U.S. meddling in Ecuador's politics is likely to continue, especially if President Rafael Correa's ally and former vice president, Lenin Moreno, wins the upcoming presidential election, an expert on U.S. intervention in the South American country told teleSUR.
Norwegian journalist Eirik Vold, author of the book "Ecuador In the Sights: The WikiLeaks Revelations and the Conspiracy Against the Government of Rafael Correa," spoke to teleSUR about his investigation into how the U.S. government tried to prevent Correa from winning the presidential election in 2006, since he was an outspoken critics who threatened Washington's interests.
The information in the book was obtained through leaked official data released by WikiLeaks, including thousands of secret documents sent from the U.S. Embassy in Quito and the U.S. consulate in Guayaquil.
In an exclusive interview with teleSUR, Vold laid bare how the U.S. tried to destabilize Correa’s government, prevent Latin American integration under UNASUR and even promote police discontent once the left-wing president assumed office. A key factor tempering the relationship was Correa's decision to close the U.S. military base in the coastal city of Manta.
teleSUR: What caught your attention and made you start writing about Ecuador? Why focus on these confidential documents that refer to Ecuador?
Eirik Vold: Well, I was here in Ecuador in 2015 to conduct an interview with president Correa for a Norwegian newspaper, and I was doing some research before the interview including Wikileaks, and I noticed there were loads of very interesting relations. And I also noticed talking to people, that a lot of this was completely unknown to many Ecuadoreans. So that’s basically why I decided there should be a more thorough research conducted into these WikiLeaks cables to understand the dynamics of the relationship between the U.S., the hegemonic power of the Western hemisphere and Ecuador, and the interaction between parts of the Ecuadorean right-wing opposition and the financial elite, and their American allies.
Looking into these documents there were just an amazing amount of interesting information, not just those kind of revelations that would hit the front pages, but also a lot that just helps you understand better this very dynamic and changing relationship between the North and the South in the Americas.
What is the specific information detailing what happened in Ecuador with President Correa’s administration, support for military and support for people with power in the country?
Well, if we can take it chronologically it’s clear that when Correa was just a minister of economy in the government of Palacio in 2005, already at that point the U.S. was worried about him because of his fierce criticism of the power of the financial institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. When he launched his presidential campaign in 2006, clearly from these documents you can see that there was an approachment between the U.S. embassy and different media organizations, NGOs, etc. And what the ambassador said at that point is that they were warning their allies against the possible negative effects of a victory for Rafael Correa in order to make parts of the civil society work against him, against his possibility of winning the elections.
The documents also clearly state the reasons why the U.S. was so worried about a possible Correa victory, and it seems it had very little to do with democracy or human rights concerns, rather it seemed focused on oil resources. Let’s not forget that Latin America, especially South America, is probably the region in the world with the highest concentration of natural resources.
Oil was particularly important in the Ecuadorean case so there was an ongoing judicial case between Oxy Petroleum, an American company, and the Ecuadorean state, and they were worried that Correa would intervene more in the oil sector and limit the possibilities of extracting huge profits and operating with that kind of liberty that they used to have in Ecuador and in Latin America.
That was one reason, the other reason was the military dominance. The U.S. up until 2009 had the military base in Manta, which was probably the biggest one in the Pacific of South America, from which they could reach important parts, even outside Ecuador. They were very frightened about the prospect of Correa actually making good on his promise to close down this military base.
And this happens for a particular reason because if we look at the historical context in the mid-2000s, the U.S. was losing political influence all over the region. Their ability to convince governments to do what Washington thought was best for their interests was decreasing rapidly with the election of left-wing, central-left or even nationalists governments and also with the process of regional integration. It seems that as a way to compensate for that loss of political influence it was very important for the U.S. to maintain or even increase its military presence.
Another point was the regional aspects. One of the documents from the embassy shows that it was worried that Ecuador would link up with other left-leaning governments of South America and it seems pretty clear that the whole concept of regional integration of an intensified cooperations between South American nations was something that they viewed as unfavorable.
A couple of years earlier (the U.S. ambassador, Linda Jewell) said the corruption in the past was so extreme it hurt U.S. interests. But once Correa is elected she turns to the very same factors of the right-wing opposition and financial elites who she calls them the most corrupt elite in Latin America. It shows what really matters, it’s not that they liked these corrupt people, it’s just that when faced with the problem that Correa's constituted for them they had to turn to these people as their allies.
Many of her contacts ask the U.S. to lead the confrontation campaign against Correa, but her answer is that first of all the opposition and the financial elite would have to unite against Correa and then the U.S. would put its force behind them.
There were other activities that are clearly illegal in most countries of the world, which were the initiatives of the U.S. embassy to create resistance against Correa within the security forces. This happened only a few months before the violent coup against Rafael Correa in 2010, when 11 people were shot and killed. Most of them security personnel who protected Correa, his car was penetrated by more than 20 bullets when he tried to escape after being basically kidnapped by police forces. And 200 people were wounded.
There’s no doubt that the U.S. participated and played an important role in creating a resistance within the security forces that was necessary for that very violent for a dangerous coup attempt to take place. This doesn't mean that the U.S. wanted this to take place or that they planned this. We don’t have any evidence to suggest that, although I wouldn’t exclude the possibility either.
What is for certain that they actually used all their weight, their influence, their power, all their skills, we are talking about the most skilled diplomatic apparatus in the history of mankind, with the most resources ever seen. More than 70,000 diplomats.
Do you think this meddling in Ecuadorean affairs has continued and will it continue?
I like to talk about what I have evidence, but it doesn’t make sense that exactly in the moment where the WikiLeaks documents from the U.S. embassy in Quito and the consulate in Guayaquil stop, which is in 2010, the whole U.S. meddling in Ecuador stopped. That wouldn't make a lot of sense because it has been a constant for decades.
There’s an interesting cable from back in the 70s in which a person from the embassy says that the destabilization of Ecuador gains U.S. interest. While it’s clear that different ambassadors have different attitudes, they come from different epochs, they favor different methods, but they all represent U.S. interests. That’s their job.
There are signs that at some point that attitude of destabilization might be favorable, it might not be the first option, but when faced with a challenge such as Correa, that again became an acceptable method for the U.S.
And I see no reason to believe that this would stop. I guess if the right-wing opposition who seems to have, judging from these documents written by the embassy, if they win the election and take power in Ecuador, there would be not as much need to meddle, they have a very intimate relationship and they seem very prone to accept whatever comes from Washington. Their interests are pretty common in many ways.
If Correa’s preferred choice, Lenin Moreno, wins the election I would just assume they would continue along more or less the same path. They could even intensify their efforts because their geopolitical context is a lot more favorable to the U.S. now than it used to be, with many more aligned governments, such as the Macri government in Argentina and the Temer government in Brazil.