‘A role for India in our future’

Print edition : January 10, 2014

Jorge Glas Espinel, Vice-President of Ecuador Photo: By Special Arrangement

An aerial view of the Yasuni National Park. Ecuador has authorised the extraction of oil from this pristine Amazon reserve. Photo: Dolores Ochoa/AP

Ecuador gave asylum to the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at its embassy in London. It faced pressure to reject the asylum request from the U.S. whistle-blower Edward Snowden. Photo: Sang Tan/AP

Edward Snowden. Photo: AFP

Interview with Jorge Glas Espinel, Vice-President of Ecuador.

JORGE GLAS ESPINEL, Ecuado'rs Vice-President was in India in the second week of December. He is the senior-most Ecuadorian official to visit India. Jorge Glas has held various senior positions in the government since President Rafael Correa came to power in 2007. He has played a leading role in rolling back privatisation of the key sectors of telecommunications and energy. During the visit, ONGC Videsh, the overseas arm of state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), signed an agreement with Ecuador for exploration and production opportunities in that country. Ecuador is one of the big oil producers in Latin America.

Along with countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia, Ecuador has been in the forefront of the so-called “pink revolution” that has swept Latin America in the past decade. The decision of Ecuador to give shelter to the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at its embassy in London was hailed as a bold move in many capitals of the world.

In 2009, the United States had to vacate its military base in Ecuador. There has been a long-running dispute with the American oil conglomerate Chevron over the non-payment of several billion dollars in fines that an Ecuadorian court had imposed on the company for the large-scale pollution of pristine Amazon forests (“Goliath’s nasty ways”, Frontline, November 29, 2013).

Preserving the environment is a priority for the Ecuadorian government. But in the past year, it has been forced to take some tough decisions. The government would have liked the Yasuni nature reserve to remain untouched. In 1988, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) designated it as a biosphere reserve. Yasuni hosts many endemic species of animals and plants. But the area has around 20 per cent of Ecuador’s untapped hydrocarbon resources. After trying alternative strategies, the Ecuadorian government finally has given the go-ahead for drilling in the Yasuni National Park.

Excerpts from the interview Jorge Glas gave Frontline:

The model of development being followed by Ecuador has come in for a lot of praise.

This is the first ever visit by an Ecuadorian Vice-President to India. It constitutes an important milestone in the bilateral relations between the two countries. India with its billion-plus population presents an opportunity for us. Ecuador’s economy, too, is diversifying and we are following our own model of development. I am leading a very high-level delegation. Five Ministers of State are accompanying me to participate in the India-Latin America conclave. [The 5th India-Latin America & Caribbean Conclave was held in New Delhi on December 9 and 10.] India has a lot to offer to Ecuador in its efforts to eliminate poverty.

We have invested three times more in infrastructure development than any other Latin American country. We have the lowest unemployment rate in Latin America and have reduced poverty to the maximum in Latin America. Since President Rafael Correa came to power in 2007, poverty eradication has been the top-most priority in the government’s agenda. We want to eradicate poverty by the year 2016. To achieve this, Ecuador has prepared an ambitious development plan. We are constructing eight hydroelectric projects, which will help Ecuador to be self-sufficient in electricity.

Ninety-three per cent of the energy will be renewable energy, which will be environment-friendly. We want to structurally change our energy model by not using fossil fuel.

India can help us in a very important manner. We have a lot of mineral resources and we produce 200,000 barrels of oil every day. There can be greater cooperation between the two countries in the petroleum and metallurgy sectors. While we export oil, we have to import gasoline.

The aim of the India-Latin America conclave is to foster stronger relations between India and Latin America and the Caribbean region.

You are planning to open up the Yasuni rainforest for oil and mineral exploration.

We had to get the authorisation from the National Assembly to extract the resources from the national park. There are many blocks in the Yasuni reserve that are still protected from commercial exploitation. The conservation initiative, taken by Ecuador is a correct initiative and we have been doing this for the last many years. We only want to extract a limited amount of oil. There are initiatives that protect not only the forest but also enable us to get some profit from the abundant oil deposits there. We started the initiatives to ensure that oil exploration in these areas did not lead to global warming or cause damage to the environment. This is not the case with other oil-exporting countries. In Yasuni, we take great care to ensure that this does not happen. The authorisation from the National Assembly has a lot of caveats. We have to ensure that it does not cause any damage to the people who live there and to the environment. Protecting our national parks is the number one priority for us.

Is there any progress in Ecuador’s ongoing face-off with Chevron?

If Chevron recognises what it has done in the Amazonian region—the level of contamination—and pays compensation for the affected communities, the issue can be easily resolved. The affected people have been demanding for the last 10 years in international courts compensation for the damage caused. A court in New York had passed a sentence against Chevron but the company wanted the issue to be resolved in an Ecuadorian court at the time. Well, an Ecuadorian court passed a judgment, and now Chevron says that is not valid. Chevron exited the country in 1992 or 1993. In 1997, a bilateral investment treaty was signed between Ecuador and the U.S. Chevron has not been in the country since then but it has shown an immoral attitude by getting a court in The Hague to rule in its favour based on the 1997 agreement. Now a third party is being made liable to the payment of damages. This is a threat our environment faces. They [the West] don’t use arms to invade our country, but they have courts that attack the sovereignty of our country.

Is the case of Julian Assange anywhere near a resolution?

The solution is not in our hands. Ecuador gave asylum to Julian Assange because we believed that his human rights were being violated. He fulfilled the conditions necessary for the grant of asylum. The issue is beyond our control. The solution lies in the realm of diplomacy and the attitude of the United Kingdom. Nobody can question us. We are a sovereign state and we have the right to give asylum to those who fulfil the criteria for asylum.

There was pressure on Ecuador to reject the asylum request from Edward Snowden.

Ecuador is a sovereign state that doesn’t get intimidated or pressured by any country. We have received some diplomatic messages that have been out of sync. Neither the U.S. nor any other country can dictate to us. There have been situations that have been very tense before. We do not accept conditions put forward by imperialists. They may have succeeded before but that was the Ecuador of the past. Now we are a legitimate democracy and we are trying to create our own model of development and are not accepting recipes from the IMF [International Monetary Fund] or any other country.

There are stories in the Western media about the media in Ecuador being targeted by the government.

Respect for press freedom and respect for human rights cannot be confused with cheating and the dissemination of lies. We have a very clear political agenda and the press, too, has a role to help create the right kind of awareness within the democratic set-up so that citizens get all the right information. Our government had faced the electorate nine times in a transparent manner, and we feel that it is our obligation to tell the truth to our citizens. Sections of the media have been less than honest about our programmes. We have always supported the freedom of expression. Everybody can function with full freedom in our country. President Correa is today the most popular President in Latin America.

What are the prospects of greater political and economic integration in your region?

There are different initiatives under way. We have the ALBA [Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas], which is a political integration initiative. We have Unasul [or UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations] for Latin American nations, which aims at not only political integration but also structural integration. We should also mention the CELAC [Community of Latin American and Caribbean States], which covers the entire Latin American and Caribbean region. We are associate members of Mercosur [the Latin American trade bloc consisting of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela; Bolivia became an acceding member in December 2012]. This group aims at commercial integration. We use the American dollar and as such we don’t have our own monetary policy. This is a challenge for us.

And the prospects for 21st century socialism?

Undoubtedly, socialism of the 21st century is a project under construction. There is no single recipe. We want all our citizens to live under conditions in which all their needs are met. We want the project to be developed based on democracy. It is a very important criterion. There should be the full participation of the citizens. Our social policies are aimed at reducing poverty, which we are successfully doing in Ecuador. We are applying redistributive policies while respecting private property and private initiative. Our focus is on improving access to health [care] and education.

Market should be in the service of society. Society should not be subject to markets. So, capital cannot come above the rights of citizens. These are essential principles of socialism. For example, in Ecuador, in the Amazon region, which is a mega-diverse region, the needs of the indigenous people are specifically catered to. Roads, education and health services have reached those areas. These include new hospitals, universities and airports. We are constructing a welfare state out of our own resources. The essential point is that capital is not above the human being, and the market exists for the service of society and not the other way round. We have entered the 21st century with a permanent concept of revolution and development.

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