In candid interview, Correa discusses Ecuador’s economy, slams world bankers, says Venezuela made financial mistakes, and pleads case for Julian Assange
Editor’s note: The following is an interview with President Rafael Correa conducted two weeks ago by Euronews and released last week. Correa was in Brussels for a meeting between European Union officials and the Community of Latin American and Carribean States (CELAC). Correa is president pro tempore of CELAC.
Euronews: President Rafael Correa, thanks for being with us on Euronews. In 2014 the Ecuadorian economy grew over four percent. That is more than three times the average growth among the economies of the region. How did you manage that, make it happen, in a period global and structural crisis?
Rafael Correa: Last year, which was a difficult year for Latin America, this region grew two point one percent while Ecuador grew three point eight percent. The “non-oil economy” in Ecuador though grew 4.3%. So, we did well compared to the rest of the region.
How did we manage it? How did we make it happen? We knew the economy, we knew that the key was to protect our production and our jobs. We didn’t listen to the “sirens’ songs”, to those who call for everyman for himself. We practice protectionism in production and our jobs with a strong public investment program which attracts private investors. There is investment in infrastructures, energy, and education.
We Latinos, we are experts in crisis. We have lived through all of them and we look at Europe with a sense of worry because in Europe you are making the same mistakes that we’ve made.
Let’s talk about Greece for instance. Let’s talk about all the conditions the country is submitted to: IMF packages, we Latinos we’ve been there. All those measures are not meant to overcome the crisis, they are just to liquidate the debt. On the one hand they give money and funds to you, on the other hand they impose some harsh measures: low salaries, no allowances, mass dismissals in the public sector. This is to find the money to pay a private debt.
So, at the end of the day, countries are indebted with multilateral treaties. All this just to guarantee a private debt. The common people get nothing. They are not out of the crisis. We see that all this is being repeated in Europe. It means the absolute supremacy of capital over human beings on behalf politics.
Euronews: Don’t you think is a problem of living beyond your means?
Rafael Correa: Look, we have lived all this. There was the debt crisis in the 80’s in Latin America. Before 1976, no banker came to Latin America, not even on holiday. After 1976 they started to come in a massive way and they went to the Ministry of Economy with their bags full of money – bribes in order to give credit. Money which bought weapons for dictatorships not for democracies. They created the big Latin American debt and they were helped by the media.
They said this is aggressive indebtedness, with these ultra profitable projects you can pay your debts etc. but the reality was totally different. With the so-called oil stocks, Arab countries had an excess of cash, of dollars which they put in the banks of the first world. Banks’ business is not to keep dollars, but to invest them somewhere else.
They didn’t know where to put them and they decided to put them in Latin America. They thought that countries couldn’t fail, until 1982 when Mexico said: “We cannot pay the debt anymore.” Bankers reached the brilliant conclusion it was an “over-borrowing problem”, countries asked too much money. But they never admitted it was also a problem of over lending – too much money being given away by banks.
Bankers knew the economic conditions of some countries and they were corrupt debts, for buying weapons, for helping dictatorships. Now can you tell me that banks didn’t know the Greek situation? The huge fiscal deficit disguised debts. And now they say the Greece is solely responsible for that? At least let’s share responsibility! Solutions come from that. With our experience in economics, and I am the first economic expert in the office of president in the history of the country and we have a good team of economic experts in the government, as I said we are very careful with our debt.
For instance our constitution bars creating debt for social projects. It’s a paradox. Why? Because on one hand they squeezed us to force us to pay an illegal debt telling us the country needed hospitals and schools, so the IMF came, together with the World Bank, and told us: “take this money for the social development”, and they appeared like the good guys. Social projects can be very profitable, but you need dollars in order to pay back the debt in dollars. And so there were new problems.
Now you can create debt only for profitable projects. For instance social projects which can generate profits in dollars. We are very careful with the debt. And we are very careful with our investment program too and where the money goes. We need financing. We can repay the debts but we just want profitable projects.
Euronews: Ecuador aims to develop in every field. Venezuela bet a lot on oil. Once the value went down the country fell into the crisis.
Rafael Correa: “Well, Venezuela depended much more on oil than Ecuador. All this cannot change in a couple of years, not even in ten or in twenty years. They are structural changes. It is development.
Euronews: “Do you think Caracas made mistakes?”
Rafael Correa: The exchange system at first. Such a controlled exchange like the Venezuelan one is good in the short term, but you cannot keep it on the long term. That’s why it has the black market, such a big difference between the legal and illegal exchange. All this generates big distortions, corruption and authorities know it. It means they have to make legal reforms and also constitutional ones. It isn’t easy. There is also daily opposition which is not a democratic one but a destabilizing one.
Euronews: What kind of relationship do you have with United Kingdom despite the Julian Assange’s case?
Rafael Correa: Assange can spend the rest of his life in our embassy in London and he will always be welcome, but tomorrow the problem can be easily solved if the United Kingdom offers him immunity. Imagine if we were in their place: if we had a European refugee in a European embassy in Quito, if we were to keep him three years without letting him stay. We would be called dictators, fascists, we would be brought in front of the International Criminal Court. The UK should give him immunity from arrest.
Sweden could have had always a deposition in our embassy in London. Why didn’t they do it before? Now they do it because otherwise they risk that the entire process will run out of time. So all these questions you have to put to Sweden and London, they could solve the problem tomorrow.
Euronews: Have you ever felt exploited by Julian Assange?
Rafael Correa: “We haven’t agreed to asylum because we agree with what Assange did. I believe that every state has the right to keep secret some confidential information. Even if some leaks which were made public were horrible. They show immorality and abuses. We do not agree with his doings. If something illegal has happened it should be punished. The result doesn’t justify the means. But this is not the reason why we gave asylum to Assange.
We did so because he wasn’t sure about a fair trial. Do not forget that in the U.S. some fanatics demanded the death penalty based on the Patriot Act which incorporates the death penalty. That’s why we gave him asylum and not because we agree with the procedures used to get that information.