Interview with Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador
Gorka Castillo - Público
In an interview with Público, the Ecuadoran head of state accuses the Colombian government of lying, and its president, Álvaro Uribe, of links with paramilitaries.
Ecuador’s president doesn’t mince words. Over an hour’s interview he analyzed the Latin American political situation and didn’t hide the wound opened by Colombia that will take some time to heal.
The British writer Richard Gott considers Colombia to be the main element in the region’s instability. Do you share his view?
This is nothing new, rather something that goes way back. Colombia is the only country that has paramilitaries, guerrillas, drug traffickers, extensive coca cultivation and extensive zones of the country uncontrolled by the state. Paramilitarism and narco-politics doesn’t exist in Ecuador. Nor do we cultivate coca. Those are exclusively Colombian terms. I say this regretfully because [the Colombians] are our brothers, but Colombia today is the focus of the greatest instability that exists in Latin America and this hurts all of us.
Do you wish to say that the Colombian government’s image in Latin America is not a good one?
Uribe’s government is completely discredited. We’ve already pointed out his lies; now no-one believes him.
In Europe it’s not seen that way.
It’s true that in the European Union as much as the United States, the backing of his lies by some powerful media has harmed us and for that reason, very soon, I will undertake a tour of Europe to let people know about Ecuador and show that we are a decent government and a peaceful land. What’s problematic is on the other side of the border. We’re victims of the Colombian conflict. We’re not perpetrators nor are we accomplices.
You give the impression that a media war has been launched.
It’s not that I’m giving that impression, it’s that it’s a fact. We know with whom we are dealing; with a militaristic country, with a president who has an imperfect past, with enormous support from foreign intelligence agencies and with an impressive propaganda machine. We have faith that the truth and justice will prevail. We’ve already achieved that in Latin America, where Colombia has been soundly defeated politically, diplomatically and informationally.
What drives Colombia to accuse its neighboring countries of collaboration with the FARC?
Uribe’s militaristic policies began when he became president. First in contradicting the strategy of his predecessor, Andrés Pastrana, who came to embrace Manuel Marulanda. But in came Uribe with the hard line and he wanted us all to do the same. He’s like the little emperor who follows his boss’s dictates. It’s obvious that his political and economic power is based on the struggle against the FARC. Peace is not convenient for Uribe because fighting guerrillas gives the Colombian electorate a secure feeling. What is troubling is that this conflict is spilling over the borders.
But before the bombing on March 1, relations between the two countries was ruled by respect.
Uribe has always shown a lack of respect toward Ecuador. So much so that our territory continues to be fumigated with glyphosate and to the point of frequently violating our airspace with their planes. Anyway, as to the March 1 bombing, there’s a question that still remains unanswered.
They had Raúl Reyes’ group under their control when they could still be found on Colombian soil. Why did they wait until they passed over to Ecuador to kill them?
Was it by any chance done in order to involve Ecuador in a conflict that is not theirs? Was it not a matter of intimidation? Could it have been to force us to participate in Plan Colombia? What Uribe didn’t count on was our response, nor the condemnation he received from the countries in the OAS. The plan failed because we didn’t fall for it.
During the meeting of the Rio Group in Santo Domingo, you showed your hands to Uribe and told him to take a good look at them because they are clean and without blood. What were you referring to?
Uribe has tried to involve us, not only my government, but also the Armed Forces, as supporters of the FARC. Later he alleged that my presidential campaign had been financed by the guerrillas. It’s disgraceful. Where does this gentleman get off, after having violating every international law, accusing us of support for guerrilla groups whose actions we’ve said a thousand times we reject; it’s insulting. That’s why I told him to look at my hands. Just to highlight the contradiction with Uribe’s position, which has been so scandalously related to drug trafficking. His warmongering policy is not going to end the conflict, instead it will exacerbate it and he’s going to leave thousands dead as a result. My hands are clean and bloodless. That’s something Uribe cannot say.
However they continue to claim that you were aware of the FARC’s activities in your territory. They say that you were warned as many as 16 times of guerrilla bases in your territory, and were ignored. Is it true?
This is an unbelievable infamy. All my orders are on record. It’s all so coarse and ridiculous that we’ve decided it’s not worth answering. It’s just that we don’t know why he does it. Just when relations improve with him, something strange happens and you get stabbed in the back. Something in his head’s not working right.
How is it possible that this climate of tension has been reached if at the end of the Rio Group meeting, you managed to shake hands?
That’s Álvaro Uribe Vélez. Something’s wrong. His behavior is terribly psychotic.
Is it true that Reyes had contacted the French in order to negotiate the liberation of Ingrid Betancourt, when he was bombed?
Uribe doesn’t want peace, nor does he want hostages released, because Betancourt is a potential presidential candidate. It’s true that we’d known that contact would be made in a neutral third country in order to liberate them later on Ecuadoran soil. President Chávez also asked me if we could receive hostages in our territory because a transfer over the Colombian-Venezuelan border had become very dangerous. We were in the middle of that process. Those movements toward liberation of the hostages that the guerrillas entrusted to Reyes were precisely the reason Reyes was destroyed.
Ecuador has just denounced Colombia before the Hague Tribunal for illegal spraying on its territory.
The verdict will still take many years but we hope that a stiff sentence will be handed down to force Bogotá to suspend the aerial glyphosate spraying they’ve been doing since 2006. These fumigations have caused Ecuadoran farmers on the border to leave their homes, lose their crops, their income, and have caused serious illnesses, even death. However, do you know what the Colombian government’s reaction has been up until today? It’s to say that our demand that the spraying cease coincides with the FARC’s pleas. It’s shameful.
The crisis has revealed huge cracks in the Ecuadoran intelligence system that have caused military leadership to be relieved of its duties. What reforms should it undertake?
Something serious is going on with our intelligence services. We still don’t have all the firm data but we can say that we have been infiltrated by the CIA and this agency works for Colombia.
There are some who criticize you for being naive in having waited so long to change the military leadership, with its loyalties to the prior regime.
They’re probably right. And also for having trusted Bogotá. You might say that we underestimated the threat of external attack once things had been resolved with Perú and we had good relations with Colombia. But we underestimated the fact that Uribe was there.
Is it true that Ecuador draws its line with the FARC and not with Colombia?
We have a jungle border with 13 posts. Colombia only has two, when the guerrilla conflict is theirs. Why? Because it hopes that we will put them to death. Despite this, we have 11,000 men deployed which costs the state coffers around $100 million annually. Last year 13 soldiers died in a war that is not ours and on top of that we have to swallow the insolence of Álvaro Uribe Vélez. Bogotá has around 170,000 square kilometers where its army cannot go. Against this situation, I repeat that we don’t limit ourselves with Colombia, we limit ourselves with the FARC.
What has been the response of the Socialist government to the political crisis?
It’s been a little ambiguous. I am very appreciative of the Socialist government and of President Zapatero, but his statement was extremely vague, trying to please both sides when we were the ones attacked. The explanation that we were given was that he was in the final stretch of his electoral campaign. We understand that but we expect something more of the Spanish government. God willing, the hundred odd transnational businesses operating in Colombia are not being pressured, because in this kind of affair the principles and convictions that we share with President Zapatero are more important. We agree that international law should always prevail.
Are you willing to be a mediator with the FARC to achieve a humanitarian exchange?
I’ve said this a thousand times to President Álvaro Uribe: the Colombian people can count on Ecuador to resolve this civil war that’s been bleeding it dry for so many decades. That’s what we were trying to do before the attack. However, they don’t want to resolve it. The campaign against Ecuador from Bogotá shows that. We don’t reject the theory that they want to destabilize us for not following Washington’s policies. Neither do we rule out that it may be a strategy to put a puppet government in Quito that would accept Plan Colombia and permit the Manta airbase to continue operating beyond 2009, when the contract expires.
Are you thinking of eliminating the concessions for resource extraction by large companies?
The new Constitution that is now being debated in the Constituent Assembly is part of a new legal framework for this issue. We will change the law made by those indescribable bureaucrats at the World Bank, that was such a disaster. It managed to grant more than 4,000 concessions, of which 70% never even managed to start any operation whatsoever. The contracts will be renegotiated. A very short time ago we met with Repsol. The interest is mutual. As long as the workers and the environment are respected and the state is paid the taxes it is owed, there will not be problems and the projects will be profitable. The oil belongs to the state, and we want the contracts to be signed for services rendered.
What measures are being directed toward immigrants so that they do not feel so uprooted?
On reaching the presidency, our government created an immigration ministry. We are in the process of strengthening our embassies and consulates, especially in Spain, because we believe that Ecuadoran migration is already the country’s fifth region. We have just adopted a provision of $9 million for Plan Return (a program of tax exemption so that those who return to the country may do so with their goods and housing subsidies). We are also creating a Migrant’s Bank. At the political level I will say that there are six immigrant representatives in the Constituent Assembly for the first time in its history.