Ecuador: 'Markets are a terrible master', says President Rafael Correa

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By Jonathan Nack

April 29, 2014 -- IndyBay, submitted to Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal by the author -- Ecuador's President Rafael Correa explained what he means when he describes himself as a “modern socialist” in an interview with PBS TV journalist Charlie Rose on April 15, 2014 (above). “We believe in societies with markets, but not in societies [ruled] by markets – that's the difference... One of the [biggest] problems in the present time is that markets are controlling everything. We believe in society with markets, but society must govern the markets... Markets [are] a very good servant, but a terrible master”, said Correa, during a wide ranging interview with Rose.

Correa said that being a modern socialist means to “look for social justice”. “My political thinking has been influenced by the social doctrine of the Catholic Church and also Liberation Theology."

Correa's appearance on the Charlie Rose's show was part of his recent trip to the United States, in which he had speaking engagements at Harvard and Yale universitiesand the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The televised interview by Rose was certainly a high-profile appearance by Correa, and in part, a response to gernerally negative coverage of his government by major media outlets in the US, but the president's comments attracted only limited coverage by the mainstream corporate media.

Correa said the goal of his government is “to eliminate poverty ... this is the moral imperative of our government, I think for Ecuador, and the entire world. To have a country with justice, dignity, prosperity, and solidarity.”

“Our economic performance is one of the best in the region”, said President Correa. “For instance, our unemployment rate is around 4%... According to the Economic Commission for Latin America for the United Nations, Ecuador is the leader in reducing inequality in the region, one of three countries reducing poverty."

"We are called the Ecuadoran miracle”, touted Correa

“Development is basically a political process, especially in Latin America", explained Correa. "You have to change power relationships. Why are we underdeveloped? Because we have historically been controlled by little powerful groups – our elite. So, you have to change these power relationships and we are doing exactly that through very democratic processes.”

Correa said that this is being accomplished by “changing institutions, changing policies and changing programs. For instance, we have a new constitution. The former constitution gave a lot of advantages to some groups..." He said that under Ecuador's former constitution, it was possible to own both a bank and a media outlet. “That was a very important source of illegitimate power for some groups.” Under the new constitution, one can own a bank or a media outlet, but not both, explained Correa.

Rose's questions were polite and conversational, as is his style, but he touched on the major critical concerns given voice to by major US media. Correa responses were affable and with sophistication to each question in English.

Asked about Ecuador's relations with the United States, Correa said, “I think we have good relations, but it could be better. [We could] know each other in a better way, to understand what is going on in Ecuador. To know a little bit more, not just Ecuador, the whole of Latin America.” However, when asked by Rose if he felt his voice was being heard in Washington DC, Correa responded, “I don't think so.”

“The foreign policy of the United States hasn’t taken into account Latin America and this is a mistake”, said Correa. “Perhaps the biggest economies, but there are several other countries that are not much taken into account and that is a situation that must change.”

“Usually, American foreign policies have been wrong. You need to know us ... better”, Correa commented bluntly.

Correa asserted that with “some governments, sometimes very questionable governments, if they are considered allies of the United States, everything is fine. With other governments, like the Ecuadorian government right now, if they consider that these governments are not good allies of the United States, everything is wrong – everything is bad.”

“There is a dual standard of the government, of politicians, in the United States. For instance, they criticise Cuba [and] Venezuela, but they are very close friends, for instance, [with] Saudi Arabia. Can you tell me that inside Saudi Arabia there is democracy? There is freedom?... So, at least, we can find here a dual standard.”

Changing US foreign policy towards Latin America is, however, “not a priority for us, because we are an independent country”. Correa wants the US to just “let us to continue to do what we think are the [best] things for our people".

Asked by Rose what he thought about the US, Correa said “the United States is a wonderful country, but you have a problem. Everything is a function of big capital, a function of the market. You didn't feel this problem before, because of technological advances, with the crisis, when you have a scarcity of resources, you start feeling this problem. Middle-class families haven't recovered the level of income before [the] crisis, but bankers ... have record profits.”

Correa said he thinks that in the US the problem is that”the market [is] controlling society and capital is controlling human beings... One per cent of the American people controls more than one third of the national wealth. Ten per cent of the wealthiest people control 75 per cent of the national wealth.”

Correa opposes so-called free trade agreements advocated by the US government and multinational corporations. “Who created modern protectionism? Alexander Hamilton in the United States. Always the United States, traditionally, opposed free markets because [it] didn't have enough technological progress... Once it got all this, and it is the most efficient economy in the world, now it preaches free markets.” He challenged the idea that free trade leads to greater development in the underdeveloped world. He pointed out that Mexico has had a free-trade agreement with the US for two decades, but that hasn't reduced poverty in Mexico. “If that was true, Mexico would be a developed country now”, said Correa.

Correa said that he doesn't think US President Barack Obama is trying to undermine his government, however, there are some within branches of the US government who are. “I think President Obama is a very good person ... but certain groups inside the government, inside the Congress ..., extreme right-wing groups, are against Ecuador and they are manipulating information. They are telling things that are not true.”

Rose asked Correa to respond to charges that his government is restricting freedom of the press, which have been featured prominently in mainstream media coverage of Ecuador. Rose asked if Ecuador’s media is free to criticise the president. Correa said he is criticised by Ecuador's privately owned media “all the time – every day. Most of them are owned by this elite that we are fighting."

“It’s a good thing to have public media, which is not controlled by the government. [Public media] has independence and can criticise the government”, he stated.

Regarding the granting of asylum to Julian Assange of Wikileaks in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London, Correa said, "Perhaps I don’t agree with what Julian Assange did. But that is not the problem. The problem is not politics. The problem is justice. We examined for two months the request of asylum by Julian Assange, and we concluded that … there was not a guarantee of due process. For that reason we gave asylum to Julian Assange.”

Asked about opposition from some environmentalists and Indigenous peoples opposing his government's plans for further limited oil exploration and development in Ecuador's Amazon region, Correa replied: “they have ... the right to do demonstrations, to protest”. However, he charged that some protests have been violent and that is the reason why some activists, accused of violent acts, are being prosecuted.

Activists opposing oil development in the Amazon have recently filed petitions that they say contain the required number of signatures for there to be a national referendum on the project. Ecuador's independent branch of government in charge of elections, the CNE, has yet to rule on the number of valid signatures.

Ecuador's constitution provides for the right to a national referendum, which is a right not granted under the US constitution.

One subject that didn't come up during the interview by Rose interview was the Ecuadoran court judgement of $9.5 billion handed down against the Chevron corporation. The judgement stems from the massive poisoning of Ecuador's environment by Texaco Petroleum, which became a subsidiary of Chevron in 2001. Chevron has refused to pay and has been supported by legal rulings in US courts.

Correa admitted that his government has made mistakes, “but, at least, our people know very well that they have the power. That we are acting in order to serve them. That now Ecuador is a sovereign country and our state is a popular state in order to serve, I insist, the majority of people.”

“The world order is not just unjust, unfair, it is immoral – double standards everywhere... Always everything in function of the stronger, not in function of justice. If we can contribute, from a little country like Ecuador, to have a better world, that would be wonderful.”