By Oscar Rotundo
We had the opportunity to interview Ricardo Armando Patiño Aroca, an Ecuadorian economist and political leader. He served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility, Minister of Economy and Finance and Minister of National Defense of Ecuador during the administration of the former President Rafael Correa.
With Ricardo Patíño we analyzed the political and economic process that led to these 13 days of national strike and mobilization called for by CONAIE and whşch citizens have joined in a national protest that is brutally repressed by the police forces on order of President Guillermo Lasso.
Also, we were able to learn about his evaluation of the possible solutions to the crisis that the Ecuadorian society is going through and recall the important role played by the government of the Citizen Revolution, and his participation in it as chancellor in the preservation of life and rights of citizen and journalist Julián Assange, who is currently being extradited to the United States.
Oscar Rotundo: The government of Guillermo Lasso has finished its first year. We know its appearance, but we do not know its background in depth. We want you to enlighten us about the starting point of all this, which I think does not start with Lasso but with Lenin Moreno and a well marked political and economic situation, right?
Ricardo Patiño: Thank you very much. Yes, the situation in Ecuador is quite grave. The situation of the population in particular is very grave. Since 2017. back then, Lenin Moreno won the elections offering to continue with the political project of the Citizen Revolution, but backtracked, what we somewhat expected due to his personal characteristics. We then thought he would develop a government along the guidelines of the Citizen Revolution but maybe a little slower, but he didn’t do that.
Lenin Moreno’s betrayal
He went back, he allied himself with the main enemies of the Citizen’s Revolution, the bankers, the owners of the media, the North American Empire, the elites, the some groups of the castes of the armed forces and the police. And he carried out the government plan of Guillermo Lasso.
Guillermo Lasso was his opponent in the second round in 2017, and not only do we say that. Guillermo Lasso himself says it: When they interviewed him in the fourth year of Moreno’s government, they told him: “Mr. Lasso, you are supporting Moreno”. And he answered: “No, no, Moreno is supporting my government plan”. That is what he said it verbatim: “I have not changed my ideology towards the Left. Mr. Moreno has come towards my ideology, he is carrying out my plan and for that reason I support him”.
This is how Moreno began to carry out Lasso’s government plan and later, in 2021, we lost the elections unfortunately by just 4%. But that has allowed Lasso to carry out his government plan personally. His government plan is a neoliberal plan, we already know that neoliberalism in Latin America has no future, because it has nothing new to present, it is the same neoliberalism of the eighties, nineties of the last century, which failed completely in Latin America, because it meant a reduction of the state in the midst of a crisis situation and in the midst of the convulsion of the world economy. And this has caused a setback – under both governments, that of Moreno and Lasso – of progresses in terms of fundamental rights, the right to decent and free health, to quality, decent and free education, with free access to substantial improvement in public services, in civil registry care, the issuance of passports etc.; in infrastructure, because we really made a highway revolution, an energy revolution, all those changes and not to mention in international politics, a policy of integration.
Those were the glory days of Latin American progressivism, with Chávez, with Néstor Kirchner, with Cristina, with Lula, with Evo Morales, with Rafael Correa, with Raúl Castro, with Daniel Ortega etc., all these positive changes that have taken place in our Latin America.
But then, neoliberalism has succeeded – through many lies and particularly through the action of the big media – to return to power. Unfortunately, in Ecuador, 5 years have passed since the return of neoliberalism. That return of neoliberalism In lasted in Bolivia not more than 1 year. In Argentina it lasted four, in Brazil, we hope that in October, the situation will be reversed again.
Return of neoliberalism to Ecuador
And what has happened in this last year, the first year of the Lasso government, is that it has been a resounding failure in terms of the population’s standard of living. Nothing of what the government had promised, moreover, has been fulfilled. The only thing the Lasso government has been doing is, reducing public spending and reducing public investment. It is impressive, Moreno had already done it, Lasso continued with the reduction of public spending, of course, you reduce the public spending and reduce the conditions of public service that the state can provide. Schools that we built, hundreds of new schools of extraordinary quality, not only in infrastructure, but also in equipment, in improving the quality of service for teachers themselves, evaluating them, training them…
All that is being wasted now. In the hospitals there is no medicine, the roofs are crushing down, the equipment is abandoned. They have even left the roads abandoned, to all this, add the insatiable desire to voracity of the oligarchy associated with international capital to sell everything, to sell the hydroelectric plants, to grant them concessions at ridiculous prices, to sell the second largest bank in Ecuador, which is owned by the State that holds the shares, a situation that allows for a level of competition and balance to try to prevent interest rates from growing too much. Well, they want to sell the bank and they try to sell everything. That is practically the only plan they try to execute. It has cost Lasso a lot until now, he has not succeeded, but it is what he wants to do.
What is the level of external indebtedness that Ecuador has at this moment? Has foreign debt grown?
During the Moreno government, yes, foreign debt has grown. For the current government, I do not have the updated information for this year. But we left behind a very healthy economy, with growth, even despite having in the last two years a tremendous drop in oil prices, earthquakes and many problems. We left behind a growing economy with a relatively low level of debt, it seems to me that the level of foreign debt was 27% of GDP.
But with Moreno, the economy set on a course of disaster, he left the country with a debt ratio of more than 40%, which is Ecuador’s limit for public debt. It seems to me that when left office, the debt was around 60%.
As I don’t have updated the information, I can’t give you exact numbers now. But, possibly it didn’t grow much in Lasso’s year, because he was concerned about reducing public spending.
There have been twelve days of general strike and anten points list of demands by CONAIE (Conferederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador), obviously kept short, because not only is the indigenous movement expressing itself in the streets, but there is already a popular movement that brings together teachers, students and others. I even imagine that the church will already pronounce itself as a result of all this criminal onslaught that has been taking place against the demonstrators, against the press and against the study cloisters. What is the current situation and what is path out of it?
Well, there are indeed points that CONAIE has expressed. This is the organization that called to the march. After that, a large part of the citizenry has indeed taken part in the protests. The government’s response has been to say “let’stalk again”, but the CONAIE has teld them: “We have talked four times in the last year”, and they put the dates, on this and and such a day, “and after talking it has not been of any use, we no longer want to talk, issue the decrees of the things that we are asking for”.
And the government, clearly realizing the massive turnout of the population to the mobilizations, began to accept some issues, but also lied. They said, they were declaring public health an emergency, and the Minister of Health comes out to say in a decree that we are going to make an evaluation of what is happening with public health, cheating again, with the main points not being addressed. Therefore, the CONAIE has insisted on the mobilization and the population has continued to support it.
Now on last Friday, the president, who had already issued decrees on state of emergency in some provinces in order to be able to suspend rights, has signed an executive decree allowing to enter people’s houses, restricting the right for information and alloing the police to use lethal weapons. This is crazy! A terrible thing.
When it became public that Lasso had signed this decree, the population cries out loud, even the media did not accept it, and then someone from his office comes out to say that the decree was a draft. But it was a draft that the president had signed!
They then cancelled some elements, but increased the number of provinces targeted by the decree – a disaster even in the way of communicating things. And at the level of knowledge of politics, you have to have a minimum of knowledge of the issues of national politics, of what can and cannot be done, of the rights of the people,…You cannot suspend the rights because you feel to, the rights are not to be applied at the whim of the President of the Republic. Finally he authorized the police to repress, but yesterday he said it with greater force, I can take it up to here, now the police are going to fully apply their operational capabilities; and indeed, the day before yesterday, while colleagues were in the auditorium of the House of Culture, which has been the traditional place where popular mobilizations arrive to get water, to rest, to hold their assemblies and that they had already returned it to hand over to CONAIE, they teargassed thousands of people who were inside and finally expelled them from there. The protesters have had to resort to other spaces, the images we have seen are painful, seeing how they attack people, there is a person who is arrested and eight police officers kick him, they kick his head, a horrible thing. People who are filming, they hit him, they take away the cameras, it’s something that looks like a dictatorship. The situation is unfortunate.
Dissolution of National Assembly and Resignation of President at the same time
What is the way out of here? We as members of the Citizen Revolution, the organization led by Rafael Correa, have been careful not to participate publicly, surely our militants will be participating in the mobilization as the people as a whole, but we wanted to avoid taking a leading role in something that we have not promoted, because we have not done it. CONAIE has done it and we respect that leadership, but after so many deaths, so much repression, we have proposed that an article be applied, article 130 number two of the Constitution of the Republic, which establishes that in the event of social upheaval, it is possible to apply a power of the National Assembly that allows the president to be sued and removed. The constitution states in this case that the Assembly must also be dissolved and new elections called for, that is why it is called “crossed death”: The Assembly dismisses the president and the assembly members also go home.
This was established in the 2008 Constitution to prevent what had happened in previous years, when the Assembly members removed a president, illegally, unconstitutionally and then they tookover power.
The President can also do it; in case he feels that the Assembly does not allow him to govern or that there is some kind of obstruction etc., on the part of the Assembly, he can also dissolve the Assembly, but he also has to go home.
The two routes can be used, we as we have a first minority, because we did not reach the majority, the majority is 70, we have 47 assembly members, the one that follows us is Pachakutik that has 28, we have proposed that article 130 paragpgraph 2 should be applied and the “crossed death” be carried out: That the president be removed due to this crisis that is his responsibility, due to these massacres that have occurred, we are talking about 5 people dead, many injured, many people affected.
The mechanism of “cross death” would imply that the Vice President of the Republic assumes the government, but after 7 days the National Electoral Council must call for elections that must be held within three months so that the Ecuadorian people decide.
President Lasso can also, if he considers that he has the support of the population, and that the demonstrations have been unfair, to run for re-election, he has the right to do so and Assembly members can also do it. But ultimately, it is the people who must decide, after this year of misgovernment, of government disaster, whether Lasso is re-elected.
We do not expect Lasso to remain. All the surveys say that he has between 20 and 30% of acceptance or less, and well, there the Ecuadorian people decide who should be in charge.
The military’s position
All possibilities are open. The possibility of a coup?
Look, precisely these articles of the Constitution seek to prevent coups d’état from taking place, because, in 1996, in 2000 and in 2003, there were presidential substitutions that did not have any institutional, legal, constitutional component.
People took to the streets and normally the power elites took advantage of the people who were in the streets and through ties in the Assembly, in Congress, they decided who the new president was.
Even in the case of Bucaram, who was a disaster, of course, I have to say, he was a disaster as president, but his removal from office was totally unconstitutional, they declared him insane, in the Assembly they declared, “the man is mentally incapable of governing” and that was a lie. The guy wasn’t crazy, the guy was inefficient, he filled the country with shame, it’s true, but he wasn’t crazy, they declared him crazy. It was the vice president’s turn, but the elites in power, at that time the Left of Democratic Party, the right-wing Christian Social Party and other right-wing parties said no, we don’t like a female President of the Republic. Pure machismo. They left her aside and appointed the President of the Assembly, who had one vote in the Assembly, but who moved with such an exquisite wallet, that he achieved being the President of the Republic. An institutional embarrassment. That is why in the 2008 Constitution, we proposed and won in that case that both leave, if the Assembly wants to throw out the president, let them do so but they also leave.
Then the possibility of a coup d’état still exists but it is less likely because there is an institutional path. The assembly members can agree and say, well, if the situation is really so serious, catastrophic, we are going to elections again and that violence advances, because what has happened is very serious, the deaths that the country has had to live with is something that nobody can bear, even, I imagine that even humanly President Lasso will be hurt that the people who have died or who may later die people continue to die, that is why there is a way out, Lasso can apply it or the Assembly can apply it, then it is less likely that the military will come and try to take power.
Before, since there was no other way out, normally the military were the ones who had the balance and said well, “we take over power”. In Ecuador this did not happen very often, but it was normally with their consent and with the consent of the gringo embassy that the “hard” or “soft” coups d’état took place. But now, there are really possibilities of coming out in another way.
Honestly, I don’t see a coup very likely, maybe I’m wrong, but rather, I believe that there is an institutional solution and that people are beginning to say, well, let’s do that.
Julian Assange’s extradition from Ecuador
You have had to participate in what has been the dignity of the possibilities that Julián Assange has had to return to civilian life and regain his freedom. We would like to hear if you have communicated with him or have any reflections in order to close this interview.
It is an obligation of the world and particularly of journalists to defend Julián Assange. Julián Assange is a journalist. I don’t know if he can fulfill that function right now, but he has been a courageous, intelligent, diligent, investigative, honest, frontal journalist, he revealed to us something that was veiled, covered, he opened our eyes and made us notice that the government of the United States – I am not talking about the army, because the army does not normally do what it wants, I was Defense Minister of Ecuador, sometimes when it carries out coups, but in under normal conditions, it does what its government tells it – the US army had committed those excesses, no, the army does what the Defense Minister tells it to do! The US government has committed atrocities, in Iraq. it is calculated that there are 200,000 civilian deaths, but the true number maybe 500,000, there are no figures yet.
Of course, they had two or three thousand deaths in the twin towers and that is why they began to invade the world, to kill hundreds of thousands of people who, for them, they are not people. That is for the rulers of the United States, these are not people.
What Assange did was reveal these barbarities in Iraq, Afghanistan and so on, these horrendous crimes and the one who reveals them, the one who denounces them, is the persecuted one and those who committed these barbarities surely get medals of honor, titles, thanks. The world is upside down.
What must be done is to defend that freedom of expression, to defend journalism that gives information, especially about others want to hide.
We had to make an assessment of the asylum request that he made to us. And we gave it to him and protected him for a long time, but another of the barbarities that Moreno did was to hand him over to the United Kingdom, which they had offered to us, to me personally, when I was his foreign minister. They had told me that they only wanted him in order to deliver him to Sweden, because there was a complaint about sexual harassment and other things, and that it was only for that, but we always said that we knew that was a lie and that it was a pretext, that the Swedish government had reached an agreement with the British government to advance that as the justification why the British kept him and from there sent him to the United States. They always denied it, the United States, Sweden and England, and it is absolutely clear and demonstrated that this was the intention despite the fact that they permanently denied it.
As soon as Moreno handed Assange over to the United Kingdom, Sweden said, no, we don’t want him anymore and the United States, which had said that they had no process against Assange, said, no, if we have a process, send him here, and now effectively they will send him over.
The hypocrisy of the world, the hypocrisy of the empires that do not pay attention to the law, that do not give a damn, that clean themselves with the law and with international agreements and that also make a racial table with the United Nations that submits to the designs of these great empires this is the reality.
This interview was first published by Pia Global in Spanish here.