The Odebrecht corruption scandal enveloping Ecuador’s Vice President Jorge Glas is related to a conflict between former President Correa and current President Moreno, both from the same party. But how much of the scandal is about corruption, and how much of it is political?
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Yet another corruption scandal is exploding in Latin America. This time, it’s Ecuador. Again, it involves a Brazilian construction company, Odebrecht. Earlier this week Ecuador’s Vice President, Jorge Glas, was arrested and placed under preventative detention. He’s being investigated for allegedly receiving tens of millions of dollars in bribes from Odebrecht. At the same time as the corruption scandal unfolds, a conflict between Ecuador’s President, Lenín Moreno, and former President, Rafael Correa, is intensifying. Joining us now to take a closer look at all of this is Gregory Wilpert. Greg is a Real News correspondent and producer based in Quito, Ecuador. Greg, good to have you with us. GREGORY WILPERT: Great to be here. SHARMINI PERIES: Greg, let’s start off with the unfolding corruption scandal before us and before we move to the more political aspects of all of this. A few weeks ago, the vice president was removed from his vice-presidential duties and now he has been charged and arrested, I imagine, or put in preventative detention. I don’t know whether there are any arrest charges at this time, but how serious are these allegations? GREGORY WILPERT: Well, the allegations themselves are certainly quite serious in the sense that he’s being accused of having received something like $32 million, not directly, but through his uncle from the construction company, Odebrecht. That’s what makes the whole case a little bit complicated, is because so far they haven’t actually shown any bank account statements where he’s received money, or even recordings where he’s negotiated some kind of a corrupt bribery deal, or any kind of actual material evidence. The only evidence that all of this is based on, and this is where it’s perhaps still a little bit sketchy, is the confession of a former Odebrecht manager who says that he provided, Jorge Glas, the Vice President, with something like $32 million via the uncle and that the uncle always told him that he was working closely together with Jorge Glas and that he should give him all … That is, that the uncle should receive all of this money in the name of Jorge Glas. The big question is, well, did the uncle … First of all, did the uncle actually receive that money? Even that part of the whole deal isn’t really definitively proven. There’s witness testimony to that effect, but there’s no concrete evidence as far as I can tell yet. There’s no concrete evidence that the uncle passed any money to Jorge Glas. In that sense, it’s weak, but the testimony by itself is very, very damning. SHARMINI PERIES: All right. All right, let’s step back a bit and talk about who Jorge Glas is and what is his political trajectory, how did he become vice president. GREGORY WILPERT: Yeah. Well the thing is, and this is why this all gets mixed up in politics, is that Jorge Glas has been a close friend of the former President, Rafael Correa, since they were teenagers practically. They were both in charge of Boy Scouts in their hometown, the largest city of Ecuador, in Guayaquil. They’ve known each other for decades. Jorge Glas himself is an electrical engineer who became actually … Was part of a satellite television company. Later became under Correa, the Minister for Communications, and then also became Vice President under Correa in Correa’s second term in 2013. I mean, the thing is, and this is where he’s been viewed kind of suspiciously by some people within … Who supported the Correa government. That he’s never had this completely solidly leftist kind of credential, the way some other people in government might have. He’s been more on the business side of things and he eventually also became Manager of Strategic Projects both before he became vice president and even afterwards. That’s where his connection to Odebrecht became so important, because he was in charge of major, major projects here in Ecuador, such as the construction of several dams, which cost billions of dollars, plus then of course also the whole telecommunication’s infrastructure, expanding it. I mean, one of the positive things that he certainly has done is making sure that the entire country gets cabled with internet access and making sure that Ecuador becomes energetically independent. Ecuador used to actually import its electricity. Now, it’s becoming … In the process of becoming a net exporter of energy because of the dam projects that they’ve created. In that sense, he certainly played a very, very crucial role here in Ecuador, but under the guidance and under the tutelage really of former President, Correa. SHARMINI PERIES: Now, going back to how real these charges are, and how scandalous it is, and if there’s any evidence related to it. It appears to me that with what’s going on in Latin America, like what happened to Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, all you have to do is make allegations and that first allegation is enough to damage the reputation of the whole person, whether they have actually done anything wrong or not, their political career is down the tubes. Is there any of that at play here? GREGORY WILPERT: Well, that’s a thing, as it’s certainly the accusation that former President Correa’s launching against the current President, Lenín Moreno, is that this is all really a political fight and because of the lack of solid evidence, this is not really about corruption. Certainly, it’s been used that way, like you say. On the other hand, it’s so hard to tell the two apart. When is an accusation real and when is it a political maneuver? It’s very difficult to tell and so far I think the evidence is indecisive, or inconclusive on this. Of course, we have to keep in mind that in many cases it is quite damning. I think in other cases, for example, against Lula in Brazil that was also being charged of having received bribes from Odebrecht, the evidence seems to be quite flimsy and seems to be politically motivated. Other cases, such as in Peru, recently the former President, Ollanta Humala, has been arrested as well also for having received bribes and there the evidence seems a little bit more solid. After all, he’s out of prison. I mean, he’s not … I’m sorry, not out of prison. Out of the presidency, and so the political motivation probably plays less of a role. Whereas, in the case of Glas and the case of Lula, one can certainly suspect that there might be stronger political motivation because these are people who are in power and have ties to certain political trajectories that some people might want to suppress. SHARMINI PERIES: Now Greg, as I mentioned in the introduction, this corruption scandal is being overshadowed by the conflict between former President, Rafael Correa and his recently elected successor that he supported and campaigned for, President Lenín Moreno. What is going on here? GREGORY WILPERT: Yes. It’s really a very complicated story and one has to analyze it a little bit as to what the political positions of each of the actors are. As we said, in addition to the corruption scandal, President Correa is accusing Lenín Moreno of using the corruption accusations as a smokescreen to move the country and the government towards the right. He’s basically saying, since Moreno was part of his government for the entire 10 years really, first as Vice President and later as a special delegate to the United Nations, the accusations that Moreno has been launching about corruption are things that he at the very least himself should’ve known about, or at least the accusations of economic mismanagement he should’ve at the very … Those were public knowledge, if that’s true, then he should’ve criticized the government or somehow distanced himself long before becoming President. He’s basically accusing … That is, Correa is accusing Moreno of being a political opportunist and trying to use the corruption scandal to move the political direction of the country towards the right. Now, whether that’s not the case is a matter of intense debate here within Ecuador and it’s threatening to split the governing party, which is known as Alianza PAIS. Kind of an irony, because Alianza PAIS is an alliance of the whole country and it’s threatening to fall apart. As a matter of a fact, Correa has even threatened to come back to Ecuador and to campaign against Moreno by launching a constitutional convention, or by launching impeachment, or recall procedures against individual National Assembly members. It’s really quite intense and Correa has become very, very involved in all of this. SHARMINI PERIES: Now Greg, I understand that Moreno has now appointed Maria Alejandra Vicuna as his Vice President. Who is she and how would she fit into this political dynamic? GREGORY WILPERT: Yes. That’s actually kind of interesting. Part of the reasons why everything gets more complicated is that actually she comes pretty solidly from the left in Ecuador. She has very strong leftist credentials and she was the former Minister of Housing here. The accusations of moving the government towards the right are kind of blunted by this appointment, because she’s certainly not somebody that could be accused of being somehow conservative. SHARMINI PERIES: Now Greg, I understand that Correa has been in a big battle, of course, with Moreno and it’s very public. He’s been on television basically accusing Moreno of going further to the right politically, but this appointment as Vice President that he has made says otherwise. What’s going on here? GREGORY WILPERT: Yes. That’s part of the reason why it’s so difficult to make sense of, because I think one has to look at the different political areas. For example, economically I think the accusation that Moreno’s moving towards the right is not too far off base. For example, he just announced, literally I think it was yesterday, that he’s going to the IMF to look for a loan, which is of course something that people here, especially on the left, see very suspiciously. He’s also announced that in some areas of the government they will introduce austerity policies, because he thinks that the government is too much in debt. That’s of course one of the big debates. How much in debt is the government and does that really merit austerity at this point? The mere talk of that certainly does give the impression that there’s a rightward drift on an economic front. Socially, on social policies he seems to be pursuing a more progressive direction in some areas than Correa. There’s two areas that really … Actually, three areas that really stand out. One is on women’s issue, where he’s expressed some favor in favor of loosening the laws on abortion here in Ecuador, which has for a long time been illegal and Correa has always supported maintaining it illegal. The other thing is on the relations with indigenous community. Moreno has been very outspoken in supporting the indigenous community, and in working with them, and engaging in dialogue. Correa’s approach has been always much more confrontational. Then finally, on the environment, this is very related, on the environmental issue, Correa’s also been … Sorry, Moreno I mean, has been expressing a much stronger interest in protecting the environment and reducing actually the amount of mining and the amount of oil exploration in Amazon. In that sense, he does seem to be to the left of Correa. SHARMINI PERIES: Okay. Very interesting developments in Ecuador. I thank you so much for joining us here today, Greg. GREGORY WILPERT: My pleasure. SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.