Rafael Correa: “Conservative restoration” threatens progressive governments of Latin America

((Photo by Miguel Romero))

((Photo by Miguel Romero))

Ecuadorian president calls for limits on for-profit communications media

[Abridged translation of an interview from Brasil de Fato of São Paulo for July 22, 2014. See original here and related article here.]

by Beto Almeida, Emir Sader and Valter Xéu

On a recent trip through Brazil, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa granted an exclusive interview to Brasil de Fato. In addition to journalist Beto Almeida, representing newspaper and television show “Cidade Livre” of Brasília, journalist Valter Xéu of the web page Pátria Latina and sociologist Emir Sader also took part.

Correa, who has presided over Ecuador since 2007 and intends to run for re-election in 2017, was in Brazil to take part in a meeting of Unasur (Unión de Naciones Suramericanas), made up of South American countries, with BRICS, consisting of China, Russia, Brazil, South Africa and India.

The Ecuadorian president, who argues for laws to limit the power of the media, also believes that a “conservative restoration” is now underway in Latin America with the goal of putting an end to the current development of progressive governments.

Emir Sader – Mister President, after your first election you said we were no longer in an epoch of change but in a change of epochs for Latin America and for Ecuador. After these recent events, can we say that we are beginning to come out of a unipolar world, like that of the Cold War, and moving toward building a multipolar world?

Rafael Correa – There is a change of epochs. We began a new cycle in Latin America when many progressive governments developed in the region in the face of the neoliberal debacle [sudden change that brought on disorder or financial ruin]. The domestic and international Right was bewildered because of their lack of a plan, because of this resounding failure of neoliberalism, above all in Latin America. So I spoke of a change of epochs. It was not just reforms planned according to the existing ways, but profound historical changes. Changes in relations of power, in the transformation of our bourgeois states into people’s states, with the arrival of Hugo Chávez, Lula da Silva, the Workers’ Party, Tabaré Vázquez in Uruguay, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Michelle Bachelet in Chile, the Citizens’ Revolution in Ecuador…

Nevertheless, we have to pay close attention. It is likely that a new conservative phase is beginning, what they call the conservative restoration. This bewilderment into which the old domestic and international Right fell after the debacle of neoliberalism and the coming of so many progressive governments, has now been overcome. A regrouping of the reactionary forces of the world, the continents and the nations, can be seen clearly. I do not believe that Latin America will ever allow a complete return to the past. But much of what has been gained can indeed be lost. This new alignment of forces in favor of the vast majorities that the progressive governments have managed to bring about can, indeed, be reversed…

Concerning the other question, whether this meeting of blocks means another change of epochs. It could be. We are beginning. As you say, we lived the last decade in a unipolar world where, clearly, Latin America ended up harmed. We lost importance. Before, they would worry a little more about Latin America, to avoid its being infiltrated by communists, etc. When we turned into a unipolar world that was no longer a priority. And Latin America ended up losing with that unipolar world. The way to change that world order, which is not only unjust but is immoral, all as a result of the stronger ones, the hegemonic countries, of big finance capital, the worst kind of capital, speculative capital, the vulture funds – a blatant example in the case of Argentina. The way to change that world order and turn it into a multipolar world, with a greater equilibrium of power, more justice, greater participation, can only be done through blocks. Ecuador can do absolutely nothing alone. Brazil, a little, it can increase the economy, with its 200 million inhabitants, but for a country like Ecuador and other Latin American countries, little can be done in isolation…

Beto Almeida – This meeting between BRICS and Unasur held here, which has very important implications internationally, may also call for a political expression. President Chávez used to talk about a Fifth International. Others talk about the formation of an international anti-imperialist camp. What would a political initiative be like, on an international scale, for efforts that support economic coordination, like the banks that are coming into being, but exclusively in the field of anti-imperialist politics?

Look, we should be realistic. The organizing of these alternative blocks to attempt to break the hegemony of one or two countries or regions at a world level is good news. But that does not mean that all the BRICS have progressive governments. It is not that they are all progressive governments in Unasur. We have to pay close attention and know how far we can go. But it is already a lot to offer alternatives in regional financial structure, for example. So as not to depend on the same ones all the time. That is what BRICS is proposing with its reserve funds, with its development bank, including exchange with compensation in commerce, and commerce in local currency, as Brazil has already established with China. So independently of the ideological orientation of certain governments within BRICS, these are already important steps for a world that is a little more just, a less concentrated world, with less concentration of power. I hope we can also deepen the political dialogue, but, I insist, let’s not be deceived. Not all the governments in BRICS or Unasur are progressive; nevertheless, we will reach a consensus based on our interests, whether it is a government of the Right or of the Left, in seeking a new financial structure, seeking to keep the means of international payment from passing through the United States, because a decision by the United States could break Argentina. Seriously, because they have the capacity to seize all the payments that pass through that country. So, looking for alternatives, that alone would already be giant steps toward a less unjust world and toward more opportunities for the new emerging economies…

Emir Sader – Given the weakness of the rightist parties of Latin America in particular, the communications media monopolies are taking the place of opposition parties. You have made great progress in the democratization of the communications media. What is the model currently for the democratic formation of public opinion?

Our principal adversaries are the communications media, which, as you yourself said, have blatantly taken the place of rightist political parties. Because who owns the communications media in Latin America? The poor or the oligarchy? It is an instrument for maintaining the status quo. But we have to move forward very carefully. It has been an enormous struggle. They did not succeed in defeating the government, despite the influence they have, but more than 90 percent of the communications media in Ecuador are in private hands. Of course there is propaganda that Correa is accumulating the communications media because we have one of the six existing national newspapers – there are more than 200 local and regional papers. Because we have two television channels, from bankers who fled so we took over the channels, of the six or seven national channels, but there are dozens of regional channels. Because we rescued Radio Nacional, but there are more than a thousand radio stations. So they deceive the public this way. “So much power accumulated by the government and all the communications media are in public hands.” But the reality is that not even ten percent of the communications media are public, and I am not speaking just of the national government but of the municipal governments, the assemblies, the public universities… The rest are still in private hands…

Communication is a right. And it is fundamental for social cohesion, for coexistence. And in the capitalist model, this right, this service, is provided by private businesses that exist for profit, in itself a contradiction. Between profits and rights. And by definition this results in conflict. Between guaranteeing a right and a business that aims at profit, by definition, the one that seeks profit is going to prevail. But it is clear that not only profit is sought. Power is sought. This is a form of domination. Every power should have social control. Political power, economic power, social power, religious power, media power. But when you try to put limits on this media power it is an attack on the freedom of expression. This is completely inconsistent. When we talk about putting limits on political power, everyone applauds, even the financial powers applaud. When we talk about putting limits on media power, it is an attack on the freedom of expression…

Beto Almeida – Given these connections in the monetary, economic, financial fields represented by Celac, Unsasur and Mercosur… there seems to be a need as well for a new journalism of integration because now there is only one of disintegration. Concerning the World Cup, it seemed it would be a failure because the media portrayed it as an inevitable failure, and it wasn’t. They also portray all these events, like the meeting between BRICS and Unasur, as though they were nothing, as though there were not a historic moment, because this kind of journalism is one of disintegration, separation, as though the people could not have an aptitude for solidarity, for cooperation. How do you see the need for another journalism?

The solution comes precisely from the diagnosis. The basic problem is that it is a right, since this socially fundamental good is in private hands. It is a private business seeking profit. Furthermore, private property highly concentrated in the hands of the oligarchy. In Ecuador, the national media are the property of a half dozen families. They tell me that in Brazil, a much larger country, they are the property of even fewer families. The solution can be derived from that. To have many more non-profit community media, that seek to perform real journalism, without that fundamental contradiction between profit and a guaranteed right. To have more public media, which does not mean media belonging to the central government, but to society, to the citizenry, with social control. Not just public media belonging to the central government but to municipal governments, to the universities.

Ecuador’s new constitution at least requires that the frequencies for the audiovisual media on the electromagnetic spectrum be distributed with a third for the profit-making private sector, a third for the public sector and a third for non-profit use by the communities. A very hard struggle is involved because it means breaking the backs of the media powers of the country. In other words, a large part of this spectrum, which is the property of all the Ecuadoran people, is still concentrated in private hands. So we have to decrease the proportion of the private media, increasing the proportion of community and public media. But there will be accusations that we are attacking freedom of expression …

One of humanity’s great challenges for the 21st century is to defeat this media power that has strong mechanisms for making us believe that to criticize the communications businesses is to attack freedom of speech. In other words, if you criticize the financial powers, practically the whole world will applaud. But when you criticize the media powers, many people are going to say that we are committing an attack on the freedom of expression. We have to overcome that deception…

Beto Almeida – We know that you like to talk about the role of NGOs because there are NGOs and then there are NGOs… We had a very sinister experience here. Some NGOs are promoting demonstrations that promote gratuitous violence to destroy public buildings, public installations, subways… We know what happened in Venezuela… The guarimbas [protests], with many NGOs financed by foreign foundations in rich countries that are taking action. But this is a new process that some call “the social face of neoliberalism”… Because we are also now facing this here in Brazil…

It is a very serious problem, with pretty packaging, because who is going to say, for example, “We have here our group for ‘destabilizing progressive governments’”… Logically, no, they are going to put pretty names on it: NGO, social organizations, representatives of civil society. Remember that they always appear with pretty names. In Pinochet’s Chile there was talk of a Libertarian Chile… Our elites always talk about democracy, but when democracy may change something, democracy is over with; a democracy of convenience. We have to pay attention to this. We all believe in the activities of social organizations, non-governmental, but be careful, because this is a new strategy for infiltrating our countries.

As Álvaro García Linera, the vice president of Bolivia, has said, it is not that there are non-governmental organizations but there are organizations of other governments working in our territories to impose a series of restrictions and conditions in the interest of the large powers. For example, all this about “don’t touch the natural resources,” “keep the jungle intact”… Of course, and us, the useful fools, producing environmental goods so the big contaminators can continue consuming their environmental goods in an absolutely gratuitous way, because they don’t even abide by Kyoto. So we cannot play the part that they assign us in the new division of labor on an international level. They, producing knowledge that they privatize and us, producing environmental goods that they consume gratuitously. NGOs don’t function only in this way, but, clearly, we still have NGOs, no longer financed by the USAID, which is gone from Ecuador, but by NED, by the extreme Right of the United States, for “political training,” “perfecting democracy,” in other words, preparing local leaders in opposition to our government to see if they can destabilize us.

So Latin America should stay very alert. And the social organizations themselves, the real NGOs and the patriotic, nationalist NGOs, should pay close attention to this because it is easy to fall into deception and, with an esprit de corps, defend this “onguismo,” [“NGOism”] which is a way of infiltrating our governments.

And now that I’m on the subject, leftist social organizations in Latin America should speak clearly because groups, some of them extreme, damage this progressive process. Consider the recognition that we have attained with the Ecudorian process and even so how much criticism we have from supposed social organizations of the Left in Ecuador who do not understand what it is to govern, do not understand the dilemmas, the decisions that have to be made and defend nature staunchly as though we were not already defending it. And in order to defend it they need resources and they do not hesitate to use those natural resources. So this position by supposed NGOs, domestic social organizations of the Left – Ecuadorian, Bolivian, Venezuelan — who say “do not touch natural resources”… Imagine what Venezuela would be like without petroleum. Imagine what Bolivia would be like without natural gas. That would be suicide and yet they are proposing these things. There are clear declarations by leftist social organizations to that effect… Because, believe it or not, in the case of Ecuador, they probably form a greater opposition than the Right itself.

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