President Rafael Correa At The London School Of Economics: “The Winds Of Change Are Sweeping Across Latin America”:

“Ecuador has not recently been the easiest place to govern”. With these words, Sir Howard Davies, Director of the London School of Economics, introduced President Rafael Correa to the audience packed into the School’s Old Theatre on 27th October. At no point in the following ninety minutes did Correa disagree with this analysis. Though re-elected in April 2009, he continues to be confronted by a wide range of problems. Relations with Washington are strained: Earlier this year, he expelled two US diplomats on the basis (denied) that they were interfering in his country’s internal affairs. In December 2008, Ecuador officially defaulted on billions of dollars of ‘illegitimate’ foreign debt. Due to the recession, remittances from the thousands of Ecuadorians working abroad – especially in Spain & the USA – have drastically declined. His opponents claim he is “amassing too much power and overriding the nation’s democratic institutions”. His own brother, Fabricio Correa, has accused the President’s closest aides of corruption. Last month, negotiations to renew diplomatic ties with Colombia – who controversially bombed a FARC (Revolutionary Armed Force of Colombia) guerrilla encampment inside Ecuadorian territory in March 2008 – were suspended.

Rafael Correa has postgraduate degrees in economics from both the University of Illinois and the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. At the beginning of his speech (delivered entirely in English), he joked that after many years as a Professor it had been difficult initially to adapt to the world of politics: “In academia, it is a huge thing not to tell the truth. In political life it is a sin to do so”. The theme of the evening was “The International Economy and the Process of the Citizen’s Revolution in Ecuador”. Over this decade, he declared,” We have witnessed the political, social and economic downfall of the neo-liberal doctrine which is at the source of a real global devastation”. In the case of Ecuador and the region,” the recipes issued from the so-called ‘Washington Consensus’ in which Latin American countries did not even participate, have collapsed”. He denounced neo-liberalism as a fraud derived from “opportunistic ignorance” and the mistaken view that “By seeking my own benefit I fulfil my social role”. Several unorthodox alternatives called “Socialism of the 21st Century”, were emerging.

 Correa was especially scathing about Laurence Summers, now Director of  the White House’s National Economic Council but who in 1991, when  Chief Economist for the World Bank, wrote a leaked memorandum encouraging more migration of dirty industries to the third world as “income lost through health problems is obviously lower in countries with the lowest wages”. Summers had thereby “abused his organization’s dominant position against the poorer nations”. Correa condemned  “the arrogance of the international bureaucracies”. Structural measures such as the free mobility of capital, labour flexibilization, domestic market liberalization and tax neutrality had “ brought production and employment in Latin America to a standstill” and increased its status as the most inequitable part of the world.. Those countries which have made the most technological advances and therefore are unbeatable in terms of competitiveness “get the most out of free trade and continue promoting it”. He exorted his listeners to “Think critically”. One of the main victims of  “ the long and sad neo-liberal night” had been the working class which had become “just another means of accumulating capital”. Correa was emphatic that he is against violence: “The only valid bullets should be votes”. He believes in state control of strategic sectors and “the democratisation of all means of production”. Socialism of the 21st century  he concluded “ Is different from traditional socialism. It offers a new notion of development – making good  standards of living for everybody”.

President Correa answered in Spanish most of the questions that followed . The atmosphere became considerably more animated. He’s not hostile to the mining companies – so long as they behave responsibly. Article 318 of the Ecuadorian Constitution specifically prohibits the privatisation of  the country’s water resources, which are “a strategic national patrimony”. When asked if he was just copying “the Chavez model”, he responded that it was “an honour to coincide with a process that is being implemented in a brother country”. He shares Hugo Chavez’s  “integrationist, bolivarian and socialist vision of justice and sovereignty”. In Ecuador there is “total freedom of thought and expression. Our citizens know that they are finally represented. We are doing what they ordered at the urns. We are trying to make our democracy more participatory”. As regards the current tense situation with Colombia, he couldn’t “interfere in the legal process of identifying those persons responsible” for the attack launched against FARC guerrillas on Ecuadorian territory . (In October 2009, an Ecuadorian judge issued a warrant for the arrest of General Freddy Padilla, Head of the Colombian armed forces).: Never before had there been “such a bombardment ( with North American smart bombs) on Latin American soil”. Correa was adamant that he had never seen the “famous computer” confiscated by the Colombians after their elimination of  FARC leader Raul Reyes. The President didn’t know when normal relations between the two countries would be resumed.

 

 

 

Filed under: Politics | Posted on November 3rd, 2009 by Colin D Gordon

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