Ecuador’s Presidential Election is the “Stalingrad” of Latin America’s Left
The outcome of the presidential election in Ecuador will determine the future of Latin America’s left, argues political science Prof. Atilio Boron
GREGORY WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Gregory Wilpert, coming to you from Quito, Ecuador.
This coming Sunday, on February 19, Ecuador will hold its presidential and legislative elections. It’s a crucial election because President Rafael Correa, who’s been president for the past 10 years, is not running again. And so, this election could potentially decide whether the rightward shift in Latin America will continue, or if it will be interrupted, and a progressive left government will return to office again. So, this is a very important election.
Joining me here in Quito, to discuss Ecuador, and the election in the Latin America context, is Professor Atilio Boron. Atilio is Professor at the University of Buenos Aires, he’s a political science and sociology… and he’s written extensively on Latin American politics and social movements.
Thank you so much, Professor Atilio, for joining us today.
ATILIO BORON: Okay, thank you, Greg, my pleasure to be here with you.
GREGORY WILPERT: Following the rightward shift in Brazil, and in Argentina last year, in addition to the fact that in Peru, Colombia, and Mexico, there are already right-wing governments. That means only in Ecuador, Bolivia, and Venezuela, progressive left governments are still in power. In an article recently, you wrote –- that was published on the Rebellion website –- you wrote that this Ecuadorian election, is Latin America’s Stalingrad. Why did you call it that?
ATILIO BORON: Well, yes, I used the analogy with Stalingrad battle, because the Stalingrad battle finally decided the fate of the Second World War, okay? And I saw that in the case of the Ecuadorian election, if the candidate of Alianza PAIS is defeated by the right, then I will seriously think that perhaps that progressive cycle, which started in Latin America, with the election of President Hugo Chávez, in December 1998, may be over. This is why it’s so crucial, okay?
But if, on the contrary, the left is able to reassert itself in government, and winning the election in Ecuador, then I think that there are good chances that a new period of expansion of the progressive forces may be relaunched in Latin America. By this I mean the following: that the continuation of the process in Ecuador, will be a very interesting source of inspiration for people who are fighting against neo-liberal governments in Argentina, and Brazil. If they see that Ecuador falls, if the Ecuadorian left is defeated, then the discouragement will be very, very great.
On the contrary, if they see Lenín Moreno winning the election, they will see on the horizon there is some light, and that we may have a chance to recover again, and regain the impulse that was lost in the last year. This is why it’s so crucial for us.
Also, if I may add this, Greg, is because the election in Ecuador has an international relevance. Maybe later we could talk about that. Not only important in terms of Latin American politics, which of course it is, but also for the general international system.
GREGORY WILPERT: What would it mean, then, for Ecuador, should one of the right-wing candidates win, in your opinion, if Lasso, Guillermo Lasso, or Cynthia Viteri, will win the election here in Ecuador?
ATILIO BORON: Well, if some of these candidates win, which I may add is very, very unlikely. But, of course, in politics you never can say this will not happen. What I expect, is a sort of social catastrophe like the one we are experiencing now in Argentina. Everybody knows, you know? Even the investment banks on Wall Street have been issuing some reports, in which they show a great deal of concern, regarding the economic future of Argentina. They are saying that things are not going well.
In fact, the decline in the standard of living of large sections of the population, which I mean large sections are not just the lower popular sector, but you are talking about even the middle class, and the solidly established middle class. Which in this moment is really under threat. Because rational economic policy, in which the only ones which are benefiting, are just the super-rich in the country. This is an experience we have never had, not even under the military rule. Not even under the military rule, have we experienced something as brutal as what we are experiencing under Mr. … And my fear is that if the right wins here, if Mr. Lasso, or Mrs. Viteri wins in Ecuador, there is no doubt that they will launch a similar program, like the one that is carrying out in Argentina.
GREGORY WILPERT: One of the issues that’s recently become a hot campaign topic here, is that the right-wing candidates are accusing the government of corruption. And actually one of them is also accusing the vice-presidential candidate, Jorge Glas, of having known about corruption in the state oil company.
What effect do you think this will have on the campaign, especially in light of all of the corruption accusations that have been going on recently in Latin America, especially because of the whole Odebrecht scandal, that broke out in Brazil, and is now affecting practically all of Latin America?
ATILIO BORON: Oh, I don’t think it’s going to have a great impact, for many reasons. First, there are serious doubts about how realistic, and how well grounded, is such an accusation. Of course, in any government, in absolutely any government, you always will find an official who is corrupt, or a politician who is corrupt. I don’t know any political system in the world, in which you are free from having this kind of problem.
Even in the Vatican, Pope Francis is fighting strongly against corruption within the Vatican Bank, which has been taken over by the Mafia Calabrese, the Mafia from Calabria. I don’t know how to say it in… the Mafia in Italy, in other words.
Maybe in the case of Ecuador, there were some officials, which really were included also of corruption. But what I have seen here, is that the government reacted very, very promptly, by contradistinction to other governments in Latin America. Which for diplomatic reasons, I will not mention, but everybody knows. In which corruption is protected, from the upper echelons of the power structure, in which all the power structure is corrupt. You cannot say that in the case of Ecuador. It’s one of the countries, which I will say, is one of the more honest political systems worldwide.
I cannot say the same for many other countries in Latin America, but I can clearly make this remark regarding Ecuador. You don’t see, in Ecuador, the spectacle that you see in many countries; for instance, take the case of Mexico, in which local authorities became, super-millionaires in six years. You don’t see this in Ecuador. Not even the right was able to identify one politician, saying this guy was poor, … I don’t know, Rafael … and six years later, he’s a millionaire. It is impossible.
So, it is quite honest, the political system in Ecuador. Of course, always there is somebody who may try to take advantage, and get involved in an act of corruption. But as a whole, the system is sound.
Secondly, for the people in Latin America, they know for centuries that politicians are corrupt. It’s not a novelty, and they have quite a cynical response to this. They’ll say, well, as long as he does things, which are good for the people, as long as he builds hospitals, roads, bridges, improves the budget in a location, or in social security, well, I don’t care. I am against this. This is something which we should be very, very aware that this is a disease, a political disease. But this is a fact of life. It takes time to change this.
Take the case of Brazil, okay? Talking about corruption. The leader of the Chamber of Deputies, which took the responsibility to make the accusation against Dilma Rousseff, shortly afterwards, was sent to jail because he was a hyper-corrupt person, and he was elected by the people. So, we have to give a strong battle against corruption, but it is something which will not be done in just five or ten years. And for that reason, I think that this allegation will not make a great impact in the public opinion.
GREGORY WILPERT: The government of Rafael Correa has been attacked, not only from the right, but actually also from elements of the left, both in Ecuador and outside of Ecuador internationally. Saying that the government has been too involved in extractivism, and has been too authoritarian towards its own citizens. What’s your response to these accusations?
ATILIO BORON: Well, you know, I think that there are some sections of the left, which have a very poor understanding of social, economic and political realities. I read books; they engage in very interesting philosophical and doctrinal debates, controversies, but have… they are not much in touch with reality. They talk about extractivism. Okay. Let’s put a clear example. Ecuador now has 17 million inhabitants. Okay?
In 25 years there will be over 30 million inhabitants. How are you going to build schools, hospitals, roads, universities, primary… medical attention, houses -– how? You need to use the natural resources, so you have to extract those natural resources. The question is, do it in the right way. But to do it in the right way, you need to have a very strong state, in order to set rules of the games, against the big corporation, but not only the big corporation. Against the illegal, for instance, mining, which in a country like this, or in a country like Bolivia, it’s a very serious problem.
I’ve talked with many experts in both countries, in both Bolivia and Ecuador. And they told me, look, if even wealth, the damage done by the so-called informal mining, because we cannot control them. We are looking at the big companies, because we cannot control them, but the older guys and the little, small local enterprises, are even more predatory than the big ones.
So, you have to control that. But what you cannot do, is to say, well, we are not going to strike more resources, we are going to leave the oil here, the minerals there, so this is not… it’s complete irresponsibility, to begin with. So, these people who are so critical to President Correa, should say how they are going to provide houses, schools, hospitals for 30 million Ecuadorians in 20, 25 years. If not, it’s not a serious argument.
Secondly, they seem to ignore that this country is a country which suffers from a major dis-capacity, economic dis-capacity. This country has no money… local currency. The local currency in Ecuador is the dollar. So, any government in this country cannot resort to a fundamental macroeconomic instrument, which is monetary policy, the monetary policy of Ecuador is determined by the Federal Reserve in the United States.
So, if the Federal Reserve appreciates the dollar, this is bad for Ecuador. It creates problems of lack of competitiveness. This is something which is not even considered, by those critics of President Correa. Of course, I am not saying that the government of Correa is beyond any kind of criticism –- I have many criticisms, which may go into those later. But of course, you have to make a balance, try to weight the good, the pluses and the minuses. And in my consideration, the pluses are much more significant than the minuses.
In other words, the general balance of the government is, in my view, positive, not only in terms of macroeconomic policy, which is important, but also in international insertion of Ecuador. The very important decision taken regarding the World Bank, ICSID, this special committee for … of controversy between corporations and the states.
So, I think that much of this left-wing criticism responds to what the Vice-President, García Linera, labeled us, (Spanish), which means something like the “coffeehouse left”, in which you can talk, of course… because there is not any empirical consequence of your discourse. But when you are in the government, you have to be much more serious, and the problem with sections of the left in Latin America, is the complete lack of seriousness to analyze real possibilities.
For instance, take the case in Brazil, or in Argentina, in which, in critical elections, like Argentina in November 2015, or in Brazil in 2014, in which sections of the left say, well, … and Mr. … are the same, or in the case of Brazil, Dilma and … are the same -– they are not the same. But, of course, at the level, at the doctrinal level, they say both those candidates are bourgeois politicians. Of course, they are bourgeois politicians. But there is one difference between, let’s say, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Hitler. In both cases, you have bourgeois politicians. One sent you to the chamber of gas, okay? And the other, well, let you do what you want… relatively.
Regarding the authoritarian means… in Ecuador, look, the majority of the press, is against the majority of the TV stations, are really campaigning even in a vicious way, against the government. And the government lets them do what they want. So, what kind of authoritarianism is this? This is a very peculiar one. I really don’t buy those arguments at all.
GREGORY WILPERT: Next, we will look at Argentina for Part 2, so join us for the next part. And thank you so much, Professor Atilio Boron, for having joined us for this first part.
ATILIO BORON: No, please, my pleasure.