The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) has announced that it will create a united defence body to promote democratic stability among its member countries.
Military delegates of Argentina, Brazil, and Ecuador concluded a two day meeting yesterday in Quito, and agreed on creating the first South American Defence College (ESUDE) – a safety training centre with the aim of turning “the regions into a zone of peace”.
UNASUR has said that the idea behind the project is to “eliminate outdated visions that have formed our military, with manuals and taxes from foreign powers.
“The goal is to start from scratch and consider a defence doctrine, without starting from the premise of opposing countries. It is important to define our role in the military, to assume responsibility for prevention, border control or emergency responses.
“We want to create a body of higher and postgraduate education to create a regional identity for civilians and our military, and to avoid interference of other countries or geopolitical zones,” a UNASUR spokesperson said.
The ESUDE proposal paper will be presented at the next meeting of the executive body for the South American Defence Council in Lima, Peru on the 16th and 17th May. Members who attended yesterday’s meeting in Quito will meet again during the second week of July in Buenos Aires, to define the Esude proposal.
One of the issues that is expected to be up for debate in the following meetings is the level of participation in the armed forces from each country.
The initiative already has the support of other member countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and Uruguay.
- UNASUR Urges Respect for Venezuela’s Electoral Results (venezuelasolidarity.co.uk)
- U.S. refuses to recognize Maduro’s presidential win in Venezuela polls (panarmenian.net)
Three former military officials during the 1976-83 dictatorship were found guilty of crimes against humanity yesterday in the first trial for such crimes in the northwestern province of Jujuy.
The Federal Court of Jujuy (TOF) sentenced two former military officials, Mariano Rafael Braga and José Eduardo Bulgheroni, to life imprisonment. Meanwhile, the third defendant Antonio Orlando Vargas received a sentence of 25 years in prison, according to the Judicial Information Center (CIJ).
The Court found the first two defendants guilty of numerous murders and the third one of illegal deprivation of freedom and aggravated torture in several cases. The heads of trial were judges René Vicente Casas and Marcelo Juárez Almaraz. Before reading the decisive part of the judgment, TOF rejected all the arguments presented by the defendants and considered the facts of the case as “crimes against humanity” and therefore impossible to fall under statute of limitations.
Human rights organisations, relatives and witnesses, were satisfied with the verdict – both in and out of the courtroom. After waiting for 35 years, some 30,000 people gathered around the Court House to celebrate a day of justice with hugs and tears.
Braga will be transferred to the Marcos Paz prison to serve his sentence, Vargas will stay in Ezeiza. Bulgheroni, for health reasons, will go to Prison Unit 7 in the city of Resistencia, Chaco.
Braga and Bulgheroni were military intelligence officers during the military dictatorship, and Vargas worked as a supervisor in the Jujuy Prison, which at the time was serving as a clandestine detention centre.
An estimated 130 people were disappeared in Jujuy during the dictatorship. Alongside this trial, the Ledesma case – investigating the kidnapping of workers at a sugar company based in Jujuy – is looking into civilian involvement in the disappearances.
- Former Argentine Dictator Calls for Coup Against Cristina Kirchner’s Government (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Bolivia’s President Evo Morales has received approval from the country’s constitutional court to run for reelection next year.
Bolivia’s Constitutional court president Ruddy Flores said on Monday that Morales could run for his third consecutive presidential term.
This is while only two consecutive terms are allowed under the country’s new constitution.
The court found Morales, 53, able to run since the president’s first term was not under the current constitution.
“The presidential term is computed from the time of the adoption of the new constitution,” Flores said.
Next year’s vote will be counted as Morales’ first reelection, under the ruling.
The ruling has sparked protests from the opposition.
Earlier this month, Morales said that Washington was planning to stage a coup in Venezuela, following the election of Nicolas Maduro as president.
Morales, the first indigenous president of South America’s poorest nation, was elected president in late 2005 and reelected in 2009.
During his years as president, Morales has nationalized private companies aimed at increasing state control over the country’s economy.
He also pushed for the formation of a new constitution.
Earlier this month, a trial of monumental historic significance commenced in Argentina. A trial that will see a group of military leaders prosecuted for their involvement in the ‘Plan Cóndor’ campaign; an agreement between the right-wing dictatorships of South America which led to the disappearance and murder of up to 80,000 people during the 1970s and 1980s.
In what is expected to last two years, and call upon over 500 witnesses, the trial represents a significant step towards achieving justice for crimes against humanity committed at the hands of the Southern Cone’s brutal collusion.
The brutal right-wing military dictatorships that raged terror and political oppression across the continent defined the 1970s and 1980s in South America. The exact number of victims is disagreed upon, but it is estimated that the era saw the ‘disappearance’ of over 60,000 people in the fight to eradicate communist influence on the continent.
The sprawling dictatorships across the continent led to the clandestine kidnapping, torture, and murder of thousands of Latin Americans, with the aim of “eliminating Marxist subversion”, from Argentina, to the Augusto Pinochet-ruled Chile.
Targets of the eradication were officially stated as members of left-wing armed groups such as the MIR (Chile), the Montoneros (Argentina), and the Tupamaros (Uruguay), although the operation targeted trade unionists, family members, and anyone remotely considered a ‘political opponent’.
The formation of ‘Plan Cóndor’ – or ‘Operation Condor’ in English– was paramount to the continuation and reach of the dictatorships. The collusion of Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Brazil (and later Ecuador and Peru) enabled leaders to obtain resources and allies, thus continuing their left-wing eradication.
Set in the context of the Cold War, there was a palpable communist fear felt across the globe; something that enabled the dictatorships to garner significant funding and assistance from the United States. Declassified CIA documents –thousands of which were released in 1999 (here, here, here, and here)- show the key role the US played in the proliferation of the dictatorships. Politicians such as former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger have been heavily implicated as having been fundamental in the realisation of the kidnapping, torture, and murder of political enemies.
Argentina in particular saw one of the highest cases of ‘disappearances’ during the period of mass military dictatorships, with human rights’ organisations estimating the figure to stand at 30,000. Justice for the crimes against humanity committed during this period of state terrorism arguably began with the Juicio a las Juntas in 1985. The trial proved the crimes of the dictatorship for the first time, and led to the imprisonment of key figures such as Jorge Videla and Emilio Massera, both of whom received life imprisonment sentences, along with numerous others.
However, the work of the historic trial was largely undone, or at least heavily marred, by the amnesty laws passed during Raul Alfonsin’s government, which protected military officers from allegations and prosecution for crimes against humanity. This was followed by President Carlos Menem’s pardoning of the junta leaders in 1989. Protests and campaigning by organisations such as the Madres of Plaza de Mayo were fundamental in the repeal of the amnesty laws by the Argentine Supreme Court in 2005 under the government of Néstor Kirchner.
For the first time, the collusion between governments and dictators under the ‘Plan Cóndor’ campaign will be investigated. Twenty five defendants are on trial in Buenos Aires in what has been described as a ‘mega-trial’, expected to last two years and scheduled to hear 500 witness statements. Lawyer Carolina Varsky described the trial as: “historic as it’s the first to deal with the repression coordinated between Latin American dictatorships.”
All suspects being tried are Argentine, with the exception of Uruguayan Manuel Cordero, who is accused of participating in death squads and torture at the Orletti clandestine detention centre in the city. Cordero was extradited by Brazil, where he was living prior to the trial. The list of defendants features 22 Argentine military intelligence officers and agents, including former de facto presidents Jorge Videla and Reynaldo Bignone, both of whom are already serving life imprisonment sentences, which they will most likely not outlive.
Argentine political scientist Ariel Raidan spoke with The Argentina Independent about the significance of the commencement of the trial, and said how it signifies the government’s focus on “building a more just society, where truth and justice come first, overcoming years of impunity.”
“The countries of the continent are beginning to revise its tragic past. Both advances and setbacks have occurred in the fight for justice over the years, but this trial has a clear conviction to expose as many facts as possible” continued Raidan.
The trial will investigate the cases of over 170 victims, including 65 who were imprisoned at the infamous Orletti torture centre in Buenos Aires. Victims were often kidnapped from their home country and transported to the facilities of a neighbouring country; a practice made possible by the collusion of governments in the Southern Cone. Much evidence to be examined in the trial, and what prosecutors are heavily basing their case upon, comes from the now declassified US documents, obtained by the non-governmental organisation National Security Archive. Released under the Freedom of Information Act, the documents detail how Henry Kissinger and many other high-ranking officials in the US not only gave full support and funding to the Argentine military junta, but also urged the country to accelerate protocol and finish their operations before the US Congress cut aid. The documents, featuring signatures of many high-ranking officials, have led to accusations that the US was a secret collaborator, partner, and sponsor of the operation.
Additionally, documents identified as the ‘Archives of Terror’, discovered in a police station in 1992, were significant in the uncovering of the role of Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela. These countries provided intelligence information that had been requested by ‘Plan Cóndor’ participating countries.
The victims are comprised of approximately 80 Uruguayans, 50 Argentines, 20 Chileans, and a dozen from Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. The disappearance of two Cuban consulate officials will also form part of the proceedings. Out of the 170 victims, 42 survived the dictatorship’s brutal treatment and many of them are expected to give first hand accounts during their testimonies in court. The remaining victims were murdered or ‘disappeared’ at the hands of the Cóndor agreement.
John Dinges, author of ‘The Condor Years: How Pinochet and his Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents’, said that, “this is historic in the sense that we’re going to hear from 500 witnesses. And really, in the Latin American legal system, it’s unusual. It’s really only coming to the fore now that you hear witnesses, as opposed to just seeing them give their testimony to judges in a closed room, and then later on people like me might go and read those testimonies, but really it doesn’t become public. This is all public. And apparently, a lot of it is being videotaped. So this is the first time that the general public is going to hear the details of this horrible, horrible list of atrocities that killed so many people.”
Alcira Ríos, the lawyer representing a Paraguayan victim whose case is to be tried in the coming months, said “we’re delighted that after years of struggle this has finally come to trial… the ‘disappeared’ deserve justice.”
Raidan spoke of his hope that “the trial will shed light on the specific articulation and coordination of the military juntas that ruled the countries of the Southern Cone”. The hope of many is to see clandestine details released that have for so long been shrouded in secrecy and cover-ups. The culmination of new documents, evidence, and witness statements has created a strong sense of hope that further justice will be achieved over the course of the trial. “The documents are very useful in establishing a comprehensive analytical framework of what Operation Condor was,” said Pablo Enrique Ouvina, the lead prosecutor in the case.
Miguel Angel Osorio, federal prosecutor in the case, has said that he is convinced of the existence of Operation Condor and that he believes it will be clearly proved, as well as “the actions of those implicated [in the plan] which prove that there was a illicit agreement to move people from one country to another”.
Perhaps closure will not be fully achieved over the brutal repression and crimes against humanity committed during this era, but there is a palpable sense surrounding the case that some semblance of a resolution will be achieved; that justice will be reached.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced yesterday that he will initiate “an agenda of transformation” in the 16 months he has left in office.
This announcement comes as Santos continues peace negotiations with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Congress announced last week that a resolution will be made with the armed revolutionary group by August.
“Our vision is of a just, modern, and safe Colombia,” Santos said, according to El Tiempo.
He added that disarming FARC is not enough and that the system must change in order to avoid similar situations in the future.
“Some people continue to be stuck in the past, selling us a vision of a Colombia condemned to another 50 years of violence, paralysed by fear and without the capacity to imagine anything more than what it has always been,” he said. “However we, the large majority, believe in our future.”
Officials and Santos finalised this new “comprehensive government strategy” in a meeting Monday.
Beginning today, union directors and business owners will begin meeting to design and begin this project that Santos called “an emergency plan for growth and productivity.”
Beyond lowering rates of violence in the country, the president announced goals of a more “modern Colombia,” including plans to build 317 kilometres of highways this year.
Santos added that he is “committed… to making it so that Colombia can say ‘we have peace’ before leaving the government.”
Oral proceedings for the 24 suspects charged with crimes against humanity under the ‘Plan Cóndor’ trial began earlier this morning. The Federal Oral Court N° 1 will hear testimony from around 500 witnesses in a trial that is set to last for at least two years.
Operation Condor (as it is referred to in English) refers to a clandestine agreement between South American right wing dictatorships that sought to persecute and rid the Southern Cone of political dissidents, mainly leftists. Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay were among the countries involved.
The plan allowed for political dissidents to be persecuted outside of their own countries. This was facilitated by the collaboration and exchange of information between the respective countries, the coordination of prisoner relocation, and the ‘disappearing’ of those who opposed them politically. Argentina’s ex dictator, Jorge Videla, is among those most heavily implicated in the plot.
The plan, referred to as an “annihilation device” by the federal prosecutor Miguel Angel Osorio, is responsible for 171 crimes committed in Argentina alone, most of which were carried out in the clandestine centre Automotores Orletti.
In an example of collaboration between the regimes, the daughter in law of Argentine poet Juan Gelman, María Claudia Irureta Goyena, was taken to a detention centre in Montevideo. She was killed after giving birth to her daughter, Macarena.
The human rights organisation Amnesty International said yesterday that, “the trial is a historic landmark in the fight against the impunity of crimes committed by authoritarian military governments during the 70s and 80s”.
Osorio has said that he is convinced of the existence of Operation Condor and that he believes its existence will be proved, above all, through “the actions of those implicated [in the plan] which prove that there was an illicit agreement to move people from one country to another”.
Videla, aged 87 and dressed in a blue suit and tie, listened to the opening accusations unperturbed. This is his fourth hearing related to crimes against humanity carried out under his dictatorship, when it is estimated that around 30000 people were ‘disappeared’.
The signing of twenty-seven new economic and social agreements between the nations of South America and Africa was the product of three days of meetings held between representatives of more than 60 countries in Equatorial Guinea last week.
The Third South America Africa Summit (ASA) took place just outside the capital of Malabo, where heads of states and high-ranking officials outlined ways to improve commercial, technological and transportation collaboration between the two continents.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff as well as Bolivia’s President Evo Morales were in attendance on Friday as were the presidents of Nigeria, South Africa, Senegal, Suriname and Cape Verde, among others.
“We are here to contribute with our experiences together, always thinking about the liberation of our countries in Africa as well as in Latin America and the Caribbean”, said President Morales on Friday.
During his speech, Morales drew attention to the need to take back the natural resources that have been “looted” by the United States and Europe, highlighting the gains that have been made as a result of such policies in the Americas.
“We began to take back our resources and the result has been a change in the economic and financial history of much of the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean”, the Bolivian head of state asserted.
“Unity for the dignity of our peoples, unity for equality, and, above all, unity for our liberation”, he added.
This sentiment of economic and political independence was echoed by the majority of ASA representatives including Nigerian Foreign Minister, Viola Adaku Onwuliri.
“Let’s show our ability to make tangible decisions that will lead to economic development and the integration of Africa and South America.
With true political will, we will be able to achieve it, just a s we have already been able to overcome the burdens of colonialism and racism”, Onwuliri said.
For his part, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua read a letter written by Hugo Chavez who apologized for his inability to participate personally in the conference.
“I truly lament, in the deepest of ways, my inability to be physically present with you and I reiterate once again…my most irrevocable commitment to the cause of union between our people”, the Venezuelan President wrote.
In his missive, Chavez hailed the “indivisible historic ties” that bind the regions and which have obliged the two continents “to walk together until the very end”.
“I will never be tired of saying it: we are one people. We must find each other, beyond the formalities and the speeches, in the feeling of unity.”
“In this way we will take our people out of the labyrinth where they had been cast by colonialism and, in the 20th century, by neoliberal capitalism”, the head of state said.
EXPANDING THE ALLIANCE
Apart from the commercial accords inked on Saturday, participating countries also expressed their support for Argentina in its territorial dispute with the United Kingdom over the Falkland Islands.
A further resolution saw the condemnation of the more than 50 year-old US blockade on Cuba and a declaration calling for Palestine to become a full member of the United Nations.
Many countries expressed their desire for the expansion of the ASA alliance, advocating the inclusion of all of Latin America and the Caribbean, not only those members belonging to the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) bloc.
President Nguema of Equatorial Guinea described the absence of these nations as “unjustifiable” given the important commonalities that exist between Africa and the developing nations of the Americas.
“The history of our continents, largely exploited by other countries, compels us to take measures of South-South cooperation which will allow us to emerge with liberty, independence and coexistence in this globalized world of confronting interests”, Nguema said.
Following this line, the President of the Spanish-speaking African nation proposed that ASA be incorporated into the recently established Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) alliance that includes all countries in the Americas except the United States and Canada.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jaua reported that Nguema’s proposal has received the support of many allied Latin American nations and that “what needs to be done is to discuss [the proposal] with Unasur and then with CELAC”.
Jaua additionally informed that there will be an encounter between the leading members of ASA next month in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas to guarantee the materialization of the agreements signed last weekend.
“On April 26, there will be a meeting of the Follow-Up Commission which is made up of Nigeria, Brazil, and Equatorial Guinea to see through the accords that have been solidified in this third summit,” the Venezuelan Minister said.
FINDING ITS FOOTING
The tri-annual ASA first took place in Abuya, Nigeria in 2006 and was followed by a second encounter in Margarita Island, Venezuela in 2009.
While many member nations agree that more needs to be done to strengthen the alliance, trade between the continents has grown from $7.2 billion in 2002 to $39.4 billion in 2011.
Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino explained that relations between the two regions have not been easy over the years “because we don’t know each other very much and we don’t have much work experience together.”
At the same time, Patino affirmed that there are great possibilities for collaboration and that the two continents “have much to offer one another” in ways that go beyond pure commercial relations.
Ecuador is slated to host the next ASA summit in 2016.
- Venezuela’s Chavez to Africa – South America Summit: We Must Unite (venezuelanalysis.com)
Until recently, conventional economic wisdom held that sustained economic growth in any society could only be achieved at the expense of income equality. Today, even free market disciples like The Economist recognize that these goals are not contradictory—and that growing inequality, in fact, is an impediment to economic prosperity.
Recent data on economic growth and inequality for the United States and Bolivia reveal two starkly contrasting portraits.
The United States, after four decades of widening inequality, is experiencing the greatest economic downturn since the Depression. In 2011, while the economy grew by only 1.7% (down from 3% in 2010), income inequality increased by almost as much—the biggest single year increase in two decades. Over the past 30 years, the share of income held by the top 1% has more than doubled, increasing from 8% to 17%, while the share held by the bottom 20% has fallen from 7% to 5%. Currently, the United States has the highest level of income inequality of any developed country.
Poverty rates in the United States have risen 23% since 2006, now leveling off at 15.1%. Today, more Americans are living in poverty than at any time in the half-century since the census started publishing these estimates. Due to declining incomes, the U.S. “middle class” is eroding, dropping from 61% of adults 40 years ago to a bare majority now.
As Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has noted, the United States’ declining middle class is too weak to support the consumer spending that has historically fueled our economic growth. Thus, inequality is “squelching our recovery”—but U.S. political leaders have been slow to act on this lesson.
In contrast, despite the worldwide economic crisis, Bolivia’s economy is on track to increase by at least 5% in 2013, as it did last year. This is among the highest growth rates in Latin America, exceeded only by Chile, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela. Since the start of Evo Morales’s presidency in 2006, Bolivia’s GDP has tripled, and GDP per capita has more than doubled.
At the same time, according to data recently presented by Morales to the Legislative Assembly, income inequality in Bolivia has significantly decreased. In 2011, the richest 10% of the population had 36 times more income than the poorest 10%, down from 96 times more in 1997. “Bolivia is one of the few countries that has reduced inequality,” notes Alicia Bárcena, head of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). “The gap between rich and poor has been hugely narrowed.”
Between 2005 and 2011, Bolivia’s poverty rate declined by 26% (from 61% to 45%). The extreme poverty rate fell even more, by 45%. An estimated 1 million people joined the ranks of the “middle class.” The World Bank has officially recognized Bolivia as a lower-middle income country, a ranking that affords more favorable credit terms.
Between 2006 and 2011, Bolivian workers’ purchasing power increased by 41%, as compared to 17% between 1999 and 2005. The minimum wage has risen 127% since 2005, far exceeding the rate of inflation. In contrast, U.S. workers’ real wages have stagnated or fallen, with inflation-adjusted incomes now at their lowest point since 1997. Since 1972, the average hourly wage has risen only 4%.
In Bolivia (unlike the United States), domestic demand fueled by rising incomes and narrowing inequality is a driving force behind the country’s economic prosperity. Local evidence of increased domestic consumption and consumer purchasing power can be seen in places like El Alto, the sprawling indigenous city overlooking La Paz, where banks and fast food outlets are sprouting up and the first supermarkets, shopping centers, and cinemas are being planned. In 2012, there were 8.9 million mobile phones in Bolivia (with a population of around 10.4 million). Construction activity has outpaced the capacity of the domestic producers, with cement now being imported from Peru.
Rating agency Standard and Poor’s gave Bolivia high marks for economic resiliency last October, in underwriting a successful $500 million bond sale—the country’s first venture into the international credit markets since the 1920s.
Behind these positive indicators is Bolivia’s state-led economic policy, including the re-nationalization of strategic sectors divested by past neoliberal governments (such as hydrocarbons, telecommunications, electricity, and some mines). Around 34% of the national economy is now under state control—although private investment (on Bolivia’s terms) is encouraged and has continued, in hydrocarbons and other key sectors.
The vast increase in hydrocarbons and mining revenues under Morales has funded a major expansion of social welfare programs, including highly popular cash transfers targeted to the elderly, pregnant mothers, and school children. It has also supported major infrastructure improvements, a significant increase in the coverage of basic services (such as water, electricity, and domestic gas), and a major expansion of public healthcare and education programs—all boosting the living standards of average Bolivians. … Full article
International media reporting ahead of Ecuador’s elections today has sounded familiar themes, understating the achievements of the Rafael Correa government and attributing Ecuador’s recent economic and social progress to “luck” or happenstance, and high oil prices. Correa is depicted as an enemy of press freedom, despite the fact that Ecuadorean media is uncensored and the majority of it opposes the government; and despite his granting of political asylum to Julian Assange. He is also depicted as a member of Latin America’s “bad left” who has ambitions of regional leadership should “bad left” leader Hugo Chávez succumb to illness or otherwise be unable to continue in office.
A common theme in press accounts is that the Correa administration’s social programs are “funded by the country’s oil proceeds.” While some reporting has gone deeper and noted that “Correa has taken on big business and media groups, imposing new contracts on oil companies and renegotiating the country’s debt while touting his poverty reduction efforts,” others have not. “High prices for oil exports resulted in higher revenues which the government invested in social programs and public infrastructure,” the Christian Science Monitor reported in a Friday article. The New York Times’ William Neuman presented a contradictory picture of the economic importance of Ecuador’s petroleum sector, writing that “Ecuador is the smallest oil producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, yet oil sales account for about half of the country’s income from exports and about a third of all tax revenues, according to the United States Energy Information Administration,” just before stating in the next paragraph that “Mr. Correa has taken advantage of high oil prices to put money into social programs, earning him immense popularity, especially among the country’s poor.”
Petroleum exports have been important to Ecuador’s economy for a long time; this did not suddenly come about with Correa. While Correa was favored by high oil prices during most of his six years in office, the collapse of oil prices in 2008 was a major blow to the economy. Also, an important change during Correa’s first term has been the Ecuadorean government’s relationship with foreign oil companies. Correa notably has driven a much harder bargain than his predecessors, “imposing a windfall profits tax for concessions made to companies for the exploitation of domestic natural resources” that “raised over $500 million for the government in 2010,” as our latest paper notes. A raft of financial and regulatory reforms have also put a considerable amount of revenue in the government’s coffers, contributing to the increase from 27 percent of GDP in 2006 to more than 40 percent in 2012. Stimulus spending – 5 percent of GDP in 2009 – boosted the economy and allowed Ecuador to get through the global recession with minimal damage, losing only about 1.3 percent of GDP during three quarters of recession, despite being one of the hardest hit countries in the hemisphere by external shocks. Non-petroleum sectors such as construction, commerce and services have also been important drivers of growth in recent years, including in 2011, when Ecuador had some of the highest real GDP growth in the region at 7.8 percent, second only to Argentina in South America.
As we have pointed out, this additional revenue has in turn allowed the Correa government to ramp up social spending in ways that are significantly improving Ecuadoreans’ living standards. While much news coverage has reported that state spending has boosted Correa’s popularity and may explain his huge lead (some 20 – 50 percentage points, according to polls) over his opponents coming into the election, some reporting has characterized this – as with last year’s election coverage of Venezuela’s state spending– as a form of vote-buying. “Public policies and subsidies are needed to temporarily keep certain sectors content,” the Christian Science Monitor quotes an analyst as saying. “[T]hey also give him votes.” The Associated Press described this as state “largesse,” a term that Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines as “liberal giving (as of money) to or as if to an inferior; also: something so given.” The media seems at times to forget that the purpose of economic development is to raise peoples’ living standards.
The New York Times presented Ecuador’s recent economic progress by using a passive voice: “[Correa] has governed during a period of relative prosperity,” which not only understates the impact of the Correa administration’s policies but also the challenges presented over the past several years – most notably the global recession, which collapsed not only oil prices but remittances, on which Ecuador was also heavily dependent.
Some reporting has understated some of the ways in which the government’s policies have impacted Ecuadoreans’ lives. For example, the Associated Press reported that “The bulk of [Correa’s] backers are poor and lower-middle class Ecuadoreans who in 2010 represented 37 and 40 percent, respectively, of the country’s population according to the World Bank.” Bloomberg’s Nathan Gill, meanwhile, wrote:
As the head of a nation where about one in three of its 15.4 million citizens live in poverty, Correa defaulted on $3.2 billion of bonds in 2008 and pushed through laws nationalizing the country’s oil reserves during his first two terms in office. While the moves provided short-term gains, the 49-year-old Correa, an ally of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, is now paying the cost with stagnant crude output and declines in private investment needed to boost slumping growth.
In fact, as we noted in our new paper, “The national poverty rate fell to 27.3 percent as of December 2012, 27 percent below its level in 2006,” (before Correa came to office). (The New York Times’ Neuman noted this accomplishment: “In a country of 14.6 million people, about 28 percent lived in poverty in 2011, down from 37 percent in 2006, the year before Mr. Correa took office, according to World Bank data.”)
Nor are Ecuador’s recent gains “short term,” as Gill described them. The data shows sustained progress on reducing unemployment and poverty, for example.
Other common themes include that Correa has clamped down on freedom of press. Such statements are often ironically followed by mention of Correa’s granting of political asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, such as in the Christian Science Monitor sub-header “President Correa has been criticized internationally for limiting press freedoms and granting Julian Assange asylum in Ecuador’s London embassy.” Readers of AFP might be led to believe Assange was granted asylum in order to “irritat[e] the United States …after the anti-privacy group released tens of thousands of secret US military and diplomatic reports.”
Press coverage has emphasized that Correa is “an ally of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez,” rather than a friend or “ally” of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, for example. This meme positions Correa as “part of a group of leftist presidents in the region that include Mr. Chávez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia,” also known as the “bad left” in Washington policy circles and among media commentators. (Brazil has always been considered part of the “good left,” despite the Brazilian government’s longstanding support for Chávez, Morales and other “bad left” leaders and opposition to various U.S. government projects and policies.)
Another theme has been whether Correa seeks to be – or has the potential to be – a “successor” to the “ailing” Hugo Chávez in a “regional leadership role.” The New York Times’ Neuman wrote on Friday that “[A new four-year term] may also give Mr. Correa a chance to raise his international profile. With the ailing president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, sidelined by cancer, Mr. Correa is arguably the most vocal leftist leader in the region.” No evidence for Correa’s supposed regional leadership ambitions is presented, other than that “He made international headlines last year when he defied Britain by granting asylum to Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.”
- Ecuador’s Correa breezes to 2nd re-election (businessweek.com)
On Sunday Ecuadorians will head to the polls to vote for a president and vice president, members of the National Assembly, mayors, and other elected officials. As we’ve done ahead of other elections in Latin America, CEPR has published a report offering some economic context to help understand the choices that voters are likely to make.
The report, entitled Ecuador’s New Deal: Reforming and Regulating the Financial Sector, focuses on the innovative financial reforms that have been implemented since President Rafael Correa took office in 2007. The report explains how these measures helped Ecuador recover from some of the hemisphere’s worst shocks during the world recession. It also shows how the reforms contributed to a substantial increase in government revenue much of which has been channeled toward health, education, housing and other social spending. Given these advances, it is not surprising that the latest polls put Correa at 50 percentage points ahead of his closest opponent.
Earlier today, CEPR issued the following press release outlining the contents of the paper:
A new paper from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) examines the financial reforms carried out by the Rafael Correa administration, reforms which the paper concludes are in large part responsible for the economic success Ecuador has experienced over the past several years, including its successful counter-cyclical policies during the global recession after 2008. The paper, “Ecuador’s New Deal: Reforming and Regulating the Financial Sector,” examines the Correa government’s taking control of the Central Bank, implementation of capital controls, increased taxation of the financial sector, and other regulatory reforms. It concludes that these played a major role in bringing about Ecuador’s strong economic growth, increased government revenue, a substantial decline in poverty and unemployment, and other improvements in economic and social indicators.
Ecuador will hold presidential elections on Sunday, February 17. Correa is almost certain to be re-elected; Reuters reports that he “has a lead of as much as 50 percentage points over the nearest of his seven rivals in opinion polls.”
“Ecuador has gone against the conventional wisdom and shown that there are alternatives,” CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot and lead author of the paper said. “By pursuing policies that have prioritized economic development, employment, and poverty reduction over financial and foreign interests, Ecuador has surmounted some of the problems that had previously held it back, and that have hampered progress in other countries.”
The paper notes that by the last quarter of 2012, unemployment had fallen to 4.1 percent, its lowest level on record (for at least 25 years), while the national poverty rate fell to 27.3 percent as of December 2012, 27 percent below its level in 2006.
The paper finds that financial reforms contributed significantly to an unprecedented rise in government revenue under Correa, from 27 percent of GDP in 2006 to more than 40 percent in 2012. This not only allowed for vitally important expansionary fiscal policy, but also a large increase in social spending. The biggest increase was in housing, but there were also significant increases in health care spending and other social spending. The government’s most important cash-transfer program (the Bono de Desarollo Humano) increased by one-fourth, and education funding more than doubled, as a percent of GDP, from 2006-2009.
The paper concludes that “What is most remarkable is that many of these reforms were unorthodox or against the prevailing wisdom of what governments are supposed to do in order to promote economic progress. Taking executive control over the central bank, defaulting on one-third of the foreign debt, increasing regulation and taxation of the financial sector, increasing restrictions on international capital flows, greatly expanding the size and role of government – these are measures that are supposed to lead to economic ruin. The conventional wisdom is also that it is most important to please investors, including foreign creditors, which this government clearly did not do.”
“While not all of Ecuador’s reforms went against orthodox policy advice,” Weisbrot said, “many of them did – and they succeeded. It should be no surprise that Correa is such a popular candidate heading into this Sunday’s elections.”
The paper notes that “Ecuador’s success shows that a government committed to reform of the financial system, can – with popular support – confront an alliance of powerful, entrenched financial, political, and media interests and win. The government also took on powerful international interests as well, in its foreign debt default, its renegotiation of oil contracts, and its refusal to renew the concession for one of the United States’ few remaining military bases in South America.” It notes that this success indicates that developing countries may have more and better policy options than is commonly believed to be the case.
Media Influences Public Opinion on Venezuela But Not So Much Governments
In writing about the media’s ongoing hate-fest for Hugo Chávez, I pointed out that the major media’s reporting had been effective, in that it has convinced most consumers of the Western media – especially in the Western Hemisphere and Europe – that Venezuela suffers from a dictatorship that has ruined the country.
But there is an important sense in which it has failed. Of course it has failed to convince Venezuelans that they would be better off under a neoliberal regime, and that is one reason why Chávez and his party have won 13 of 14 elections and referenda since he was first elected in 1998. Perhaps of equal importance, it has also failed to persuade other governments that President Chávez is motivated by some kind of irrational hatred of the U.S. – as the media generally reports it. Most foreign ministries have some research capacity, and although they are influenced by major media, at the higher levels they have better information and make their own evaluations.
That is why Chávez has been able to play a significant role in the growing independence and regional integration of Latin America, despite his vilification in the media, and years of effort by the U.S. government to isolate Venezuela from its neighbors. For example, the governments that decided to form the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) – a new hemispheric organization including all countries other than the U.S. and Canada – don’t care whether the media dismisses it as “Chavez’s project.” When Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay decided to admit Venezuela as a full member of the trading bloc Mercosur, they didn’t care what the media in any of their respective countries would say about it.
Of course the left governments of Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Uruguay and others have been quite sympathetic to Chávez and see him as a very important ally. But the region has changed so much in the last 10 or 15 years that it is not only the left governments who appreciate him. Here is what one of the only remaining right-wing presidents in South America, Sebastián Piñera of Chile, said on Sunday about Chávez, in Santiago:
I want to acknowledge a President who is not with us today, but whose vision, tenacity and strength has had a profound impact on the creation of the CELAC. I refer to President Hugo Chávez, the father of this regional group that welcomes all nations of Latin America and the Caribbean, 33 in all, and which excludes only two countries on the continent: the United States and Canada. We are all hoping for you to win this battle, perhaps the toughest battle of your life, which you are doing with the same strength and courage as always, and that you regain your health and that you can return in full capacity as President of Venezuela.
Back in 2006, the New York Times ran a front-page news article with a large-type headline: “Seeking United Latin America, Chávez is a Divider.” The thesis was being pushed by the Bush State Department, and was echoed by the anti- Chávez sources cited in the article.
How completely wrong they turned out to be.
- CELAC Strengthened by Second Annual Summit (venezuelanalysis.com)
- Cuba takes over presidency of regional group Celac (morningstaronline.co.uk)
- Venezuela wants best of relations with the US based on ‘mutual absolute respect’ (alethonews.wordpress.com)
The Venezuelan Supreme Court says President Hugo Chavez can legally postpone the Thursday inauguration as the current government remains in power.
On Wednesday, Supreme Court President Luisa Estella Morales, following a unanimous decision by the panel, also ruled out medical checks for the president’s scheduled inauguration ceremony.
“The oath-taking of the re-elected president can be carried out at a time after January 10 before the Supreme Court, if it is not done on the said day before the National Assembly,” the ruling said.
As the president has been recovering from an illness and the government would be renewing its term, Morales said, “there is not even a temporary absence” of Chavez from taking the oath.
Until Chavez recovers, current government officials “will continue fully exercising their functions under the principle of administrative continuity,” it said.
Opposition groups of the government earlier on Wednesday requested the Supreme Court to decide on the ruling.
The ruling comes as government officials pointed out the constitution allows the court to swear in a new president without a time limitation for a leave of absence, which the congress voted for on Tuesday.
The Supreme Court’s decision comes as Chavez continues to gain support from South American allies.
Foreign Policy Advisor to the Brazilian President, Marco Aurelio Garcia, on Tuesday said that — on behalf of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff — Brazil supports the postponing of the inaugural ceremony.
Chavez, who first came to power in 1999, was re-elected to a new six-year term in October, 2012. However, a month before the planned inauguration he underwent a fourth round of cancer surgery in Cuba’s capital Havana.
The full text of the Supreme Court decision can be read here (in Spanish).
- Venezuelans Continue to Defy the Washington Post
- Exposing Five Key Media Myths about Chavez’s Health and Swearing-in
- Venezuela Among the Most Positive Countries, Gallup Says
- Venezuela’s Economy Grows by 5.5 Percent in 2012
- There is an alternative: what Venezuela can teach us about the banking sector
- Economic BS in Rich Countries is Reinforced by BS about Venezuela
- The Achievements of Hugo Chavez