We play highlights of an exclusive interview with Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa. In a wide-ranging conversation with journalist Greg Palast, President Correa talks about the $12 billion lawsuit against Chevron, ending his country’s debt, and his relationship with the United States and Venezuela. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Ecuador, where the government, led by President Rafael Correa, has announced that on February 1st it’s revoking as many as 587 concessions for transnational mining corporations. Over the past year, President Correa has called for renegotiating Ecuador’s debt, opposed a free trade pact with the US, set up a constitutional assembly. As finance minister in 2006, he helped Ecuador’s contract with US oil giant Occidental. Since being elected president, he has also pledged to shut down the sole U.S. military base in South America. Last year, Ecuador’s Cofan Indians filed a $12 billion lawsuit against oil giant Chevron for environmental and social destruction in the Amazon.
Today, we bring you an excerpt of an exclusive interview with Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, who talks about the lawsuit against Chevron with Greg Palast, who does his pieces for the BBC and Democracy Now!
GREG PALAST: But let me ask you, there’s a massive multibillion-dollar lawsuit against ChevronTexaco for supposedly destroying your rainforest. What if every little nation on the planet decided to sue oil companies for billions? Wouldn’t that disrupt oil production worldwide?
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: Well, with these lawsuits, well, they don’t go to interrupt the oil production in the third world. They go to push these big international companies in order to be a lot more careful when they want to extract our oil, because they did and they do in the third world things that they don’t do in the first world. So it’s a double standard that they have.
GREG PALAST: Well, according to Chevron—and I’ve spoken to them—they said that they operate very cleanly, just as they do in the US.
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: Well, OK, yes.
GREG PALAST: I’ll tell you what they’re saying.
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: And also Cinderella cheats and a lot of things, yeah.
GREG PALAST: And they blame your oil company. They say it’s your fault.
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: That is not true. Of course, our oil company has also done a lot of damage in the rainforest, but it is very clear that the problem comes from the ChevronTexaco period, OK?—Texaco period, because at the beginning it was just Texaco, so there are a lot of evidence about that.
GREG PALAST: Well, but here’s the problem. First of all, can they get a fair trial here? They say that there’s no chance that they can get a fair trial here.
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: Always there is a pretext, excuse in order to avoid the responsibilities, you know? We think that they can have a fair trial here. I cannot—the evidence is there, of course. They are blaming our oil company, but before our oil company took over the exploitation, the damage was there.
GREG PALAST: If your courts rule against ChevronTexaco, how in the world are you going to collect? They have nothing here. How is little Ecuador going to collect against big Chevron?
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: Well, that will be a problem. It’s not a public lawsuit. It’s a lawsuit followed by indigenous communities from the Amazonia. Any way we go to support [inaudible] or in order to collect the money, if they win the lawsuit, but, well, that will be a precedent, because we can do the same thing if, for instance, Occidental, a lot of oil companies are following lawsuits against the Ecuador government. So we can follow the same strategies we want. How in the world they can collect the money? It’s a demonstration of faith. So I think their own United States, their own international community should impose to ChevronTexaco [inaudible] the moral duty of paying this money.
GREG PALAST: Well, besides the moral duty, there are no Chevron assets in Ecuador anymore.
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: Well, of course.
GREG PALAST: But there are billions in Chevron assets in Venezuela. Will your friend Hugo Chavez help you collect if your citizens win?
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: You know, it’s not a government problem. It’s not our lawsuit. It’s a private lawsuit. So—but I think there is a moral issue here. So it’s not possible to have this kind of impunity, if this indigenous community wins the lawsuit against ChevronTexaco. So in this case, we think that the moral duty of the international community is to push to ChevronTexaco in order to pay this money.
GREG PALAST: Will you call on President Chavez or others to help you enforce—protect your citizens in the rainforest?
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: I will call the whole international community. Always you are giving us moralist speeches, advice about economic policy, social policy, environmental policy, moral policy, etc. So we are sure that in this case you will not support this indigenous communities against a huge, a big, a very powerful transnational, ChevronTexaco.
GREG PALAST: Do you think that the US government is going to support your attack, your government’s attack, your people’s attack on the oil company that Condoleezza Rice came from?
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: It’s not an attack. It’s justice. So we expect—yes, we hope that the US government supports this, if you want, this claim.
GREG PALAST: Now, you’ve thrown Occidental Petroleum out. You have forced ChevronTexaco out of your country. What is Ecuador’s problem with US oil companies?
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: What is the problem of the US company with Ecuador? Because we are not crazy. We are—our indigenous people are fighting against ChevronTexaco [inaudible], you know? You can see our rainforest before Petroecuador. It’s not true that the fault is in Petroecuador. You know, before Petroecuador, we already had a lot of damage in our rainforest. And also with Occidental, it’s very clear that they break up their contracts on the Ecuadorian law. So it’s not that we have something against foreign investment, foreign companies or US companies. But there are some companies that used to do in our countries things that they will never do in their own countries.
GREG PALAST: This is a big change in Ecuador. I don’t think I would have heard this, this talk, from a prior president of ten years ago. What’s changed? Why suddenly — before, you had presidents that embraced Occidental, that embraced Chevron. Now, what’s happening?
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: Ecuador is no longer on sale, you know? Now, Ecuador has a sovereign and nationalist government. That is the huge different — difference, sorry.
GREG PALAST: Yeah, very different. Now, does that — now, one of the things, though, is that Hugo Chavez has just lost a big vote. Evo Morales is facing a revolt in Bolivia. Is this really the end of the populist left in Latin America?
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: I don’t know why or what you use to call “populist left.” Our left is not populist. It’s a very technical one. But it’s very popular. That is different, you know? Perhaps that is not understood in the States. Anyway, any change in Latin America, the most unequal region in the world, will face a lot of obstruction, of problems. But we have to continue because these changes are necessary. But there are still very powerful groups against any change. Why? Because they are — they have been very, very, very well in this situation, very comfortable situation, with poverty, etc. So it’s normal. Perhaps “normal” is not exactly the word. It’s — if you want, we can expect to have this opposition, very strong opposition, of these groups of interests, because they go to lose their privileges.
GREG PALAST: Do you think that the United States is backing the privileged classes?
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: Sometimes, yes.
GREG PALAST: Do you think that’s part of your problem with the Bush administration?
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: We don’t have any problem with Bush administration. We respect a lot of the US government. But sometimes, of course, about foreign policy, we have to comment on that. I think that most part of the world, of the international community, for instance, criticized the Iraq invasion. So these kind of things, we can comment on. But we don’t have any problem with the Bush government.
GREG PALAST: Well, but the Bush government has a problem with you. I noticed that Condoleezza Rice and the Bush government made it very clear that they didn’t like you being appointed finance minister in the last government. Obviously they can’t be happy with you being president.
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: Well, no, no. I didn’t know that. Perhaps international organizations didn’t — were not too happy about my nomination — for instance, World Bank, IMF, etc. But I didn’t know that the Bush administration was not happy with my nomination. Anyway, I don’t care about that.
GREG PALAST: Yes, well, are you saying that Paul Wolfowitz was not happy with your policies here in Ecuador, the president of the World Bank?
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: I didn’t talk to Paul Wolfowitz, but I talked to — I don’t remember the name of the vice president of the World Bank, and I realized very well that she wasn’t happy with me.
GREG PALAST: Now, wait a minute.
PRESIDENT RAFAEL CORREA: That was reciprocal, you know?
AMY GOODMAN: The president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, interviewed in Quito by investigative journalist Greg Palast.