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ECUADOR: Correa, Another Bolivarian Socialist

Kintto Lucas

QUITO, Jan 16 2007 (IPS) - At his swearing-in ceremony on Monday, Ecuador’s new president, Rafael Correa, defined his government as Bolivarian, called for “21st century socialism”, emphasised the need for South American integration and urged the region’s governments to join forces in order to restructure public debt.

“We are leaving the night of neoliberalism behind,” as shown by the governments of Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay, Argentina, Nicaragua and “now Ecuador”, he said to an audience including several heads of state, among them his avowed friend Hugo Chávez, president of Venezuela and the proponent of the socialist model mentioned in Correa’s speech.

Repeating the rallying cry “Alerta, alerta, alerta que camina la espada de Bolívar por América (Latina)” (“Look out, look out, Bolívar’s sword is passing through Latin America”), Correa showed a replica of the Liberator Simón Bolívar’s sword, a gift from Chávez, as a symbol of the changes occurring in the region.

The new president, a 43-year-old economist, said that South American integration should be based on “cooperation and complementarity,” and should oppose “neoliberal globalisation that would turn countries into markets, not nations.”

He asked governments to make progress towards “institutionalising” the South American Community of Nations, which he said should be called the “South American Nation”, because the southern hemisphere countries of the continent are “one single nation”.

As part of that “institutionalisation”, Quito was offered as the seat of the future Permanent Secretariat of the Community to the region’s visiting presidents, such as Chávez, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Michelle Bachelet of Chile, Álvaro Uribe of Colombia, Nicanor Duarte Frutos of Paraguay, and Alan García of Peru.

Presidents René Preval of Haiti, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua were also present at the ceremony, as were vice-presidents Carlos Lage of Cuba, Daniel Scioli of Argentina, Rodolfo Nin Novoa of Uruguay, Eduardo Stein of Guatemala, Rafael Alburquerque of the Dominican Republic, and Vicente Williams of Honduras.

Others attending the Correa inauguration ceremony included Crown Prince Felipe de Bourbon, heir to the Spanish throne, and delegations from the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and dozens of other countries.

On the way towards South American integration, Correa urged governments to work for regional legislation to protect labour rights.

He criticised the kinds of “labour flexibility” and “outsourcing” that were widespread in the 1990s, because they “gave rise to job instability and greater poverty.”

“We cannot reduce human labour to a mere commodity,” the new president said.

Correa also said that the ultimate aim of neoliberal economic policies was to “control inflation and the country’s risk indicator (an index to measure the probability that countries will honour their obligations) even if the people go hungry,” and that their application in Ecuador and the rest of Latin America had only increased poverty and inequality.

He pointed out that, paradoxically, Ecuador “is supported by the poor,” because “without the remittances of three million emigrants” who had to leave the country because they could not find work, “the economy and the dollarisation programme would have collapsed.”

While on the subject of emigrants, he called to mind the two Ecuadorians killed at Barajas airport in Madrid during the attack by the Basque separatist group ETA.

“I am grateful to the Prince of Asturias and to the Spanish government for their solidarity against the irrational ETA criminals,” Correa said.

He said that a “dignified and sovereign country, rather than freeing markets should free national and international bonds.”

In this context, he announced that his administration’s economic policy would deal differently with foreign debt.

He said the first step was “to overcome the culture of indebtedness and overindebtedness,” and therefore his government would only contract debts “when indispensable,” and only for “productive investment.”

He criticised preceding administrations for taking out new loans to pay outstanding commitments, and proposed the creation of an “International Debt Tribunal” to determine which debts are fair and which are not, since all countries have paid back more than they were originally loaned.

He called on Latin American governments to unite and renegotiate the debt together in order to achieve its restructuring.

“Fighting together, we can pay without compromising the social goals” of our countries, which are targeted on the Millennium Development Goals, the eight major anti-poverty and sustainable development commitments adopted by the United Nations in 2000, he added.

“We don’t need forgiveness of the debt, but restructuring,” he said.

“We will carry out a sovereign and firm renegotiation of Ecuador’s foreign debt, especially the unacceptable conditions imposed upon us in the debt exchange of the year 2000,” he stated.

In November, Ecuador’s public debt stood at over 10.3 billion dollars, equivalent to 25.3 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP), according to the Central Bank.

Correa also said he would implement “a new development concept in which the state, planning and collective action will be predominant.”

He said that developed countries should create a fund to compensate the countries of the Amazon basin for generating oxygen.

He argued that oxygen is “a priceless good,” but the industrialised world should compensate the Amazonian countries because the oxygen they produce “benefits the entire planet.”

The compensation payments could be used to conserve the Amazon region, or to pay back creditors.

He said it was not fair to provide the world with oxygen for free, when agricultural machinery imported from rich countries is so expensive.

Correa signed his first presidential decree asking the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) and the unicameral Congress to call a referendum to ask the people whether they agree to establish a National Assembly to write a new Constitution.

The president said that Ecuador’s “institutions have collapsed,” and that “after overcoming neoliberal dogma” a new constitution was needed to “prepare the country for the 21st century.”

“I shall convene a popular consultation so that the sovereign people of Ecuador may accept or reject this plenipotentiary Constituent National Assembly, which seeks to overcome the political and social impasse in which the country is bogged down,” Correa said.

The agreement reached last Friday with the Patriotic Society Party, led by former president Lucio Gutiérrez (2002-2005), and the Ecuadorian Roldosista Party of former president Abdalá Bucaram (1996-1997), ensured that the new government will have the votes it needs for the referendum to be approved in the TSE and in congress.

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