Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa: Straying from the OAS, But Making Time for Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

  • The OAS at times has been a useful forum for discussing and resolving conflicts related to Ecuador, a country that just played host to visiting Iranian President Ahmadinejad.
  • As of now, Ecuador’s government has voiced increasingly rambunctious criticism of the OAS due to its inadequacy in the arbitration during the Honduran coup.
  • Regarding the OAS and Washington’s stand on it as seen from Quito, Ecuador’s president Correa is pursuing a double-edged agenda: an ideological and an electoral one. It is within this context that his recent meeting with the visiting Iranian leader should be comprehended.

Executive Summary
A number of Latin American leaders, such as the president of Ecuador, have developed the habit of turning their backs as far and as quickly as possible from the Organization of American States (OAS), considered by them, fairly or not, as a leading extension of U.S. dominance. One of the latest instances of this criticism is growing against the otherwise highly regarded Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which is directly linked to the OAS, even though its work differs substantially from the at times politicized and ineffective OAS. Spurred by its distrust regarding the OAS, Ecuador is now energetically searching for a new regional forum, such as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), as well as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), in order to more effectively express its concerns.

Source:PABLO COZZAGLIO/AFP/Getty Images

As the Austrian author Karl Kraus used to say, “Let him who has something to say come forward and be silent!” This precept is hardly applicable to today’s Latin America. Ten years after adopting the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the western hemisphere houses no brutal dictatorships, but it does contain a number of cynical leaders who defy the regional status quo in favor of authentic democracy and are unwilling to honor the principle of political rotation in their own countries. Meanwhile, some leaders do come forward, but do not necessarily remain silent or try to avoid mixed messages.  Rather, they speak up, as did the Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, just before the creation of CELAC. According to Correa, it was high time for CELAC to replace the OAS, which “is clearly biased towards hegemonic countries” as well as being “a foreign-policy instrument of the United States.”

To better understand why President Correa so enthusiastically extended an invitation to receive the Iranian president is to realize that in recent years, the relationship between Ecuador and the OAS alternately has resorted to both pragmatism and confrontation. When President Correa requested the OAS to condemn the alleged security forces’ coup against President Zelaya in 2010, the regional organization provided him with at least a semblance of the international support he needed to back up his dismissive treatment of the OAS. Weathering the criticism and efforts at patronization targeted at Correa by members of his own security forces, the organization’s Secretary General, the personally highly regarded José Miguel Insulza dispelled all doubts by categorically determining that the event in Ecuador was an attempted coup.  The OAS leader at the time stated, “If an institution belonging to the state rises to rebellion against the lawfully established authority, technically we have a denial of democracy, an assault on democracy.”

On the other hand, the OAS has had its difficulties in carrying out its function as the guardian of Latin American democracy. By remaining relatively quiescent during constitutional breakdowns like the shocking one in Honduras against then President Manuel Zelaya, the OAS exacerbated the distrust towards it, and by the president of Ecuador in particular, by not acting with a sense of immediacy or resisting Washington’s efforts at a cover up. Correa questioned the relevance, even integrity, of the OAS’s founding charter, and later threatened to leave the regional body in 2009. Following the legitimization of the Porfirio Lobo administration in Honduras by the OAS, President Correa highlighted the urgency of finding a “much more reliable means to prevent [the rise of illegitimate governments] from happening.” Presently, Ecuador does not acknowledge the new Honduran government out of fear that another attempt at constitutional rupture might be tried in Ecuador.

In this context, the Ecuadorian President advanced a double-edged agenda. Abroad, he seeks to create the perception that his values are ideologically incompatible with those of the United States and its “satellites of imperialism,” like the OAS. Domestically however, this anti-imperialist rhetoric was meant to attract left-leaning voters who are hostile towards the United States and any of its partners, be it the OAS or the UN Security Council. Ecuadorian vice-chancellor Kintto Lucas even described the latter body as “practically a dictatorship within the UN.”

Following such interplay of pragmatism and confrontation, Correa also has hectored the OAS to condemn the Colombian violation of Ecuadorian sovereignty, when Colombian armed forces entered Ecuadorian territory to kill Raúl Reyes, commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). By the same logic, the Washington-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which is directly linked to the OAS, ostensibly poses a significant danger to Ecuador: it has addressed the complaints of prima facie violations committed against its journalists and has requested information from that country’s government concerning the lawsuit lodged by Correa against the Ecuadorian newspaper El Universo. Distrustful of the IACHR, Correa has wondered aloud: “What is it really after? To impose upon us the Anglo-Saxon notion of freedom…I am all for discussing the issue, but I am annoyed by such imposition, something similar to what we suffered in the 80s and 90s due to neo-liberalism and its agents, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.”

President Correa must not so readily or superficially attack the IACHR with the United States’ ill will as his propellant. At the very least, President Correa has been one of the stronger advocates to create an organization for human rights or freedom of speech other than the IACHR, which he most definitely believes should have its headquarters in a South American country. However, he should take into consideration that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which is different from the IACHR, already has its main office in Costa Rica. However, this does not guarantee that all Latin American presidents will follow his suggestion or even abide by its findings. For example, the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, has failed to abide by any recent judgment rendered by the court.  For him, the problem is not where the headquarters of the IACHR should be located, but rather how to properly comply with regional agreements. Nevertheless, Correa emphasizes his wish to put an end to the OAS and to move the office of IACHR from Washington to a South American nation.

With regard to Ecuador, does Correa seek to curtail human rights without being singled out for doing it? Does he intend to keep dispatching police forces to courts and hospitals in search of individuals who have been forced to resign?  Milton Jijón, a geneticist in Ecuador, offered his opinion in a conversation with COHA— “Correa sent the police to force my resignation. But I didn’t sign it. After beating me, they ransacked the teaching department and took computers and documents. Then came the media, alarmed by such an appalling, unprecedented situation. Since then, the government has slandered me in nationwide broadcasts and attacked my dignity.” It would seem that reports of such objectionable actions, if validated, should be submitted to and investigated by the IACHR in Washington, and by the Inter American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica, whatever Correa’s opinion may be.  That is why those organizations exist.

The biblical proverb “You shall know them by their fruits” may suit Correa, who is beginning to be well known for his ill temper in equating the IACHR with the heavily politicized and at times ineffective OAS. Correa makes the charge that the IACHR caters to “the affluent, the owners of capital,” yet he does not even attempt to prove his case. For instance, the IACHR has received complaints through the years from indigenous groups regarding Chevron-Texaco’s contamination of the Ecuadorian jungle, complaints from family members on the disappearance of Ecuadorian nationals Carlos Santiago and Pedro Andrés Restrepo, as well as accusations from Consuelo Benavídez regarding two cases of human-rights violations. Such a highly visible figure as Correa should be aware that the IACHR already has heard and addressed complaints coming from Nobel laureates, rural leaders, and victims of political persecution. In essence, he should be aware that any ruler claiming to respect human rights should fully comprehend that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not easily subject to ideological interpretation or political exploitation and manipulation: human rights are either honored or dishonored. Unfortunately, President Correa seems to select the latter option in a number of instances, even though he certainly isn’t a world-class dictator, but someone more akin to using bully tactics.

“In his highly personal campaign to disown the “empire,” rests the Ecuadorian leader’s devotion to such pointed initiatives as the Union of South American Nations (which recently has invited Ecuador to join as a full member), CELAC, (which is presently scarcely more than a regional chimera) and ALBA, which has yet to yield significant results thus far. On the other hand, Ecuador has entered into 150 cooperation agreements with Venezuela, but only three of which are currently being implemented in the all-important oil industry. Teodoro Bustamante, lecturer at the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales, is a skeptic regarding the alleged benefits of organizations like the Bolivarian Alliance, since “it does not visibly offer any significant financial prospects for the nation and its poorest citizens.  These arrangements tend to function mainly as an ideological advertisement for Correa, who seeks to proclaim his affinity with like-minded governments”.If the Bolivarian Alliance fails to implement much more than its populist image, it will find difficulties in becoming anything more than a fleeting political whim or a vehicle solely for wind-bagging.

Much like its ambiguous relationship with the OAS, Ecuador has a relationship with Washington that alternates between pragmatism and rhetorical hostility.  At times, this relationship is dominated by President Correa’s inability to shun arrogance, flights of rhetorical extremism, and intemperance, as well as his lack of diplomatic tact, which exposes his inexperience and the leftist ideology of the politicians who mean to influence Ecuador’s foreign policy. Some of these expulsions may have been entirely proper, but that point is not being argued here.  For example, in 2009, the Ecuadorian government expelled Max Sullivan and Armando Astorga, two American diplomats who had “interfered in internal affairs… and attempted to condition the provision of financial aid.”

In 2011, Heather Hodges, the U.S. Ambassador who stated (according to Wikileaks reports) that the police chief appointed by Correa was a corrupt general, was expelled without first allowing for an official explanation from Washington of such reports. At the same time, Correa has asked the Obama administration for an extension of preferential tariffs on Ecuadorian products exported to the United States, the extradition of Roberto and Williams Isaías (who had allegedly brought about the worst financial crisis of Ecuador in 1999), and fair treatment of Ecuadorian immigrants in the U.S. Such requests therefore reflect what seems to be Correa’s genuine interest in maintaining close ties with Washington, Ecuador’s main economic partner.  Ecuador’s bilateral foreign policy at times is courageous and principled, while at other times is made up more of rants and harangues than of clear-cut sensible policy aspirations. Such an erratic foreign policy makes it difficult to decipher the government’s real objectives.

Correa’s pragmatism comes to full strength in the commercial arena. He rejects conventional free trade or bilateral investment pacts, but supports investments in the mining and oil industries, open and unrestricted markets, and the establishment of commercial representation in New York and Chicago. As a result, bilateral investment treaties with six countries have been terminated while the one established with the United States is under current revision. Were it not for China, presently its main creditor, Ecuador would now be completely isolated in commercial terms.   However, ideology and populism demonstrate that the United States, overwhelmed by its own financial crisis, is still a power to be reckoned with. Eleven years of indifference towards Latin America by former President George W. Bush and current President Barack Obama have significantly reduced U.S. influence within the region. In the words of sociologist James Petras, “The financial crises of the 90s brought about the appearance of new political actors and election proceedings in most of Latin America, which has further accelerated the decline of traditional American dominance.”

Conclusion

President Correa’s search for a new hemispheric forum, such as ALBA or CELAC, is hopefully motivated by his good intentions and his insistence on defending Ecuador’s sovereignty, and not attracted by the machinery of international arbitration, which he claims only benefits multinational corporations based in wealthy countries. Hence, Ecuador dissociated itself in 2009 from the International Center for Settlements of Investments Disputes (ICSID) and is promoting the creation of a new Latin American arbitration center through UNASUR. However, this does not alter the fact that OAS has fallen off the hardest times since the established regional body was not in an position to adequately articulate the voice of Latin America in response to western interests. Although OAS is empowered to protect democracy and condemn military dictatorships, it is bound by its own multiple parents when the autocratic influence behind the throne and when national constitutions are amended in order for rulers to remain in power indefinitely or when the principle of political rotation is ignored. As is his habit, Correa personalizes his ideological differences, as in the cases of IACHR and OAS. Even so, for better or worse, at the present time there is no other existing regional organization comparable to OAS in its possibilities. UNASUR is still being organized, CELAC is merely an aspiration, and the Bolivarian Alliance is little more than an ideological banner to show disagreements between a series of South American countries and the United States. Equally important, in the person of Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza, OAS has a world-class figure who, although having revealed some shortcomings in country Haiti’s Gerand Latertue’s in the race for OAS position, regularly displayed a capacity for leadership and real courage that continuously made the U.S. singularly unhappy.

It is perfectly acceptable for Correa to embrace left-leaning ideas. Such notions, however, should not be a substitute for or suppress the national interests of Ecuador. The Ecuadorian President is entitled to challenge the OAS, but this would be best not exclusively on ideological grounds or simply because of his personal antagonism towards the U.S.  If Correa wants to be consistent, he should denounce the OAS for not condemning the limitations on democracy now being witnessed in Ecuador, and for not helping to alert Latin America that democracy involves more than elections. Ideally, Correa’s criticism might be better directed towards the Inter-American Democratic Charter for not specifying that the separation of powers must be assessed when discussing the quality of democracy being witnessed in a given country.

References for this article can be found here.
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