PIA Global and United Word International share this exclusive interview with Ricardo Patiño Aroca, former foreign minister and minister of economy and defense in the government of Rafael Correa (in government 2007 – 2017). Aroca presents us an analysis of the current situation in the brotherly Andean country.
In the session that began this Tuesday, May 16, 2023, in the National Assembly of Ecuador, Guillermo Lasso was cornered: he knew that he could be removed in the coming weeks if parliament obtained the two-thirds that made a sufficient majority, that is, at least 92 favorable votes out of a total of 137 assembly members.
After an inconsistent defense of 58 minutes, where he tried to save his fate, Mr. Lasso, on national television and suspiciously without his vice president, resorted to the measure of so-called ‘cross death’: The simultaneous dissolution of parliament and presidency and call to elections. He claimed to use the justification of an “internal commotion”, alien to reality situation that Ecuador was experiencing at that time.
This measure to close the congress, dismiss the executive and call for elections in 90 days unleashes a process of mobilization and political debate in which certainties and questions are raised: To shed light on this political phenomenon, we resort to the knowledge and experience of the economist and revolutionary militant Ricardo Patiño.
We have closely followed all the events that have been taking place for some time now in Ecuador, fundamentally since the inauguration of Guillermo Lasso, and we wanted to know at this particular juncture, what was your analysis of this situation and what are the prospects for its development.
Ricardo Patino: Well, first of all, thank you very much for the interview. Greetings Micaela, Yunus and Oscar, thank you for allowing me to share with you this information and analysis about Ecuador.
Well, as we know Ecuador, the last six years it has lived through two governments, the betrayal government of Moreno, which was not only Moreno’s, it was Moreno’s and Lasso’s, because he really applied Lasso’s plan, which was his opponent, but the last two years have been the direct application of Guillermo Lasso’s neoliberal plan. And that plan, as we all know, has some characteristics: one of them is the shrinking of the State, developing conditions only for private initiative, a bit like the law of the jungle. The decrease in State resources, which means non-maintenance of the work carried out by the Citizen Revolution, non-maintenance of a large number of processes that had begun, a real, although unannounced, weakening of the rights of workers, of the rights of health, of education…
It must be said that there is unfortunately a disaster in the maintenance of the educational, health, and highway infrastructure. All this happened, but one of the most serious things that we can experience, that we can, let’s say, highlight from these last two governments, has been the great problem of insecurity, since they have left control in the hands of criminal gangs and drug trafficking gangs of the territory, of prisons, and of everything, things that we had never experienced in Ecuador. Fortunately, in previous times we had never known what ‘vaccines’ were. We knew they were produced in Colombia and in some Central American countries. Now, in each business, each place where the criminal gangs can have access, they ask the owner of a pharmacy, the owner of a company, a trade, the owner of an industry for silver, for money to provide security.
That was the famous ‘vaccine’ that did not exist in Ecuador. Now it is widespread everywhere. I don’t know if in all cities, but in the largest, in all territories, the owner of, as I told you, a pharmacy, of a trade, of a small business, even if it is small, worse if he promoted it on the internet, they send him a note saying, ‘if you want to be alive, we already know where you are, we know your family, pay $100 a month, or $50 a month, or 200 depending on the size of the business, so you don’t die’. And those who did not comply were killed. That’s how there are a lot of people dead because they didn’t give these people the money.
This has been the most serious, weighty, most terrible issue that the Ecuadorian population has experienced in recent times, because there has been an absolute deterioration of the security system of our country.
And this is what we have been experiencing, beyond unemployment, beyond the economic problems that have been experienced, the enrichment of the banks and the impoverishment of productive businesses, etc. The most serious and terrible thing that has happened in Ecuador in recent years, and especially in the last two years with Guillermo Lasso, has been the problem of terrible insecurity and violence everywhere.
At the beginning it was in the prisons and the justification of the ministers of President Lasso and his was that the conflict was about a division of gang territory. That meant that the state was not in control of the prisons anymore. But if the state does not even control the prisons, how can it control the streets?
400 people were murdered in prisons, and the answer was that these are disputes between the drug gangs that are dividing up the territory of the prisons, the gangs. The government said so as if nothing had happened, as if it was a normal thing… It doesn’t matter if they are drug traffickers, which they kill themselves, nothing happens, but little by little this took over the cities and this is the main concern of the Ecuadorian people.
The government reintroduced neoliberalism and failed terribly
In summary, the recycled neoliberalism of our country has once again shown that it is useless, that it is something that had a short historical validity in the world, in our countries as well, and that now they wanted to retread it in Ecuador and it has shown that it is a resounding failure. So much so that this president, after just two years of government, has had to commit political suicide by dissolving the Assembly, because our Constitution establishes that, when the President makes the decision to dissolve the Assembly, he must also go to his house.
Unfortunately, according to the Constitution itself, he will still be able to last a little longer exercising government through economic emergency decrees that will surely do a lot of damage to the country. We are going to have to be vigilant and react so that this does not happen, so that he does not do so much damage in this last period, let’s say in his agony, before leaving power.
The corrupt, inept and anti-popular President is finally going to leave
But it is also a moment of hope. In other words, this corrupt, inept, anti-popular president and unfortunately linked to drug trafficking actions is finally going to leave. I can’t say that he personally, but I can tell his closest circle, which are not things that we say because it occurs to us, because we want to speak ill of someone. No, I am talking about the reports of the National Police in their own government, which made telephone interceptions where the people closest to the President of the Republic are talking about the person who was vice president of the bank for 20 years and the brother-in-law of the President of the Republic.
I am talking about a person who is 40 years old, the closest and personal friend of the president’s brother-in-law and the president’s brother-in-law is not just any brother-in-law, it is the brother-in-law who got him into the financial business, who led him to be the owner of the Banco de Guayaquil, the one who was the one who performed the functions of president of the Monetary Board at the time when the other was the super-minister of Jamil Mahuad who dollarized the Ecuadorian economy. We are talking about a person who was practically his godfather at work and in politics. These people were absolutely linked and working in connection with what is called the Albanian drug gang. I insist, these are not the words of Ricardo Patiño. We are talking about the reports of the National Police revealed publicly by a news portal called La Posta, in Ecuador, completely delivered to Lasso, before to Moreno and later to Lasso, who seems to have had no choice because in the end he said that this was going to come out and they decided to do it.
In other words, that news portal that desperately and clamored for them to vote for Lasso and not for our candidate Andrés Arauz in 2021, had no alternative but to release this information publicly. This ultimately led to the prosecution of President Lasso. I have put this context, sorry if I was a little broad when doing it, but it is necessary to understand that it is not Guillermo Lasso who said, ‘Ah, they are obstructing me’, because that is the spirit of the Constitution; the spirit of the Constitution is that if the National Assembly, the legislative apparatus, permanently obstructs the action of a government, the President of the Republic has the right to dissolve that National Assembly. But he also has to go home, so that later the Ecuadorian people finally make the decision with whom they stay.
‘I dissolve the Assembly, but I also dissolve as president’, so it is cross death, and the idea is that, if there is indeed a permanent obstruction of a legislative apparatus that does not allow a president to govern, well, he has the right to dissolve it and if he had been doing things right, the people in the new elections could re-elect the president and appoint or elect a new Congress.
But this is not what has happened. Mr. Lasso left office two days before, he did not leave, and he dissolved the Assembly, three days before the deadline for the Assembly to vote for or against his dismissal. He knew that there was a great possibility that there would be 92 votes, which is 2/3 of the Assembly for his dismissal, and before he was dismissed, he declared the dissolution of the Assembly, which is not a figure that is contemplated in the Constitution.
The Constitution establishes the possibility of impeachment, which was being done legally and even the Constitutional Court had approved the start of the impeachment and it is in the middle of that impeachment, this guy, who unfortunately was the President of the Republic, decides to dissolve to the Assembly because he knew that, three days later, they were surely going to dismiss him for all the reasons that I have commented on previously and that deserved his dismissal.
And he alleges in his decision, in his decree, that he does it because there was a serious political crisis, there was not a serious political crisis, there was a political trial, which is not a serious political crisis, or internal commotion, that there was no commotion either internal.
Someone could say well, that October 19, there was some internal commotion, that is, the country was paralyzed, there was a mobilization of strikes of all kinds, the country was really chaotic. Or in June of last year, 2022, when there was also a mobilization, although at a lower level than those of October 19. But not now, there was no one on the streets, just a small group of people outside the assembly, for or against Lasso, but there were not the reasons that he alleges and therefore the decision he makes is illegal. However, yesterday the Constitutional Court, which was handpicked by Moreno and Lasso, who agreed on the previous government, says ‘yes, that’s fine’, that he had all the right to do what he did. And finally they put us in the situation that now we have to face the electoral process.
This is the summary of the situation. I do not want to continue talking because surely you will have many questions about the perspective, about what is coming and that is where I will stay as an introduction to the situation in our country.
The position of the United States
Well, I understand that there are two aspects to the structural crisis, the problem of neoliberalism and the relationship of the current government with the previous one. From what I have seen from afar, I wonder if this current crisis also has an international context or continental, and if so, can you describe it.
Look, the crisis that the world is experiencing at this moment, more or less everything, especially forgiveness.
From Ecuador, the crisis that you are experiencing there, the institutional crisis, and the step it has taken, or first, the instability that you described with insecurity, with neoliberalism, if that has an international dimension. Second, whether, for example, the global context has affected the crisis of neoliberalism in Ecuador, and the third question would be whether the crisis of the conflict between the president and the Assembly has an international dimension.
Let’s see, Ecuador has experienced a situation of instability in the last six years and insecurity in the last six years as a result, fundamentally, of a responsibility of the governments that have been in power, because we cannot say that the international situation could have significantly affected the Ecuadorian economy, beyond the pandemic, which affected all the countries of the world. However, şt has not put under particularly severe conditions the Ecuadorian economy. The price of oil has recovered properly. Ecuador is an oil-exporting country, Ecuador’s main export products are bananas, cocoa, shrimp and a series of other products beyond oil, which is one of the most important, have recovered; there is no international situation, in that sense, that has significantly affected the economy of Ecuador.
On the other hand, there is a relative level of stability in South American and Latin American politics with progressive and left-wing governments that have been assuming functions and that has not affected Ecuador either. That is, we do not have an external aggression, there is nothing like that, honestly, in such a way that I do not perceive that the external situation may have affected us.
Furthermore, the US government has considered Lasso a strategic ally, not only has he said so in his speech, they have enacted a law in Congress that states that they consider Ecuador as a strategic ally and authorizes the US government to make a series of actions related to Ecuador, such as providing it resources, finance, giving monetary support, military, police, commercial support, of all kinds.
And in that sense, they have had that support, and on the other hand, they have not lost the relationship that we had with China, that we developed in our government with China, with Russia, with India, with South Africa, with countries, let’s say, significantly important in world geopolitics; in such a way that I would say that the international situation has not caused any significant effect on the Ecuadorian economy or on Ecuadorian politics.
That neoliberalism can be affected, I would say yes, neoliberalism has been undermined by decisions of the peoples in Latin America, there is an increasing level of countries that arrive, let’s say, whose presidents are presidents of progressive and leftist positions, which means a lower level of identity with a right-wing government like the Lasso government, however, there is no type of aggression, annoyance, affectation in the Andean Community, in the OAS, anywhere, in such a way which hasn’t been affected by it either.
I’m going to ask a little more directly. Where do you place the North American government in that same conflict of dissolution of the Assembly?
Let’s see, there is an unknown. We do not have common criteria. We have discussed this. We have always asked ourselves, since a few weeks ago, what is the role of the United States? In our opinion, the United States would not have thought to support a cross death. Why? Because that means that the elections are going to be the first round three months from now, the second round more or less in five months, and definitely, the Citizen Revolution, which is a nationalist, sovereign political party that has not obeyed in the execution of his government from 2007 to 2017 to the United States, without making it an enemy either, will win. This party is not simply a carpet for the United States; we even had to fire an ambassador. We kicked out the representative of the World Bank, we kicked out the military group, we took out the Manta military base, without being enemies of the United States government. We are simply sovereign, we gave asylum to Julián Assange; let’s say, they would not be happy with the return of a government of the Citizen Revolution led by President Rafael Correa, and therefore we thought that they would not have liked a cross death to take place.
We believe that ultimately this would have been a decision by Lasso without the approval of the United States Embassy or the United States government, because it would definitely not be in the interest of the United States to do this. I say this because all the surveys show that the main political force in the country is the Citizen Revolution, that the most recognized and beloved political leader in Ecuador is Rafael Correa.
There are surveys that we have nor ordered, that are even from other countries that ask Ecuadorians what is the best government in the history of Ecuador in recent years? 50% say that it is the government of Rafael Correa and 15% say that it is the government of Jaime Roldós in 1979 and that is where the others come from.
All surveys say that the Lasso government is the worst in history
Which is the worst? They ask the Ecuadorian people, which is the worst government in history? And the people say that it is the government of Guillermo Lasso, followed by Lenín Moreno. Surveys and also the elections of February this year confirm that.
We had a very, very favorable electoral result: We won the nine prefectures, which is more or less like governorships in other countries, the largest in the country, the most important, let’s say, with 80% of the population.
The comrade of the Citizen Revolution is the mayor of Quito, we have the mayor of Guayaquil, the prefect of Cuenca, the prefect of Manabí, the prefect of Guayas, the perfect one of Pichincha and many other localities, of great political significance, which recently shows that the Ecuadorian people, not only (support) in the polls, recently the Ecuadorian people have made a decision in favor of characters from the citizen revolution who of course have value on their own, they are personal values, okay, but also it must be said, they have a lot to do with the accompaniment that the president made of those candidacies. All of them campaigned with a photo next to President Rafael Correa, with a video with President Rafael Correa, which shows that there is sympathy recovered from the figure of President Correa and the Citizen Revolution in our country.
That’s why we thought that the cross death was not going to happen, because the United States would not agree, but also, as you know, there are levels of autonomy. Surely Lasso took the decision for personal reasons, for his business, because if he waited until Saturday and he was no longer president, he was not going to be able to continue accruing favors to the Ecuadorian elites. A person who is not really from his political group, but rather from another group of politicians from the Ecuadorian right would take his place.
So, this happened, he surely said well, I want to stay for at least six more months, organizing my departure, my business, my flight, because surely he is going to have to leave the country, for all the damage he has done to Ecuador. But he said well, I prefer and I need to give myself a break, grasp some air for six months before I leave office.
Hope on the horizon
To close, if you can answer briefly: The crisis also implies an important opportunity. They have not been talking about this, precisely, opportunity for Correísmo, I was reading your tweets yesterday, in which you proposed organizing a great social and popular front. I wanted to ask you which actors would make up this great front and what are they? The prospects when materializing in the eventual electoral context?
I do not want to say the names of the organizations, because it is a bit delicate, let’s say, committing them without having talked with them. Really, this has also happened to us by surprise, we thought that the impeachment trial was going to continue and now it is a surprise, we have to do it now, what about the candidates, we have to present it on June 20, that is, after a little while.
So the comrades in Ecuador, I am outside, they will already be beginning to talk, I believe that a broad agreement must be made with the labor organizations, with the indigenous organizations, with the Afro-Ecuadorian organization, with the popular sectors in general, but also with the small and medium-sized productive sectors, which I believe can be absolutely identified with a project like the Citizen’s Revolution, and for this reason I believe that all these small and medium-sized political, social and business groups should be summoned to a great national agreement to recover the Homeland from these damages that they have received during the last six years from the government of Moreno and Lasso. It is my personal opinion, I think that many colleagues in the political movement will agree with me and that this must be done great.
Well, thank you very much Ricardo for your time, for your contribution to both PIA Global and United Word International. I don’t know if you wanted to say a few more closing words and well, and I also thank the colleagues who were present here.
Just to say that if we have a halo of hope, we thought we were going to have to wait until 2025, but the issue was rushed, in good time, I think finally in good time, although the president’s decision has been illegal, whatever, in good time is that we are going to have the possibility of recovering power in Ecuador in favor of the Ecuadorian people and that we can return to those times of construction of a just, progressive, progressive, equitable society, with rights for the Ecuadorians.
That fills us with hope and we enthusiastically say it to you and to the audience, to whom this interview or this discussion will come from now on.
Micaela Constantini* Journalist for the PIA Global team
Oscar Rotundo* Political analyst and editor of the PIA Global team