Sovereignty is an often mentioned subject in Latin America today. This is especially true in Ecuador, the country where I currently live. Sovereignty occupies a central place in the speeches of president Rafael Correa. His political party, Alianza PAIS, has Ecuador’s sovereignty as one of its programmatic pillars.
For Americans and Western Europeans, citizens of the global North, the so-called developed countries, the constant reference to sovereignty in the Latin American political discourse could seem fastidious and irritating, evidence of an alleged inferiority complex and paranoia on the part of intellectuals and rulers of “backward” countries. But the citizens of the North live in countries that are historically accustomed to having their way, which is why the word ‘sovereignty’ does not arouse their passion. But those of us who live in the South of the world, the so-called third world, the periphery of the world system, sovereignty is an essential and most sensitive issue.
Let’s see the case of Ecuador.
A very dramatic and educational case of how Ecuadorian sovereignty has been stepped on and infringed upon is the story of Philip Agee. A US citizen, Agee was an agent of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the 1960s. He worked for the Agency in Ecuador, then in Uruguay and finally in Mexico. From 1960 to 1963 he was in Ecuador, undermining the government of president Arosemena and trying to get the country to break off diplomatic relations with Cuba.
After much reflection, Agee concluded that the CIA’s actions in no way strengthened democracy or contributed to the real security of Americans, and resigned. But later, in the 1970s, he decided that resigning was not enough, and took the bold step of going public with all he knew about the Agency.
But Agee was no Edward Snowden, Private Manning or Ray McGovern, three good liberals who stuck their necks out, publishing secret information and making public criticism with the aim of making the military and intelligence services less politicized and more professional. Agee was not looking to improve the CIA’s functioning but to undermine it every step of the way and even destroy the Agency if that were possible, and so deal a blow to US imperialism. That was his calling until the end of his days. He died in Cuba in 2008 at the age of 72, surrounded by the affection and appreciation of the Cuban revolution, which always thanked him for his courage.
His revelations about CIA operations in Ecuador were nothing less than sensational and ground-shaking, and caused profound commotion in the country.
“Agee breaks the silence and gives detailed accounts of the covert actions carried out with the purpose of planting the idea of the ‘communist peril’ in the hands of the forces of the left; which served to make Ecuador break with Cuba (1962); and finally led to the overthrow of president Carlos Julio Arosemena (1961-63), replaced by a military junta (1963-66) that was absolutely anti-communist and pro-US, one of whose members was a ‘close collaborator of the Quito station’. Agee also identifies a list of 137 people and institutions that worked for the CIA or were infiltrated by it. When in 1975 these names became known in Ecuador, a journalistic firestorm was unleashed, which lasted for several months, for these included a vice president of the republic, and a president of the congress, well known politicians, business leaders, union leaders, journalists, news media, intellectuals, public functionaries, etc.”
In 2014 Ecuador’s foreign relations ministry published the book “The CIA against Latin America, Special case of Ecuador”, available both in Spanish and English, whose information is based on interviews with Agee.
In the mid 1970s Agee’s revelations were supplemented by the Church report. The product of a US Senate investigation led by senator Frank Church, the Church Committee Report exposed abuses and illegal acts committed by the CIA and FBI. These included CIA complicity in plots to assassinate foreign leaders, including Cuban president Fidel Castro, Congolese patriot Patrice Lumumba, and Chilean general Rene Schneider. Whereas Castro has survived all assassination attempts, the latter two were murdered.
In more recent years we have seen the important contributions of Wikileaks, which published diplomatic cables of the US embassy in Ecuador that expose the embassy’s efforts to undermine and prevent the implementation of the political programme of Correa and Alianza PAIS. These revelations motivated Correa to expel US ambassador Heather Hodges from the country, and to grant political asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
As you can see, Latin America’s jealous defense of its sovereignty is no whim, and it is certainly not a populist gimmick. Here in the South, our sovereignty is under constant threat and protecting it requires our never ending vigilance.