Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa‘s granting journalist Julian Assange asylum is no real surprise. You could have seen it coming as far back as 2005 when Correa was Ecuador’s rebellious finance minister. And it would have been even more predictable if you watched the evolution of his presidency and his aim toward becoming Latin America’s “most enigmatic leader.”
A child of poverty who worked his way to a Ph.D. in economics at the University of Illinois-trained there in the philosophy of the conservatives’ economic sweetheart Milton Friedman-Correa rebelled even then, leaning instead toward socialism. He believes he understands the world economic and social order, particularly the United States’ and multinational corporations’ desire to control it, and he has consistently rebelled against that, too.
An intellectual who has proved to be a savvy politician, Correa connects the dots of economics and politics, and his dots don’t align with the western powers. He knows South America needs a charismatic leader to follow his good friend, cancer-battling Venezuela President Hugo Chavez. And Correa’s moving into a position to do that.
As finance minister in 2005, he opposed a free-trade agreement with the U.S. He also bucked the IMF by heavier cooperation with other Latin American countries. When the World Bank then withheld a loan, Correa resigned his minister’s post. The next year he ran for president, proposing that Ecuador rewrite its constitution, increase petroleum-revenues spending on social programs, and reform the petroleum industry and the financial sector. He obviously loved walking among the people, and communicated with the indigenous population in their own language. He won a runoff election with 56 percent of the vote.
As president, he hit the west with a heavy economic shot: In December 2008, he declared that Ecuador would not pay its national debt. He accused the IMF, World Bank, and CIA of manipulating Ecuador’s earlier unelected military dictators, saying he would not honor the loans. He defaulted on billions of dollars, sending a clear sign he would not back down to the U.S. or anyone else.
As for the current case of Assange, Correa had shown clear signs of empathy with the Wikileaks whistleblower’s plight. He agreed to a half-hour interview on Assange’s international TV news program aired on RT, the U.S. Russian television network, in May. He flatly told Assange his efforts at creating transparency among governments was a benefit to the world. They laughed and traded quips, including Assange’s closing with the smiling comment, “Don’t get shot.” Correa responded with a nod and gallows smile.
Both knew it was a bitter ironic joke.
Correa has challenged nearly every authority since taking office, including the country’s congress, press, and police. He stalked out into a national police strike’s protest in 2010 and bared his chest, challenging them to kill him. Reports are it was close, but he went unharmed.
John Perkins, in his 2004 book Confessions of an Economic Hitman and subsequent books, notes that some Latin American elected leaders usually don’t survive, but it’s not because of local opposition. It’s because the U.S. and multinational corporations remove them if they don’t play ball.
Perkins claims that-when he operated as an economic hitman for the National Security Agency (NSA) in the 1970s-his failed efforts to convince Ecuadorian President Jaime Roldos Aguilera and Panamanian leader Omar Torrijos to cooperate led to their fatal plane crashes. A former CIA agent backed Perkins’ claim in a documentary film based on Perkins’ Confessions. Perkins and the CIA operative also spoke about Saddam Hussein‘s demise in Iraq.
Perkins describes a three-tiered process for ingraining multinational businesses into Latin American economies:
1. The economic hitman like Perkins visits the newly elected president. He says he has a million dollars with him to start the payoff process. In return, the president will get loans from the IMF and World Bank. Those loans will really go to multinational corporations who will come into the country, build oil refineries, electric generating plants, and other major capital improvements to give the multinationals an economic base in the country. When the nation can’t pay back the loans, the president is asked to do “favors” for the U.S., like help out in a foreign war, or sell the country’s oil cheap to the multinationals. If the leader agrees, on they go.
2. If the leader doesn’t agree, the process moves to Tier 2: The CIA comes in, attempts to create a coup d’etat, or assassinates the leader, providing a change in government, and an effort to pay off the next president.
3. If that doesn’t work, then Tier 3: the American military moves in. Perkins claims the three-tiered process took total effect in Iraq, where Saddam Hussein had moved into power with U.S. support. But he lost it when he refused to let Bechtel Corp. build a port refinery in Aqaba for the Iraq-Jordan pipeline. That was in 1983. The CIA’s attempts to form a coup or kill Saddam never succeeded, which led to George W. Bush’s military invasion.
Perkins’ thesis has its critics, including the U.S. government and The New York Times. But Correa, no doubt, has his own opinion about whether efforts might rise to forcibly oust him, particularly now that he has directly opposed Great Britain and the U.S. by granting Assange asylum.
Just how that unfolds in the days to come could affect the world economy. Should England and America push the case with Ecuador, who do you think Venezuela and the other South American countries will support? And Correa’s friend Chavez and Venezuela hold a big hand in the oil game, touting some of the largest oil and natural gas reserves on the globe.
Also, since 2008, Russia has increased its ties with Venezuela. Where does that tell you this conflict could go?
Correa, of course, realizes all this. You know that when you pay close attention to Correa’s terse verbal response to Great Britain’s reported threat yesterday to storm the Ecuadorian embassy and take Assange:
That phrase, no doubt, perked up the ears of every South American country, Africa, India, and others opposed to suffering at the hands of empires. And upsetting international relations, and therefore a world economy already on the ropes, could lead to greater home troubles everywhere.
The economist/politician Correa knows that. He connects the dots.
More to come.