Ecuador’s “Buen Vivir” Revolution
Rafael Correa is the president of Ecuador. He spoke last week with Abraham F. Lowenthal for the Global Viewpoint Network. Lowenthal is founding president of the Pacific Council on International Policy and professor of international relations at the University of Southern California.
NPQ | Ecuador has had weak and discredited political institutions, bankrupt political parties, a highly politicized judiciary and an exclusionary, unequal society dominated by a few in the private sector. But it is less clear to me what your Alianza Pais movement is putting forward as an alternative vision. How do you propose to achieve change?
Rafael Correa | We seek to put Ecuador firmly on an irreversible path toward becoming a more just and inclusionary society, with less poverty and with a state that serves the majority, not the special interests. We want a country that is sovereign and not submissive, that is part of a more integrated Latin America that follows its own concepts and interests, not the “Washington Consensus” paradigm that has nothing to do with Latin American ideas.
The objective is to develop Ecuador as a society organized around the concept of buen vivir—living well, justly and healthfully. Achieving these aims over time, in a generation, but with an irreversible course by 2015 (the rest of Correa’s authorized term) will depend on achieving fundamental changes in power relationships. The necessary but not sufficient condition for the changes the buen vivir movement seeks is the transfer of power from small interest groups and poderes facticos (vested interests) to the popular masses. Ecuador can be transformed if there is a consensus on a visionary national project and commitment to it by different sectors.
Achieving this vision through investment in human resources, strengthened institutions, infrastructure and capital projects—as well as the productive sectors made more efficient through science and technology—cannot be decreed by fiat. It requires examples and education, as well as persistent, dedicated leadership, unwilling to be discouraged by resistance, delays or detours.
The first requirement, however, is to break the stranglehold on Ecuador of those who long dominated everything: production, finance, the media and politics. The private sector and the political class were of mediocre quality. They were not entrepreneurial or public-spirited, but people out to protect their own interests and privileges. We have finally displaced them. They have put up fierce resistance, especially through the media, and through devices like using outsourcing to keep labor weak and vulnerable. Their stranglehold needs to be shattered. Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” is part of what Ecuador needs in order to progress.
NPQ | It is vital for a country to achieve previsibilidad—that is, stability of expectations about the rules of the game and about the processes for making changes in these rules over time. But how can a radically transformational and refoundational movement like yours achieve previsibilidad?
Correa | Previsibilidad IS important, but not the previsibilidad of slavery or other forms of coercive domination. What is needed is to develop new and equitable rules of the game and truly democratic processes of decision-making. That takes time. Some uncertainty, instability and lack of investor confidence were inevitable and were foreseen, for a transitional period. But by now we are setting the conditions for a positive previsibilidad and establishing clear legal norms that are fair, not exploitative, to Ecuador and its masses. We are building a strong infrastructure to attract development, fostering social cohesion that will remove sources of unrest and instability and developing clear and well-communicated national plans. Investment is now rising.
NPQ | Peru faces so many of the same problems Ecuador does—profound inequality, ethnic divisions, weak parties and other institutions, and the international exploitation of resources. Yet Peru has center-right politics. What explains the absence of a strong leftist movement in Peru?
Correa | The key is the absence of bold and persuasive political leadership in Peru and its presence in Ecuador. Prior to the 2006 elections, “left” parties had the support of only 3 to 4 percent of Ecuadorians, according to the polls. But when Ecuadorians encountered a leader who understood their concerns and articulated a positive vision for major change, they responded very positively. Up to now, Peru has not experienced that kind of leader, but when one emerges, there will be space and support.
NPQ | What are your views of US policies toward Latin America and toward Ecuador under President Obama? Are there ways for Ecuador and the United States to cooperate on shared concerns and interests?
Correa | I admire US society, and I had a very positive experience in the US during the four years I studied for the Ph.D. at the University of Illinois. But US foreign policy has historically been antagonistic to progressive change in Latin America and has been marked by attitudes of domination and arrogance. The US must learn to respect the autonomy and sovereignty of Latin American countries, even small ones, but George W. Bush epitomized disdain for Latin American sovereignty. If there have been frictions between Ecuador and the US in recent years, they have been because of this tendency.
I have personal respect for President Obama and for the positive changes he seeks to introduce, but the US system and the power of vested interests have prevented significant changes.
NPQ | Former President Juan Bosch of the Dominican Republic once told me that even if the American people elected Saint Francis of Assisi as their president, the US system would proceed unchanged, always exploiting the countries of the south. Do you share Bosch’s view?
Correa | President Bosch was making an important point—that strong interests and powerful groups are responsible for much of US foreign policy. Ecuador experiences this in the activity and influence of right-wing think tanks and lobbyists, the Nuevo Herald of Miami, and others who lobby against Ecuador, as they intervened in Honduras. But there are other sectors in the US as well, and cooperation with the US is possible on shared concerns as long as Washington respects Ecuador’s sovereignty.