2012-11-23 Rafael Correa's New South America

The South American media has reverberated lately with reports that the CIA has been using drug money in efforts to destabilize the government of Ecuador's President, Rafael Correa. If these stories are accurate, then the plan's exposure and apparent failure may illustrate the impotence of traditional U.S. interventionism in the new South America, which increasingly rejects traditional political and economic servitude to its northern and European neighbors.

Media reports on a recent U.S. effort to overthrow Rafael Correa state that - in a seeming reprise of the Iran-Contra scandal - outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has helmed a 300-kg-per month CIA/DEA cocaine smuggling operation in Chile, with the assistance of the Chilean army and security forces. Profits from this drug-running scheme are allegedly intended to bribe media and government officials and fund Correa's opposition, so as to ensure the incumbent President's defeat in Ecuador's February elections.

Although Julian Assange is purportedly not the only reason Clinton's itching to oust Correa, according to reports, madam Secretary hopes that Correa's replacement would revoke Ecuador's offer of asylum to Assange, whom Ecuador has hosted in its London Embassy since June. Without his South American protector, the WikiLeaks editor-in-chief would be vulnerable to extradition to Sweden - and from there to the U.S., to face prosecution for the work of his organization. Former UK diplomat Craig Murray, however, notes that the Obama adminstration has opted out of using the secret, Pentagon-controlled funds to instigate a military coup, because "Assange being expelled into the arms of the CIA by a newly installed military dictatorship ... might be a difficult sell."

If these reports are accurate, the public airing and apparent failure of Clinton's alleged plan may illustrate the impotence of traditional Cold War models in U.S. foreign relations; for contemporary South America increasingly rejects traditional political and economic servitude to its northern and European neighbors.

Generations of US intervention

Since at least 1960, Ecuador has reportedly endured CIA-backed assassinations and military coups that toppled popular presidents who defied Washington's agenda in the region. William Blum's book Killing Hope details generations of infiltration of Ecuador's government by the CIA and its collaborators since the Cold War era. Blum alleges that the Agency infiltrated or created most of Ecuador's political groups; bombed churches or other organizations, while framing leftists as the perpetrators; and engaged in other acts designed to incite military coups. Moreover, states Blum, the CIA disseminated anti-Communist propaganda by authoring public speeches, newspaper stories, or advertisements that were ostensibly placed by prominent citizens. Additionally, CIA agents claimed high-ranking places in government - including the office of the Vice President - and Ecuador's post office officials and employees regularly forwarded mail arriving from Cuba and the Soviet bloc to the Agency's Langley headquarters.

Blum states that, after Ecuador's President José María Velasco Ibarra antagonized the U.S. government during the early 1960s, the CIA backed a military coup. Velasco Ibarra's successor, Vice-President Carlos Julio Arosemana, was also allegedly deemed unacceptable by the Agency, which in turn ended Arosemana's reign by instigating another coup; the new junta jailed leftists listed on the CIA's "Subversive Control Watch List."

According to former National Security Agency (NSA) agent John Perkins, once Ecuador finally re-attained democracy in 1979, the U.S. government continued to undermine the country's government and economy, and may have assassinated Ecuador's president Jaime Roldós. Cycles of political instability ensued. After winning the presidency in 1996, Abdala Bucaram was deposed the following year. Elected in 1998, Jamil Mahuad lasted two years, until a military-backed junta ousted him. Mahuad's Vice President, Gustavo Noboa, took over, then in 2003 ceded the government to former army colonel Lucio Gutierrez - who was later stripped of the presidency by the Congress.

U.S. interventionism has allegedly continued. A 2008 report detailed the persistence of systematic corruption tactics targeting Ecuador's security services, and concluded that U.S. intelligence outfits had infiltrated Ecuador's police, intelligence, and military agencies. Bolstering Perkins' allegations of economic sabotage, reports have circulated lately regarding classified documents that expose North American and European plans to undermine South American economies while exploiting their resources.

Correa, the change agent

But things have changed since Rafael Correa became President in 2007. In contrast to his recent predecessors, Correa survived a 2010 coup attempt by factions of the police and military forces. Moreover, ever since assuming office, Correa has systematically decreased his country's economic reliance on North America, in some cases forging alliances with U.S. enemies. He has extended financial and oil diplomacy to Iran, and in January hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Correa increased his country's petroleum exports to China, also opening up Ecuador to mining by the Chinese. Moreover, Ecuador has joined the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA), an initiative dedicated to bolstering regional alliances and to creating a new currency (the SUCRE) as an alternative to the U.S. dollar.

Correa - who holds a PhD in Economics from the University of Illinois - caused controversy over his moves toward economic autonomy in 2008, when he unilaterally declared that a portion of Ecuador's multi-billion-dollar debt was illegitimate and reduced payments to creditors. This bold move eventually led to a favorable renegotiation of Ecuador's repayment terms. However, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) removed Ecuador from its list of civilized countries; and U.S. President George W. Bush reportedly denounced Ecuador's "criminal decision," called for the country's expulsion from the United Nations, and even proposed a "military option to safeguard US interests." Bush was reportedly forced to abandon this line of attack after lawyers pointed out that the U.S. had done the same thing as Correa during the recent Iraq war: technically a U.S. possession at the time, Iraq carried a substantial debt, which the U.S. erased by asserting that the debt was "immoral." Correa, the economist, merely turned the tables on the U.S... and won.

Within Ecuador, President Correa has prioritized nationalization of his country's petroleum production and other strategic sectors of the economy, significantly boosting state revenues from natural resources. He's used part of the profits from high oil prices to dramatically increase government spending on infrastructure and social programs; his administration has spent billions of dollars on health, housing, education, and other social projects, and has doubled the cash allotted to the poor and elderly. Correa casts his political movement as a "Citizens' Revolution"; when accepting the presidential nomination, he declared, "We've done a lot but there's a lot more to be done, to turn this bourgeois state into a truly popular state that would serve everyone, especially the poor." His "Revolution" may be working. Between 2000 and 2010, Ecuador's per capita income increased from $1,324 to roughly $4,082; the poverty rate decreased from 51% to 33%.

Ecuador stands as one example among a handful of South American countries that have increasingly rejected traditional first-world interventionism and debt-mandated servitude, in favor of political and economic self-reliance. Clinton's alleged machinations may have proven futile. In fact, the exposure of madam Secretary's supposed plan lends credence to Craig Murray's warning that the obviousness of U.S. meddling could cause it to backfire: President Correa now enjoys an 80% approval rate among Ecuador's citizens and a reported 32% lead over his closest challenger. He appears poised to win re-election in February, 2013.

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