The prosecution of ex-president Rafael Correa is a blatant attempt to prevent the return of Correa to Ecuador, as the country’s most prominent opposition leader, says former foreign minister Guillaume Long
GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert, coming to you from Quito, Ecuador.
An Ecuadorean judge issued an arrest warrant for former President Rafael Correa last week. The warrant is meant to place Correa into preventative detention while the case against him is being pursued for having allegedly supported the 2012 kidnapping attempt of Fernando Balda, a political opponent of Correa’s. Balda was on the run from Ecuadorean justice and living in Colombia at the time of the kidnapping attempt. Upon issuing the arrest warrant, the Ecuadorian judge also requested a so-called Interpol red alert against Correa so that he can be detained and extradited from Belgium, where he currently resides. Correa has rejected the prosecution, saying that it is entirely political. Here’s an excerpt from an interview he conducted in Brussels right after the arrest warrant was issued.
RAFAEL CORREA: What does the president of the republic have to do with this event? At the beginning I wasn’t even accused. It happened in 2012. In 2013 the alleged victim presented a specific accusation, and didn’t accuse me. But already in November they realized that with false testimonies they could point to the president, and they announced from this moment on, we will seek Correa. We will guet an arrest warrant from Interpol. They started this whole thing which has no legal or logical basis.
GREG WILPERT: Joining me now to take a closer look at Correa’s arrest warrant and the larger political context in Ecuador is Guillaume Long. Guillaume was foreign minister under Rafael Correa from 2016-2017, as well as Ecuador’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, but resigned last January because of political differences with Moreno administration. Thanks for joining us again, Guillaume.
GUILLAUME LONG: Thank you. My pleasure.
GREG WILPERT: So, people in Ecuador who argue that the case against Correa is a political persecution say that there are many irregularities in this case. Let’s take a look at some of those claims. Now, first of all, there is the issue of the evidence itself. The kidnapping attempt against Balda was ultimately unsuccessful, and he was later extradited to Ecuador and served a two-year prison sentence. But what’s the evidence, exactly, against Correa that he ordered or somehow participated in the organization of the kidnapping of Balda in 2012?
GUILLAUME LONG: OK. Well, I think there’s a much greater context here. But if we are to focus on the specifics of the case, there is no evidence at all, whatsoever. What there is is someone, a police sergeant, who claims to have spoken directly to the president about this. This is someone who was involved, apparently, in an alleged kidnapping incident of Balda. I mean, it does sound a little bit kind of strange, to put it mildly, that the president of the republic would speak directly to a police sergeant to order him to kidnap someone without going via anybody else, because nobody else has been accused as yet. I mean, not the minister of interior of that time, not the head of the police. Not any kind of senior ranking officer in the police force. It’s just the president, and this very minor sergeant nobody had heard of until very recently who says he spoke personally to Correa.
So I don’t know whether it stands as evidence, but it’s the only grounds on which they’ve, well, the judge, first obviously the attorney general, and then the judge have gone on for this pre-trial detention which has been now declared. With what you’ve just narrated, the red alert from Interpol, that has been, we’ll see whether that actually gets activated. But it’s been solicited.
Other than that I can’t see any, any evidence. And I think that the allegations that this has to do with political persecution and with stopping, avoiding a return, a political return of Correa of any sort. And actually the physical mobility of Correa. Stopping him from going to Ecuador, but also hampering his travels is basically the main political aim behind this accusation and this preventative prison pre-trial detention order.
GREG WILPERT: I actually want to get into the larger context in a minute, but before we do I just also want to ask about what you think of the process. That is, another major question that has been raised is the procedures. That is, questions have been raised about the independence of the attorney general, the legality of preventative detention in this case, and also that the charges have been brought against the former president need to be brought through the legislature, which doesn’t seem to have happened. What do you make of this, of the procedures?
GUILLAUME LONG: Yes, irregularities across the board. Maybe we’ll have a chance to go back to the referendum in January 2018 a few months ago, which actually some of us denounced as, you know, a referendum that would enable, and we’re seeing it now, this type of political persecution. But yeah, I mean, you’re absolutely right. I mean, first of all, to take a former president to court you need the go ahead of the legislature. You need the go ahead of the National Assembly of Parliament, of Congress. This was not, this has not happened. A sort of makeshift majority in Congress of a lot of right-wing parties allied to the current sort of dissidents of Alianza PAIS, who are allied to President Moreno, voted not to deal with the issue, as in not to vote on the issue. Not to decide whether President Correa could be tried or not. So they kind of evaded responsibility, as such, which then enabled the attorney general to go for it, to say, well, if Parliament doesn’t have an opinion on this, I’m going to go, I’m going to go for it.
So obviously it was a way of, without voting in favor of the trial to take place, it was a way for the, enabling the trial to happen. The court case to happen. So that’s the first irregularity. Another irregularity you also hinted at is the fact that the attorney general has been, has not been named according to what the law and the Constitution mandates. So he is a temporary, sort of, he’s been put in charge temporarily. And he’s been named by this kind of, again, a makeshift board of citizens participation, or council of citizens participation it’s called, which itself has been named by President Moreno. And all this comes from the referendum of January 2018. But the definitive attorney general, the attorney general who will win the, there’s a sort of contest in Ecuador, and then there’s a points mechanism, and then whoever wins the contest becomes attorney general.
This is not, this contest has not happened. We’ve got someone who’s just a caretaker. And it is this caretaker attorney general, that’s also very close to the right and very close to the current president, who has brought these charges against, against President Correa. So then here, again, it really smells very strongly of political persecution. And then finally, the pre-trial detention order itself, which of course was based on when the judge received the case, the judge ordered for President Correa, who is a resident of Belgium, who doesn’t even live in Ecuador, to present himself physically to her. To, to visit the judge in charge of this case every fortnight. So every two weeks, President Correa, ex-President Correa, would have had to travel from Belgium to Ecuador. I mean, it’s insanity. It’s just, you know, it’s clearly aimed at pushing him to a situation where he would be in breach of that order. And so, and therefore then be able to declare this pre-trial detention.
And it’s exactly what will happen. Correa said he could go to the consulate, to the Ecuadoran Consulate in Belgium, that he could go every fortnight. Even that was an exaggeration. Everybody agreed with this. But he said, OK, I’ll go to the consulate. And in fact he went to the consulate, when the time was up. And he said, here I am, you know, Ecuadoran authorities. But he can’t travel, he’s a resident in Belgium, and it’s actually in breach of his human rights, and sort of migratory law, all over the place would, would condemn this. He couldn’t travel every fortnight to Ecuador to present itself in front of the judge. So the judge then said, oh, well, since there’s a no-show, since President Correa hasn’t showed up despite the fact that he’s been summoned here every fortnight, I will therefore declare this kind of pre-trial detention order.
So it was all sort of, it had all been fabricated, we’d been discussing it. The people who were close to Rafael Correa had been discussing it. We knew it was going to happen. We knew that on that date the judge was going to announce his pre-trial detention order and that it was part of the scenario, the political scenario that the, his, the people who are after him, the people who are persecuting him, had worked out from, from the beginning.
GREG WILPERT: So finally I want to turn to the issue of the political context in which this is happening. Perhaps you can also comment on this report that JP Morgan issued. I don’t know if you saw it, but they say, let me just quote a line from it. They say that Moreno’s, quote, Moreno’s sense of political strength is a relevant variable in this ultimate decision to sign off any recommendation to embrace an IMF program. A current court case against ex-President Correa for allegedly directing a 2012 kidnapping of a political opponent could impede Moreno’s chief political opponents from coming back to Ecuador from his current location in Belgium, and also weaken the Corrista bloc in the National Assembly.
So in other words they’re saying that, that is, the JP Morgan analysis is saying that the prosecution of Correa will help Moreno get an IMF loan. How do you make sense of this, and how does this fit into the larger political developments in Ecuador at the moment?
GUILLAUME LONG: I would say three things about this. First of all, I mean, I resigned in January being president Moreno’s ambassador in the UN in Geneva on, basically because I believed several things would happen, and I didn’t want to be a part of this. The first thing I denounced was that the referendum that Moreno was organizing would basically create a situation whereby he would be able to name the judicial authorities, different authorities that exert various types of checks and balances in Ecuador’s system of justice. And we’re seeing this now, with Moreno having named this kind of council of citizens participation, which then itself has named all those, the senior judges. The people in charge at the magistrature, the people who are, the attorney general who has just accused Correa, et cetera.
So there is more control over Moreno, on behalf of Moreno over the judiciary, the different, all its mechanisms, all the different checks and balances of the state. And this is something that I was against in January, so I [renounced], saying that this was going to happen. And of course, now it’s happening. And we’re seeing the consequence of this is the persecution of the political opposition to the Moreno regime, and particularly the people who have been around Correa, Correa himself. Of course, at the center of this, because what they don’t want is a return of Correa. Because the elites are back in power, because the right, very conservative right-wing forces, political parties, and forces are back in power, and they want Correa out of the political scenario. As it stands, he can’t stand again as president. But he could still be a leading political figure in Ecuador.
He could run from there, he could do a number-. An MP. He could still be a political leader in Ecuador, and they don’t want that to happen. So they need him, I don’t necessarily think they want him in jail, but they need him far away in Belgium, with some trumped-up charges that the Belgian government probably, in all realism, I would say there will not be an extradition of Correa to Ecuador because the charges are so ludicrous. But certainly it creates this kind of stalemate whereby Correa is isolated and cannot go back to Ecuador. So a clear case of political persecution.
The second thing I predicted and I think is happening, and it kind of goes to your, to what you’re saying, is that Moreno would lose his majority. Obviously the MPs that are in parliament are basically divided. A lot of them have remained loyal to Correa. A few of them have remained sort of semi-loyal to Moreno, although in the voting patterns we’re not seeing a lot of loyalty there. But certainly Moreno doesn’t have a party. He’s on his own. He’s loathed by the people who supported Correa, and he’s not particularly liked by the right wing, who basically used him to get rid of Correa, but they don’t have any specific affinity or loyalty towards him. So he’s kind of caught in the sandwich whereas, where the only way he can govern, and the only potential allies he has, are on the right. Those people support, those people on the right supported him when he was getting rid of Correa. Now that he’s kind of done that, or seriously on the way of doing that, the only thing he can offer the right is extremely conservative right-wing, deregulating, neoliberal policies.
And we’re seeing a number of laws going through Congress. One big one that just went through that are kind of part of this deregulation agenda. And I think we’re going to see more in the future, and key ministerial posts going to the right, et cetera, et cetera. So yes, the IMF comment goes in that direction. We have a weak president who doesn’t have a popular base of support, whose popularity in the polls is plummeting, and he’s having to cling on to the right, particularly the right in Parliament, the National Assembly, in Congress, who are pushing their hardcore fundamentalist neoliberal agenda in order to deconstruct everything that Correa did.
So I mean, we have to be careful, because some reports of the IMF, depending on the department you look on, praised the Correa years because of the macroeconomic stability, the growth, diversification. But then obviously you have this, particularly of JP Morgan and different banks that look at the possibility of an IMF loan as going towards even more deregulation of the Ecuadorian economy, kind of opening up to, I think in an irresponsible way, to capital without looking at the potential macroeconomic cost that would entail. And of course, as always, the huge social costs that opening up to conditional IMF loans has meant for Ecuador and for Latin America.
GREG WILPERT: OK. Well, we’re going to have to leave it there for now. But we’re going to continue following the situation. I was speaking to Guillaume Long, former foreign minister under Correa, and former ambassador to the UN in Geneva under President Moreno. Thanks for having joined us again today, Guillaume.
GUILLAUME LONG: Thank you.
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