Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa is an economist by training. He is a fierce critic of 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.
In June, 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 one of the few world leaders to attend the conference.
I interviewed President Correa in the Ecuadorian mission in New York during his visit. It was before the coup in Honduras.
In a wide-ranging interview, I spoke with him about global capitalism, his decision not to renew the license for the U.S. military base in Manta, the lawsuit against Chevron brought by Amazon residents for toxic oil pollution, Ecuador's relationship with Colombia, and his advice to President Obama. Part of that advice was: "To learn more and come to better understand the region, and to not let himself be taken along by the power of certain media outlets that are compromised with certain ideological beliefs, and to realize that the heroes aren't necessarily heroes, and the villains aren't necessarily villains."
Q: So many heads of state did not attend the U.N. Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and Its Impact on Development. According to press reports, Western diplomats said the conference was just a platform to attack capitalism. What's your response?
Rafael Correa: Well, if this is an attack on capitalism, I think it's well deserved. Look at the problem it's got us into. 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 if they thought maybe there would be an attack on socialism, they would have been delighted to have come.
Q: Talk about why you think at this point capitalism should be criticized.
Correa: What we've undergone in recent decades worldwide has been totally insane, and all of this is a result of capitalism. The workforce in Latin America was treated as a vulgar instrument for capital accumulation. Mechanisms of exploitation were imposed, such as outsourcing, labor mediation, 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.
The results are plain to see: greater inequality in Latin America; unemployment is higher than in previous decades; we haven't resolved the problem of poverty; we've lost a great deal of sovereignty.
And finally, we're facing a crisis that we have not provoked, yet we are the main victims of the greatest crisis since the 1930s. 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.
Q: Why is Ecuador joining the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA)?
Correa: Why not? We are friendly countries, sister countries. We coincide on many points of view. So why not take that step towards integration? Those of us who have acceded to ALBA want to see the integration of Latin American peoples.
Q: You recently threw out a U.S. diplomat, Armando Astorga, calling him "insolent and foolish" and saying he treated Ecuador "like a colony."
Correa: The U.S. Embassy kept funding certain police and intelligence units. Well, this itself is sufficiently serious. But it wasn't even unconditional assistance. Rather, they would choose the directors of those police units. They had them take lie-detector tests at the U.S. Embassy. So those units answered more to the U.S. 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 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.
Q: Do you think President Obama represents something different to Latin America and Ecuador?
Correa: Yes, I'm convinced 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 U.S. foreign policy, especially with respect to Latin America.
Q: Tens of thousands of indigenous people in your country have brought suit against Chevron. An expert appointed by the Ecuadorian judge has said that Chevron should pay $27 billion. Where do you stand on this?
Correa: This is private litigation brought by social organizations in the Amazon region against this transnational corporation. And there, the Ecuadorian government has nothing to do, 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 cannot meddle in judicial matters.
Q: You have gone to the area, though, and shown support. What is the harm done?
Correa: It's terrible. If you go into the Ecuadorian Amazon and you stick your hand in the ground, what you get is oil sludge. 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.
They dumped the oil wherever with total impunity because there was no oversight by the state. These companies really did abuse the country. These companies have done in our country something they never would have dared to do in the United States. And it is time that they answer to the justice system.
Q: The Wall Street Journal reports the Colombian government uncovered documents on a laptop when Colombia raided Ecuador and killed a FARC leader, linking you to the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). What is your response?
Correa: 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.
A daily newspaper should report the news, not play at geopolitics. In any event, the column 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 supposedly talk about the Workers' Party of [Brazilian President] Lula da Silva having ties with FARC. It's really just a geopolitical game that they're pursuing.
Q: How do you think peace can be achieved in Colombia?
Correa: 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.
Q: What's your overall advice to the new President of the United States, President Obama, in how he approaches Latin America?
Correa: 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.
Q: The U.S. contract with Ecuador over one of the largest U.S. military bases in Latin America, Manta, expires later this year. You will not renew it. Why?
Correa: 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.
Amy Goodman is the host and executive producer of Democracy Now!. This is adapted from the interview she did with Correa on her show.