waste, of contaminated water. Everything was dumped in the rivers. There were pits created that were totally non-technical. If you go into the Ecuadorian Amazon and you stick your hand in the ground, what you get is oil sludge. They dumped the oil wherever with total impunity, because there was no oversight by the state. And these countries really did abuse the country. These countries have done in our country something they never would have dared to have done even by far in the United States. And it is time that they answer to the justice system.
AMY GOODMAN: Have you heard about Shell settling with the Saro-Wiwa family, the Nigerian activist who was killed in Nigeria fourteen years ago? He was protesting Shell’s exploitation of the Niger Delta. And they just settled for something like $15 million to be paid to the family and the Ogoni people. Do you see that as a positive example?
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: [translated] Well, of course. I’m not familiar with the case, but, of course, for these countries need to be held accountable for and answer for everything they’ve done, because I am indignant as a Latin American about the dual reality of certain transnationals. It’s not that they couldn’t have done it otherwise. The technology existed, the measures were available, to prevent environmental harm and so forth. But they didn’t want to do so, probably because we’re poor countries, so they consider that we’re inferior. But what they did in our country, they never would have dared to have done that in the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: We’ll return to my conversation with the Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa after break.
We return to our national broadcast exclusive, my conversation with the Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa.
Now, indigenous people, campesinos, recently protested your policies around the issue of large-scale mining and opening up the region. You called them extremists and nobodies.
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: [translated] I didn’t call them “nobody.” I said they didn’t represent anyone. And the last elections gave [inaudible] right. The person who headed up the effort against mining won only four percent, and we won, by overwhelmingly so, in all the mining regions. And the areas with the greatest protests are in the province of Azuay. That’s where we have good, strong support. So, clearly the population trusts us. But three or four people are enough to make a lot of noise, to appear in the media, and so on. But, quite sincerely, they don’t have the popular backing or the representation.
In any event, there are many contradictions on these kinds of positions. First, it’s not that we’re inaugurating mining in Ecuador. Mining goes back to the Preclassic Inca period in Ecuador. To the contrary, finally, we’re regulating mining in Ecuador — because it was a matter of total anarchy — with a very tough law that protects the state, that protects the environment, that protects society.
Second, one of the main criticisms of the groups that oppose mining, or, as you put it, large-scale mining, is the environmental impact of mining. But this is where the contradiction comes up. Small-scale mining causes much more pollution than large-scale mining. So if that’s the reason why they oppose large-scale mining, there is a big contradiction there. And if you begin to analyze, some of these leaders — not all of them, but some — have their own interests in small-scale mining.
So I would say, in general — indeed, we’ve carried out surveys — there’s more than 70 percent support for the new mining law, but as I say, three or four fundamentalists who take over a highway are enough to appear in the newspaper and for them to say that there’s opposition to such mining in Ecuador.
President Correa, in the Wall Street Journal, there was just a piece talking about documents that the Colombian government uncovered on a laptop when Colombia raided Ecuador and killed a FARC leader, linking you to the FARC. What is your response?
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: [translated] If they show that I have some connection to the FARC, then I’ll step down. It’s a big lie, and we have presented a denunciation through the Foreign Ministry. And if they don’t rectify that, we will take the appropriate legal actions. We are tired of such infamies, which are not based on facts. They’re based on interests that seek to treat certain governments which are their allies as superheroes and other governments as villains.
So, we think that a daily newspaper should report the news, not play at geopolitics. In any event, the editorial — I think it was an editorial — is based on information that long ago was shown to be unreliable: supposed computers with supposed messages in which supposedly there is talk of a former member of the national government, not the president of the republic, negotiating with the FARC. Indeed, those computers also talk about — supposedly talk about the Workers’ Party of Lula da Silva having ties with FARC, but they don’t say that. So, as I say, it’s really just a geopolitical game that they’re pursuing.
And the woman who wrote the article recently admitted to RCN that she published that article resenting President Obama, because he called me to offer his support upon my reelection. And this is an extremely right-wing journalist who’s angry because he didn’t call Alvaro Uribe. Instead, he called Rafael Correa. That reflects the level of professionalism of the person who wrote that.
How do you think peace can be achieved in Colombia, and do you think the US can play a role in that? I mean, the US has poured a tremendous amount of money into the war on terror there, into the war on drugs, so-called, so-called. What do think could achieve peace in Colombia?
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: [translated] Einstein said if somebody time and again does something, or tries to do something, with the same negative results, and continues to insist on doing so, then he’s a fool. This strategy carried out, applied by the United States in Colombia has been a total failure. Drugs have not been eradicated. It could be that the FARC have been weakened. But quite sincerely, I don’t think there’s any military solution to the conflict with the FARC, but rather a political solution. And what they have accomplished in pursuing a military solution is extending the conflict to neighboring countries and destabilizing the region.
Ecuador has about 700 kilometers of border with Colombia, and a lot of it is impenetrable jungle. Colombia’s strategy has been to attack the FARC from north to south. They have two military units in the south, but far from the border. We have thirteen. So, it seems to be a strategy to try to draw us into the conflict.
So I hope that the United States and the Obama administration understand this, that as [inaudible] into drawing us in neighboring countries into this conflict, which is not our own, which pains us greatly, but it’s not ours, and that they carefully analyze the matter, whether the anti-drug strategy, despite the billions spent, has yielded no results and whether this conflict with the FARC has any military solution.
Last two questions. One is, do you support President Obama expanding the war into Afghanistan and Pakistan?
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: Can you say again, please?
Do you support President Obama expanding the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan?
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: [translated] Well, I’m a pacifist by nature. I would hope that the Afghanistan problem could be solved as quickly as possible. I also think the strategy there, as in Iraq, was totally mistaken, that the United States has a big problem on its hands that’s going to be very complex to resolve. But I’m practically convinced that it’s not going to be resolved by more war.
And finally, your overall advice to the new President of the United States, President Obama, in how he approaches Latin American and, just overall, how he approaches the world?
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: [translated] Well, I’m not accustomed to giving advice to those who haven’t asked for it. I would just want to wish President Obama the best of luck, and that he should bear in mind that just as he is a good person, there are many of us presidents in Latin America who are also good people.
And is there one single message you could give to President Obama to improve relations with Latin America, what he could do?
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: [translated] To learn more and come to better understand the region, and that he not let himself be taken along by the power of certain media outlets that are compromised with certain ideological fundaments, and that the heroes aren’t necessarily heroes, and the villains aren’t necessarily villains, that he should get to know the region better and get to understand the region a little better.
President Correa, thank you very much.
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: Thank you.
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa. He’s in Nicaragua today meeting with other Latin American leaders as well as the ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya over the coup in Honduras. Meanwhile in Washington, DC, President Obama is meeting with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.