Former Ecuadorian president, Rafael Correa, is now campaigning to have voters reject seven proposals put forward in a referendum decreed by the new president whom Correa helped elect several months ago, Lenin Moreno. The Ecuadorian right is campaigning in support of Moreno’s proposals. Over a week ago, Guillaume Long, resigned from his position as Moreno’s permanent representative to the United Nations in protest against the right turn of Moreno’s government.
Below is a translation of a conversation I had with Wladimir Iza, a longtime Ecuadorian political activist and supporter of Rafael Correa.
JOE EMERSBERGER: So you worked with Gabriela Rivadeneira?
WLADIMIR IZA: Yes, we worked together for some time on cultural and political activities. As everyone here knows, she rose to prominence by working with grassroots political organizations. For about fifteen years she has been a very public person: an activist, organizer and elected official. We shared common struggles against the right wing governments that Ecuador had always had, so we fought together against the presence of the U.S. military base in Manta, against neoliberalism, against the IMF, and in support of the indigenous movement. That brought us together. I worked with her when she became president of the National Assembly in 2013. She received a record breaking popular vote that year.
JE: Did you have an official position?
WI: Yes, I was part of her communications and organizational team.
JE: How could Lenin Moreno’s huge betrayal have been avoided? It’s a big question but perhaps it gets to the heart of things. What happened?
WI: I actually consider it a very complex question because we trusted in all the comrades who were part of the process that gave us “la década ganada” [the “decade that was won” as supporters refer to Correa’s ten years in office]. We believed we had built a movement with ideological conviction and goals. Understandably, in dealing with all the historical deficits the country had accumulated in its health care system, its educational system, its infrastructure, we neglected something very important that we needed to always keep in mind. We needed to politicize our work, focus on the political development of party members, and really strengthen the role of citizens in politics and policymaking. Our Citizens Revolution led to the rise of a new middle class that had previously been poor and abandoned but that isn’t sufficiently conscious of how and why their situation improved. To continue a revolutionary process [as Moreno had campaigned to do] the task at hand was to continue to improve public policy for the benefit of the vast majority and also generate greater political awareness. Of course, we knew there would be a change in style with Lenin Moreno, but we never imagined he would – under the pretext of “dialog” – impose a paradigm shift that would surrender everything that had been gained to satisfy the right wing groups and bankers who had always opposed us. It is incredibly hard to digest that our candidate, who arose out of our movement, is doing this structural about-face. It is a clear betrayal of the people who trusted him, a betrayal of principles. We should have done more to raise the political consciousness of our base, to educate new grassroots leaders in schools devoted to political education. Anyway, we are living through another political moment now. We are obliged to stop mourning and get to work restructuring our movement.
JE: Do you also agree that public media needed to be much more autonomous from the government? It seems to me that Moreno had way too easy a time getting public and private media to push the same line.
WI: One of the most fundamental and important battles the Citizens Revolution fought was against these media monopolies and also the banks. I hope everyone knows that before the Citizens Revolution the mass media in Ecuador was basically property of the banks and big business. They owned the media and used the monopoly on information to impose or remove presidents. Ending that hegemony was a fierce struggle and now we are still stuck with it. It was a crucial struggle for ten years against the corporate press, these transnational political actors disguised as “communicators” but who push neoliberalism and imperialism. It was therefore a historical achievement to have public media that did a good job providing a counterweight to the private media. Public media could have been improved, made more into citizen’s media, but one must understand that profound transformations require more than ten years. That’s not much time to swap out the “cultural chip” installed in the public imagination by these media monopolies that say anything in the public sector is bad, that the state is bad.
JE: Do you feel that Alianza Pais [the political party founded by Correa] needed more internal democracy to prevent betrayals?
WI: You have to consider how the Citizen’s Revolution was born. It was really a movement of movements, a result of a historical process of struggle by various organizations with shared objectives. Within this diversity we believed everyone had leftist convictions. However as Correa’s government began impacting centers of economic power – big business, the banks, private media – even people within our movement started to be impacted and their true objectives came to light. Many believed, as if it were an inevitable historical law, that this was just another movement that might be in power four years and that not much would happen. They never understood that that a true social transformation requires deepening the revolution and that this requires continuity. We saw during these ten years in power that various people – including some leaders of the Citizens revolution – turned into opponents because the true interests of these ex-comrads were incompatible with the principles of our project. Another thing is that all political process eventually run their course, and sometimes one must lose in order to win; other times victories can lead to defeats. Right now we have lost a government that came to power thanks to work of the Citizens Revolution and its supporters. We have lost because they are surrendering everything we’ve built to the same old power brokers, but we have gained in organization and militancy. We’ve gained by strengthening within our ranks people who are truly devoted to the left. It’s a terrible situation, Moreno’s right turn is terrible, but we have to see the positive side. If we ever needed to purge our movement, this a natural purging process that people will not soon forget.
JE: Officially the legal battle for control of Alianza Pais is still being fought. If Moreno wins that battle, will another political party be formed?
WI: Of course.
JE: Are there any specific internal changes that would be made to the new party?
WI: As we live through this political crisis, we are still waiting for a final ruling by the national electoral court (TCE) but the national electoral council (CNE) has already given Moreno’s faction effective control. Everyone should know that they named new authorities in the party without a majority in the party’s nation executive committee. On October 31, in full compliance with the law and the internal statutes of the party, we made changes to the party, but they annulled everything through use of the state apparatus. Even without a ruling from the TCE it is obvious they will get control of the party. We are in a process of renewal. We will have to form a new movement with those who supported the Citizens Revolution – and that will possibly be the name of the new party. Right now we are in the midst of the referendum campaign, so this month the procedures to form a new party have been put on hold though we’ve taken some initial steps. It is important to note that Alianza Pais always had hard core support of about 35% of the voters. We’ve won fourteen electoral contests. CREO, the party led by the banker [Guillermo] Lasso, has hard core support of about 5%. I say this to give you an idea of how much support the Citizens Revolution has, but the interesting thing is that during Correa’s last visit to Ecuador [after leaving office] it was found that this 35% is really hard core support for Correa’s administration, not Aliazna Pais per se. If Correa leads a new party it would basically retain that 35% of hard core support and go on building from there. A party – and the Citizens Revolution – is more than its apparatus and buildings. It’s the support of its people.
JE: Do you think that in the new party members will take a more direct role in electing leaders? I don’t suppose it will copy the structure of the old party.
WI: I am not yet clear on what the new statues will be, but given this experience, with its negative and positive aspects, we’ll be looking to make sure our movement has a clear commitment to the left, that it empowers our base, and that we develop new leadership, especially among our youth. One of our strategies in the new party will be to continue to renew politics. We will strengthen schools throughout the country focussed on political education. We must organize political commissions in where citizens in urban areas, rural areas, neighbourhoods give rise to new leaders, in particular among young people.
JE: It seems to me that Correa paid too much attention to people who accused him of wanting to “perpetuate himself in power” and that he under-estimated his own importance to the movement.
WI: History has shown that revolutions require leaders. The opposition always accused Rafael Correa of being a “dictator” with the help of the private media to try to put negative idea in the public imagination – a “dictatorship” that won fourteen clean elections. It terrible but that is how the media seeks to manipulate and now using the issue of “corruption”. Lacking substance they are trying to replace the rule of law with a rule of public opinion as manipulated by them to facilitate political persecution. There can be no doubt over the importance of Rafael Correa to our movement – so much so that Moreno, united with the most notorious sectors of the right, is trying to eliminate the achievements of that last ten years by branding it “Corresimo”.
We needed more than ten years to deepen the revolution, and we are totally opposed to these pronouncements Moreno has made essentially saying “I am not interested in staying power. If you want I will step aside to ensure alterability”. That’s terrible. Moreno has shown us that in only seven months he can surrender the country to unelected power brokers who always dominated in the past. These things are manipulated by the media. I must emphasize that the media plays a huge role in deceiving people on behalf of these power brokers in our country and throughout Latin America. That’s why Rafael Correa had a weekly television show so that people had access to information that they could contrast with what the private media – the so called “independent media” – said. Moreno eliminated that show [which ran for 3-4 hours] and replace it with a pre-recorded ten minute message, replaced the people who ran public media, and fired writers, journalists and presenters who oppose him.
JE: Is Rafael Correa going to lead the new movement?
WI: He’s here leading the “no” side of the referendum campaign.
JE: He’s going to stay a month?
WI: Yes, he will apparently be returning [to Belgium] on February 4. He loves his country so much that he is leading the campaign against this devious referendum that shreds our constitution and the rule of law – that is basically a coup. I believe, I am almost sure, that he will eventually run for some kind of political office again because, like I said, a revolution requires leaders. If our movement is to be in power again – and power is not bad if it is used for collective rather than personal gain – we need Rafael Correa to lead a new campaign and a new party. That doesn’t mean that there are no other leaders within the Citizens Revolution, but right now it is very important that he be here.
JE: In rich countries like my own, leftists, perhaps because they are so far from power, tend to find groups who are out of power more believable than a progressive government. So when “left” indigenous groups like CONAIE, or leaders like Carlos Perez Guartambel, attack Correa’s government, not matter how outrageously, they are often found credible. Indigenous supporters of Correa’s government are ignored.
WI: WI: Yes, common causes were forgotten when personal interests were exposed. We have to understand that class struggle has not disappeared. There are indigenous people who are oppressors and those who are oppressed. There are mestizos who oppress and those who are oppressed. Many try to confuse us with the idea that class struggle does not exist but only movement struggles that atomize us. Sure, who is isn’t going to support indigenous people defending their ancestral land? Viewed from outside the country, who is going to support the presence of any extractive industry in Yasuni [national park]. Nobody. That is one of the proposals in the referendum [reducing the amount of extraction done in the park]. Everyone wants to protect nature, but that isn’t what is going on. Why have these groups [like CONAIE] barely said anything to support the victims of Chevron that devastated the Amazon? Where is their coherence? They exploit the base of the indigenous movement to further their personal interests, and some of them were once part of the Citizens Revolution, but when their pacts with big NGOs were exposed, resources they received to supposedly protect the environment, they turned against us. In Ecuador these leaders have minimal popular support, barely get any votes in elections. We are the first government in the world to give legal rights to nature. The policies of the Citizens Revolution have always been redistributive and focused on social justice. No other government has cared about the redistribution of wealth. Before that, indigenous areas were abandoned, inhabitants marginalized and only the cities received any attention or benefits.
JE: Carlos Perez Guartambel publicly opposed taxes on the rich (about 11 minutes into this interview) brought in by Correa like the “plusvalia” law that Moreno and the right are seeking to abolish with the referendum. Carlos Perez even endorsed the banker Guillermo Lasso for president last year.
WI: The “plusvalía” law hits big land speculators, the richest 2% in Ecuador and if indigenous leaders [like Carlos Perez] are against it then they must be part of this 2%. These type of leaders do not have popular support but their “struggles” are amplified by private media and the big traditional power brokers to in an effort reverse our process.
JE: Anything else you want people to know about what is going on in Ecuador?
WI: People should know that we in the middle of a referendum campaign that Lenin Moreno decreed by-passing the Constitutional Court. It violates our constitution and destroys the rule of law. His proposals seek to reduce the rights people have under the constitution. He is looking to seize control of all the state auditing, control and judicial authorities and even the Constitutional Court. He is also proposing to protect big land speculators – and all of this is disguised with a few unrelated question that could easily have been done through the National Assembly or even by presidential decree in the of the proposal regarding Yasuni [national park]. This is a devious, unconstitutional referendum. It is basically a coup backed by the private media and his infamous new friends on the right. That’s why we are, coherently, voting “no”.
Additionally, a democratically elected vice-president [Jorge Glas] has just been removed from office – a man who has been vilified daily in the private media, and who is a victim of political persecution condemned to prison without any evidence existing against him.