Ecuador's Rafael Correa: Short and Sweet

Ecuador's Hugo Chavez?

Monday, October 1, 2007; Page A19

Washington Post

Ecuador's new left-leaning president, Rafael Correa, studied economics in the United States, but the U.S. way of governing does not seem to have rubbed off on him. He appears set on following the example set by Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez. Last week Correa sat down with Newsweek- Washington Post's Lally Weymouth. Excerpts:

Q. People want to know if you are as anti-U.S. as your rhetoric would indicate.

A. I lived here and have two academic diplomas from the University of Illinois. Historically we have had very good relations with this country, so we are not anti-American at all. We would like to improve our commercial cooperation with the U.S.

Q . Then why do you oppose the U.S.-Ecuador trade pact?

A. Because it will destroy our agricultural sector.

Q. What is wrong with the free-trade agreement?

A. When you are trading with a country with huge subsidies for the agricultural sector like the U.S. -- the impact of this free-trade agreement would be dangerous for our farmers.

Q. But surely overall, the impact would be positive?

A. You are wrong. Even for Mexico, you can see a lot of problems [from NAFTA]. The impact on small farmers is very dangerous.

Q. How close are you to Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez?

A. He is a very good friend of mine.

Q. Do you admire Chavez and think he has done a good job?

A. Yes, I think he's a very honest person -- a clear leader, a very democratic president.

Q. You are now calling for a new constituent assembly as Chavez did. Why?

A. We don't have a true representative democracy because our representatives don't care about us. So we don't have means to push them to do what people want to do.

Q. It's said that the constituent assembly will make the executive branch stronger.

A. In our country, the executive power is very weak. . . . The executive needs more power in order to lead the country.

Q. Why have you said that you would not renew the U.S. lease on the base at Manta in '09?

A. You are asking me why not. I am asking you why "yes."

Q. Because it is used for anti-drug surveillance flights.

A. Ecuador is not a drug producer, and we have been very successful in our fight against drugs. So why put a foreign military base in our country?

Q. You have spoken about either not paying or restructuring Ecuador's foreign debt. What is your plan?

A. We are going to pay the foreign debt as long as the situation in the country allows us to pay it. If we don't have enough money to pay the social claims in Ecuador, salaries, etc., and at the same time to pay the foreign debt, our ethical and technical priorities are very clear. First, to attempt to face the national needs, later, the foreign debt.

Q. In order to create jobs, don't you have to attract foreign direct investment?

A. At this moment, Ecuador doesn't have external financing. We have enough national and public savings in order to make loans to start the growth process and employment creation.

Q. Why wouldn't it be smarter to attract foreign capital instead of using up public savings?

A. We are not refusing foreign investment. If foreign investment wants to come, it is welcome, but we have our own savings.

Q. So you are not going to get outside companies to come in and finance refineries? Are they welcome to own them?

A. They are welcome, but we are counting on our own savings in the first instance.

Q. What's the law? Are they welcome to own them or are you going to nationalize them?

A. We prefer that the kind of business related to non-renewable resources to be owned by the state or by public enterprises.

Q. Why do you support the seizing of the Occidental oil fields?

A. Because they broke 52 times the contract, our Ecuadorian law -- they believe we are still a colony.

Q. What is your priority?

A. Constitutional reforms in order to have a true democracy.

Q. Didn't you crack down on the press and arrest an editor last May?

A. You have very uneducated journalists in our country.

Q. What is your idea of an uneducated journalist?

A. They believe that in order to have an interview, they have to aggress the other person. They must learn to respect people, especially the president of their republic.

Q. Our politicians probably don't like being attacked, but they respect the free media.

A. I respect the media, but I also respect the rights of the other person. You don't have the kind of journalists we do. Secondly, not all things are good in this country. In our country, if someone calls you a killer, a thief, a dishonest man, he must prove it; otherwise he goes to jail. I know that here in the United States you can say a lot of things without proof.

Q. What do you think about President Bush and your relationship with the United States?

A. We have not had any high-level contact with this administration.

Q. Is there anything you would like the American people to know about you?

A. Perhaps they can be convinced that we are honest people who are doing what anyone would do in our country with huge inequalities.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey