16 December 2020 — The Grayzone
Max Blumenthal interviews former Ecuador President Rafael Correa, who was in Venezuela to observe its legislative elections and show support to a government under sustained economic and political attack by the US (inc. transcript).
Correa addresses issues ranging from the repression in his country under the watch of its outgoing neoliberal president, Lenin Moreno, to the persecution of Julian Assange and the role of a CIA contractor in targeting him and the Wikileaks founder.
Blumenthal and Correa also discuss the prospect of a left-wing victory in Ecuador’s upcoming national elections, and what the US-backed government is doing to stop it.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Mr. President, thanks so much for this opportunity to talk to you here in Caracas. It seems that you have come a longer way than I have to get here. You have come all the way from Europe, where you live now.
Why did you think it was so important to come here to Venezuela at this time for this election?
RAFAEL CORREA: Thanks for this interview. Actually, I was in Mexico. I had to go to Mexico to participate in some meetings. I extended the trip a bit because, if I had returned to Belgium, I would have had to quarantine, and I wouldn’t have been able to leave again. So I came here from Mexico directly.
But if I were in Belgium, I would most likely have come directly, because for me Venezuela is extremely important, and its elections as well. There are a series of myths, lies, and falsehoods. And so I want to bring this testimony back to Europe, and to the world, of what is really happening in Venezuela.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: You talked about some of the lies that are being told about Venezuela, some of the deceptions that are deployed in the media. We just reported on the Wall Street Journal and US Congress basically fabricating comments by Diosdado Cabello, one of the most important political figures here, that he threatened to withhold food from Venezuelans if they did not vote. It was a gigantic lie.
What do you think the biggest lies about Venezuela are that you have had to confront? And why did you think it was so important to come here to observe this election?
RAFAEL CORREA: It is important to have international observers to give testimony. I would tell you, the Venezuelan elections are even boring. Because everything goes so well. They are so calm. Because of how efficient the voting method is.
It took 20 seconds for people to vote, which is good in the context of this pandemic. Because let’s remember also that these elections were held amid a pandemic, without fuel, with power outages in some [states], there were even transport strikes in some states.
So it is necessary to tell the world that there are elections here as there are in any other country. The elections that the government lost five years ago, they were valid then, but now that they knew, certain parts of the opposition knew that they were going to lose, they wanted to boycott them. And so now they are no longer valid.
So enough of that double standard. That is why it is important to witness, to observe this election, [which shows] an organization that you can rarely, rarely see. Very well organized.
You asked me another question?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah my other question was just about the lies that we have to constantly confront in our mainstream media about Venezuela.
RAFAEL CORREA: About the alleged threats having to do with the election, there is nothing like that. You can ask people. Also, think about the following: one thing is if you are not allowed to register as a party so that you call for a boycott of the elections because your party was not allowed to participate or allowed a chance to win.
But it’s another thing if you do not want to participate and you call for a boycott, and then say, “Ah! there was little participation; it’s because people supported us!”. If you have so much support, get involved and win! It does not make sense. They are lying.
In reality, a certain part of the opposition called for an electoral boycott, not because they were not well organized, not because there was fraud, not because there was some impediment to participate. In fact another large part of the opposition did participate. It is simply because they knew they were going to be defeated. And enough is enough, that is not democratic.
Venezuela is an extreme case. They went so far as to carry out the barbarity of blocking Venezuela. Because of this, the Venezuelan people are suffering. It reached the ridiculousness, never seen before, of recognizing a government, a man who proclaimed himself president in a park, who got 60,000 votes to become a deputy in the National Assembly, with no real power.
Because even when they do not want to legitimize Nicolás Maduro, it is evident that he is the one who holds the power. So if they really want to help the Venezuelan people, they have to have as an interlocutor the person who holds power. Not a clown who proclaimed himself president in a park.
So those are extremes that haven’t ever been seen before. The rest is very similar, but beware, those are very serious extremes. For example, (in the past) Venezuela had more than $50 billion in oil revenue. This year it’s not going to reach $500 [million]. That is one-hundredth of the amount. Do you know what that means?
Moreover, oil always accounted for 90 percent or more of Venezuela’s foreign exchange. So the fact that Venezuela has been able to survive is nothing less than a miracle.
There is great hypocrisy when pseudo-analysts talk about the situation in Venezuela, its economic policy, the immigration, and they do not say that the nation is blockaded, that it now has a war economy. It is as if I dropped an atomic bomb on Chile, and the next day said that neoliberalism failed. Enough with so much hypocrisy.
These extremes have not been seen in other countries, except Cuba. But the rest of the tactics are very similar to those employed elsewhere. There are more subtle interventions on the part of the United States. It funds the opposition with the National Endowment for Democracy, the financial arm of the CIA. It funds the so-called NGOs, non-governmental organizations which are really political opposition organizations, permanently trying to harm governments.
But also the most powerful instrument of destabilization it has is the mass media. The national and international media that permanently lie, distort, and deceive people.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: We hear so much about human rights abuses in Venezuela, about “extrajudicial assassinations overseen by Maduro.” All of these basically rumors that were filtered by the opposition into Michel Bachelet’s UN report, and then repeated constantly.
But what we don’t hear much, our viewers in the United States, don’t hear very much from mainstream media about what has been happening in Ecuador for the past year or so. All of the repression; the jailing of Jorge Glas; the terrorism charges against Ricardo Patiño, who was linked somehow to Ola Bini from Sweden, who was jailed without seeing a judge; and your own targeting, your disqualification.
Maybe you can address the repression and explain to our viewers what has been happening in Ecuador since Lenín Moreno came into office.
RAFAEL CORREA: First, I must emphasize the double standards you just mentioned. In Colombia, social leaders are killed every day, and it is not even on the news anymore. On the other hand, in Venezuela, if Leopoldo López is imprisoned for promoting the guarimbas that killed more than 40 people, they burned alive people who they believed were Chavistas for having dark skin, then it’s a worldwide scandal.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yes, Orlando Figuera.
RAFAEL CORREA: So there is a great double standard. It is something similar with Ecuador. There have been great repressions in recent years in the region, in Colombia; in Ecuador, 11 dead, 1,300 injured, 1,200 arrested in October 2019; in Chile, hundreds of people who lost their eyes due to rubber bullets. But nothing happens there, there is no problem.
But if in Venezuela a fascist opposition member is imprisoned, one that drove people to violence and caused dozens of deaths, then that’s an attack on human rights. It is a great hypocrisy. And you have said it, it is not even known what is happening in Ecuador.
For example, for these elections, on February 7 we have elections, and our ticket is leading in all the polls. They did not let me participate, through cheating. [Our candidates] registered on September 18, and a series of incidents have been generated so that still today the registration is not finalized.
That is to say, we are at risk of not being able to participate. They have done the impossible, to not allow us to participate, two and a half months after our registration.
If that had happened in Venezuela, you know what the headlines of the media would have been. Such news would be all over the world. There is a great hypocrisy.
In Ecuador the rule of law has been permanently broken. They seized the state with a completely fraudulent, manipulated consultation in the absence of constitutional control. Using the same methods, they took control of the council that appoints all the supervisory authorities. But not happy with that, through that consultation the president of the republic was able to directly appoint the members of a transitory council.
The president of that council went crazy. He declared himself an emperor. He declared that his decisions were above the Constitution. He was an 86-year-old guy who ended up passing away. Instead of sending him to an asylum, they applauded him.
Among other things, he dismissed the Constitutional Court, which cannot be dismissed. He declared six months of constitutional vacancy. We have lived through all that.
In addition, the political persecution in the Odebrecht case. Everybody knows about it. The vice president [Jorge Glas] has been imprisoned for more than three years; they have not discovered anything. Sentenced with an older criminal code just to put him in prison for more years and prevent him from returning to the vice presidency.
And Odebrecht was never charged. Can you imagine? Odebrecht, the corrupt company, the corruptor, was never charged. The pact with Odebrecht is clear: “You make accusations against such and such political targets, and we do nothing to you.”
I have 36 criminal proceedings. Neither Chapo Guzmán, nor Pinochet, nor Al Capone all together have had so many charges. To prevent me from participating — because they prevented me from being a candidate for the presidency, but I could have been a candidate for the vice-presidency — to prevent me from participating as vice president, in 17 days they issued a ruling. Never before have they done things with such speed, in order to disqualify me as a candidate.
So we have had to face all that. In addition to great persecutions, the former president of the National Assembly was accused of instigating the protests in October and had to seek asylum in Mexico. The day she left for Mexico, her father was imprisoned. He was accused of being her front man. A scandal in all the media: “Gabriela Rivadeneira’s millions have been found.” A year later, he was absolved and the media said nothing.
Fernando Alvarado lives here in Venezuela. They put him on trial for alleged embezzlement for a $12,000 contract. Eight months at $1,500 per month, for the salary of a journalist. Meanwhile a guy who handled $600 million is accused of embezzlement, and he has nothing to do with that contract. It is so absurd that he won the trial, but they continue to have him among the most wanted criminals, there is still a notice in the airports to arrest him.
It is really about humiliating, persecuting people. Another example, Ola Bini. That is a very long story. Initially, our former Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño was accused of having a relationship with two Russian hackers and spying on the government.
They got him a prison warrant for a lecture he gave, but he was charged for spying with two Russian hackers. It turns out that the Russian hackers were not two but one, and he was Swedish, Ola Bini, who does not even know Ricardo Patiño. But that was a scandal that was aired publicly, and they insisted that it was Ricardo Patiño.
Finally they imprisoned Ola Bini. It has been more than one year in an absurd criminal process, and there is absolutely nothing. Later they said that the passwords of the telephone were deciphered and that now we were going to know everything. That was about six months ago and we are still waiting for everything to be known.
I do not know Ola Bini by the way, but there has been a total violation of Ola Bini’s human rights, and he is a foreigner. But since it is in Ecuador, a right-wing government, a vassal of the United States, surely not even North Americans know about this.
Do you see the double standard that exists? In Venezuela everything is a scandal. While in other countries of the region, people are killed; people are repressed; there is political persecution, after decades now people are requesting political asylum again, in recognition that there is political persecution, that there is a constitutional breach; but that does not even appear in the news
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Do you think it’s strange that Mike Pompeo has visited Ecuador twice in recent months, that he’s showing so much interest in Ecuador? Is this unusual?
RAFAEL CORREA: Of course. It is not strange. It confirms the obvious: that the government of Ecuador is totally submitted to the interests of the government in the United States, above all to try to persecutive progressive leaders and try to threaten the stability of Venezuela. That is evident.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: The left is now experiencing a resurgence across Latin America. And Ecuador is next in line. You have an election coming up in Ecuador. Do you think it is possible to achieve a victory there, under the current conditions with so much repression and suppression of political opposition in your country?
RAFAEL CORREA: Polls put us as winners, even in the first round. But with all the experience they had in Bolivia where they were demolished, they are willing to do everything possible to prevent our victory.
So we are optimistic, but never triumphalist, and we expect anything could happen. What does that mean? That they can still eliminate our ticket. I think that would be suicidal. But they can also delay the elections on the grounds of the pandemic. And they can illegally include other candidates. Fragmenting the vote would hurt their candidates, however it could also take away our chances of winning in the first round.
So they are really desperate. They are capable of anything, because for them the worst thing that can happen is that we win. Because they know that they will have to face justice.
We are not vengeful people, but justice must be done. Without hatred, but with memory.
Obviously the main challenge here is to recover the country that is now shattered. Ecuador is experiencing its worst economic crisis in history, due to the mismanagement of the pandemic and the economy, so they are willing to do anything.
I ask the world to be very attentive to what is happening in Ecuador in these elections.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: I know that you read my investigation at The Grayzone on UC Global, which was an apparent CIA contractor hired under the watch of Mike Pompeo, former CIA director, to target Julian Assange while he was in the embassy of your country in London.
And in the course of my investigation I received, through the Spanish court, documents that David Morales had created, where he was surveilling you, spying on you, spying on your family, spying on even your producer at RT.
What can you tell us about this campaign of violating your personal privacy? It is possibly criminal. And do you hold Mike Pompeo personally responsible for it?
RAFAEL CORREA: The spying they did on me is by the same company that spied on Julian Assange at our embassy. The direct fault is obviously David Morales, who is responsible for the firm, but he had regular contact with the CIA. That is what is being investigated.
I could not say “Pompeo knew” but it was clear that the guy worked with the CIA and with the United States. And it is clear that they spied on my family, on me, on my daughters.
And you can see the bad faith of certain media outlets. They already found out about the statements of this man in Spain, and you can see the headline: “Correa authorized to monitor his daughters.” They say “authorized.” I really do not remember, but there would be nothing wrong to have GPS on their phones in case they were kidnapped, anything could be detected through the phone, but another thing is to put trojans there to listen to their conversations. And that is what was discovered on my daughters’ phones.
But the press distorts everything. They misinform people and make them believe that one is lying. They don’t seek the truth. The Ecuadorian press are political actors who seek only to destroy us.
But the immediate culprit is the firm UC Global, David Morales. But there is an investigation ongoing in Spain, in order to determine who these people worked for. What is unquestionable is that they spied on Julian Assange, on me, and on my family.
How does the case of Julian Assange fit into current Ecuadorian politics? It doesn’t. That’s why those scoundrels gave it up. But they didn’t have the right. The Julian Assange case, I don’t know if everyone is familiar with the United Nations Charter of Human Rights, but the right to asylum is sacred. It is a human right, and that human right has been broken.
They say that the right to asylum cannot be for common crimes, but as far as Julian Assange’s crime, if you can call it a crime, is it a common one? They say that asylum cannot be for actions that violate human rights. But is telling the truth an attack on human rights? So the case of Julian Assange is paradigmatic, what is happening is very serious.
The institution of asylum was disrespected. Ecuador disrespected its own constitution. Article 41 of the constitution explicitly prohibits turning over a refugee. Moreno did it. For the first time in history, a country, a sovereign government allowed an armed force to enter its embassy.
It’s horrible what happened. But since it was Moreno, servile to the United States, the press hides the incident and it’s like absolutely nothing happened.
But in regard to Julian Assange’s case, it is very crazy, it is a civilizational setback. The person who denounces the crimes goes to prison, and the criminals are the ones who persecute him. That is very crazy. And again, hypocrisy and double standards.
[They say,] “It’s because the crime was the spreading of confidential information.” I have been a head of state, I believe that there should be confidential information, but not to hide war crimes.
And finally, who published the information? Julian Assange supplied the information, but who published it? It was published by The New York Times, El País, and also the German media. Why are these media outlets not prosecuted?
You see that everything is about power. They go against the weakest, in this case the journalist. It really is a mad case, that is, the one that tells the truth, the one who denounces war crimes, is the one who faces 175 years in prison, persecuted precisely by the criminals whom he denounced.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: And all of this was made possible by President Lenin Moreno, your successor, who at one point was by your side. If there had not been a Lenín Moreno administration, there never would have been Julian Assange being arrested at the embassy, this violation of sovereignty of the Ecuadorian embassy in London. None of this would have taken place.
So I always wondered, you know, before he became this kind of Trojan horse, did you ever wonder when you were working with him, if he would go in this direction? Did you ever see any red flags?
RAFAEL CORREA: Not at all. You can even go back to the 2017 campaign, where he called me the best president of history, the best president of the world, the best Ecuadorian of all time. He said that our government was a legend. He approached Cuba, he approached Chávez, he even awarded them medals.
The guy is a psychopath. He is a psychopath because nobody can tell such shameless lies. The guy was never with us.
And you cannot justify the treason because the guy is mediocre, he is corrupt. Perhaps the gringos discovered his secret account in Panama before us, his corruption profits, which are still untouched. He probably gave in to that blackmail.
But how can you explain the pathological hatred towards us? Because even his advisers told him, “Do not persecute Correa; Correa has popular support; that will create resistance.” But he preferred to destroy himself.
He has 6 percent popular support, the worst approval rate in Latin America and in the history of the country. He preferred to destroy the country, to try to destroy me.
He did not destroy me, but he has torn the country into pieces. He has damaged many good people, many families. And he destroyed his own government, which is now considered the worst government in history.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: While you were president of Ecuador, you dealt with the Obama administration on a very regular basis. And that means that you also dealt with Joe Biden, who is now the president-elect.
Do you think a Biden administration promises anything different for Latin America from a Trump administration, and specifically for the socialist or left-wing governments?
RAFAEL CORREA: It is clear that Obama and Biden are different from Trump. Trump is amoral. Trump is a guy with a very simple mind. He believes that a country is like a company; he boasts of evading taxes; he has no morals.
It is very difficult to reach a consensus with people like that, to speak with people like that, someone without principles. But not only that. The messages he sent, the xenophobia, the discrimination, so many other things, the messages of violence. Trump really was a global danger.
Biden is something else. Unfortunately, I could tell you, Obama was a good person, a nice guy, certainly smart. Same with Biden. I admire him a lot, Biden has had an awfully hard life. But they are immersed in a system.
You can have a conversation with the elites, perhaps even with the Venezuelan elites, and they will be the kindest people, supportive of their friends. But in the end they will not hesitate to order the killing of those people they consider different.
You have this historical example, you are North American. Thomas Jefferson, author of the most beautiful document in the history of mankind, the Declaration of Independence, which in its second paragraph says something like, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal (…) with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But he himself was a slave owner.
This issue goes beyond the person’s goodness or badness. They believe that what they believe is true. This is the notion of American exceptionalism, as well as that of the Latin American elites, they believe it is that way.
When Thomas Jefferson spoke of freedom and the right to happiness of the people, he was only referring to them. He did not consider Black people to be people, and it wasn’t because he was bad. It’s because it didn’t occur to him. That is how he grew up, that is how he was educated.
So it is the same, with all due respect to the US rulers, they can be the best of people. But look at how many people Obama bombed. Look at how many wars he created. He started the sanctions against Venezuela, and at what cost these sanctions have come?
He may be a great person, but he does not understand. He believes that the world begins and ends with the United States.
So I think that the American foreign policy, especially towards Latin America, will not see any fundamental changes. But certain extremes will be cut as a result of, what I was telling you, how simple Trump was, of how much of a caveman Trump was, without morals. Like for example blocking the Venezuelan coasts with warships. I don’t think Biden will continue that.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: I have always wondered, given what has happening in Ecuador, just how far the country has fallen into US hands, how much its sovereignty has been violated, if you ever regretted leaving office and going to Europe, and wished you had run for another term?
RAFAEL CORREA: I decided to do that. I announced in 2014 that in 2017 I was not going to run as a candidate, because my family is binational, and other reasons. If someone can continue doing it, great. But the fundamental reason is honestly that my family is binational, my wife is Belgian, and we had been living in the United States for 25 years.
Earlier, I interrupted the interview a bit because today is the anniversary of when my mother-in-law passed away. We happily returned in 2017, and in 15 months, 18 months after my father-in-law and mother-in-law passed away. My mother-in-law passed away in September 2018, my father-in-law in December 2019. And we returned to live in Belgium in June 2017.
So it was fair to go live in Belgium for a while. My wife is from Belgium, my two daughters were studying there. I was tired.
It is not that I am clinging to power. Of course I know the responsibility that I have. I never thought that what happened was going to happen, and if I had known I would have continued, not because I was clinging to power, but because I was fulfilling a responsibility.
But I announced three years ago that I was not going to run as a candidate in 2017, and that I was going to reside in Belgium. In fact, I wanted to withdraw from politics, because I think one can contribute from other areas.
I was always in the world of academia, and I wanted to go back to it. I am an economist with a Ph.D with a specialization in development. I had the privilege of leading a developing country for 10 years. I think I can contribute to the analysis on development and I wanted to write. That was my life plan.
But the betrayal occurred, and then this brutal persecution began. Believe me, I get up every day to see what new case they have brought against me, what is the new accusation. The last one was last week. They accused me of revoking the subsidy from the Ecuadorian Institute of Social Security (IESS). Is that criminal, to remove the IESS’s subsidy? That is called governing!
They have accused me of being a kidnapper, of directing a network of bribery with a “psychic influence,” of being a murderer, of mishandling the airplanes, as if the president was a pilot. It’s terrible.
In any case, they did not allow me to retire. I had to go back. It is now a matter of preventing the total destruction of our homeland, and preventing the persecution of our comrades and recovering our future. We have had to answer [history’s] call, but this was not my life project.