Rafael Correa – Hugo Chavez’s Political Successor
Nil Nikandrov - http://www.strategic-culture.org
The untimely death of the prominent Latin American leader, Venezuelan Hugo Chavez, could not but have had an impact on the dynamics of the continent’s integration processes. This was referred to by many of those attending the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) summit that took place in Ecuador on 4-5 December. Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa made a huge contribution to the preparation of this forum. He makes no secret of the difficulties being faced by UNASUR – the changes in global economic conditions, the fall in oil prices, and the emergence of financial problems in oil-producing Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador. Yet Correa’s prognosis for the Union of South American Nations sounds inspiring: the region has an abundance of natural resources, as well as significant industrial, agrarian and human potential, and the cohesive actions of the 12 UNASUR countries gives hope that the fourth largest economy will make its appearance in the world in the next few years.
Ecuador has done much to coordinate efforts for the creation of such integration mechanisms as the South American Bank, the South American School of Defence, a criminal court, and an electoral monitoring group. A South American Arbitration Centre is also going to be established, which will allow the region to free itself from the influence of transnational capital. «Together, we will be able to dictate the terms of international capital», said Rafael Correa. The concept of South American citizenship, which will give people the right to move around the region and get a job and an education anywhere on the continent, is an important achievement of the summit in Ecuador. Five hundred million people will receive such a ‘South American passport’!
Correa’s leadership qualities, as well as his perseverance in defending his position and the fact that he is a world-class economist, command deep respect. He began his political career in 2005, serving as the Minister of Economics and Finance, but was quickly removed from government for criticising the IMF and the World Bank. During his first term as president, Correa decided to repudiate external debt repayments. He sent Ecuadorian experts to international financial institutions to explain that an audit of all the country’s debt obligations proved their illegality. Correa also revised contracts with major foreign companies and managed to obtain fair royalties for oil production from them, allowing his government to significantly increase its social expenditure. There has been no particular backlash regarding Ecuador’s refusal to pay its external debt and revise privatisation contracts. After all, who would want to draw attention to their shady deals?
Supported by oil revenue, high tax collection and stable economic growth, Correa’s government has significantly improved the country’s public health service, increased state spending on education, and modernised the road and transport infrastructure. Ecuador’s new constitution, which has reinforced the country’s commitment to building «socialism with an Ecuadorian face», was adopted by a national referendum. Sixty per cent of Ecuadorians voted in favour and 20 per cent voted against. President Correa calls his reforms a «Civil Revolution» and stresses that it is of an independent nature, which is to say that it is not an imitation of the socialist models in other countries. A Russian tourist in Quito, not without surprise, wrote on an internet forum: «This once backward country is progressing in leaps and bounds. Decentralisation is at the heart of its policy; all oil revenue is spent on infrastructure and education; and the national bank gives cheap loans. That’s it!»
In official figures, Ecuador’s social and economic progress looks like this: according to the UN, the country has climbed ten places in the Human Development Index; economic growth rates have exceeded the average for Latin America; unemployment has fallen to 4.3 per cent and the proportion of the population that is middle class grew from 14 per cent to 35 per cent; and hundreds and thousands of new jobs have been created, with a million workers receiving social insurance. According to the findings of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the country is successfully combating poverty and social inequality.
A new law on the media is another of Correa’s important achievements. The president fended off attacks from Ecuador’s media groups that reflected the position of pro-American elements, and every media owner in Ecuador now knows they will be sued for defamation and any involvement in subversive campaigns. Ecuador’s opposition has tried to present this law as an attack on free speech, but the law is now recognised by the Inter-American Press Association (SIP).
Many in Latin America believe that after Hugo Chavez, Rafael Correa became America’s main target. Correa’s decision to close the US air base at Manta was taken particularly badly by Washington. The agreement on its use expired in 2009, and Correa announced that the contract would not be extended. Washington was asked to open an Ecuadorian base in the US on a reciprocal basis. «That’s not how we do things», replied the US State Department. Ecuador’s response came immediately: «In which case, there will not be a US military base in Ecuador either».
Following a number of US intelligence operations against Ecuador, Correa began to keep a close eye on CIA and Pentagon interference in the country’s internal affairs. Without hesitation, he is expelling any employees of these organisations caught carrying out subversive activities from Ecuador. In April, dozens of US servicemen operating under the roof of the US Embassy in Quito, left Ecuador. Correa considered their number «unjustified and disproportionate». Even earlier, in December 2013, the president announced that the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which he accused of financing the opposition, would cease its operations in the country. The organisation’s office in Quito was closed on 30 September. Employees of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have also been removed from the country. DEA agents had repeatedly been caught red-handed taking part in operations designed to compromise Ecuador’s efforts in this area.
In 2014, the president has warned Ecuadorians more than once about the preparation of a coup in the country. In October, he accused certain media outlets of involvement in a conspiracy to destabilise the government. Moreover, Correa has stressed that the destabilisation methods being used are exactly the same as those currently being resorted to in Venezuela to overthrow Nicolás Maduro. «Make no mistake about it, the civil revolution is under siege», said Correa. «The right are using a tried-and-tested technique – the ‘soft coup’». However, the president is well aware that other harsher techniques are possible. He himself miraculously survived when, with the help of US intelligence agencies, an assassination attempt was made on his life in 2010. For nine hours, a small number of Correa’s guards resisted fierce attacks by conspirators. Speaking at a rally dedicated to these events, therefore, Correa was completely justified in pointing out that the enemy never sleeps: «Right-wing forces have overcome their stupor and have a strategy to come to power. They are concentrated at the national and international level for what one could call conservative revenge».
In November, US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson visited Ecuador. Rafael Correa described her appearance in Quito as a «good sign», but that was just standard politeness. After the American had departed without achieving any concrete results, Correa announced that Ecuador’s international policy was at variance with that of America. There are disagreements and, according to Correa, there is also tension and a mutual distrust, because there are manifestations of neo-colonialism in US policy.
Rafael Correa has no intention of changing his country’s foreign policy, which is geared towards Latin American integration, the development of a multipolar world, and the maintenance of close relations with countries like China and Russia. For these reasons, John Kerry’s visit to Ecuador, which has been rumoured in the media all year, will not take place.