Correa at the crossroads

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The Ecuadorian government rejected the Executive decree signed on 10 March by Barak Obama, which in principle aims to do two things: sanction seven Venezuelan officials involved in the repression of the opposition and declare Venezuela as a threat to the security of his country.

President Correa reacted to the news and his government later endorsed the statement issued by Unasur. This time the US President’s decision is controversial, but for the region’s governments, the signals it emitted or the context that provoked it did not matter much.

Quito has defended the Venezuelan government since Correa came to power in 2007. His foreign policy responds to the anti-imperialist creed so familiar to the Latin American left of the 60s. That is, a forceful rift from the United States that became evident when the president announced, as soon as he came to power, that he would not renew the agreement with Washington for the use of the military base in Manta. On 17 September 2009 the transfer became effective.

Correa has been predictable in this area: he is a friend and defender of the United States’ adversaries. He reached out to Cuba, Russia and China. He found himself included, at the beginning of his administration, among the presidents who participate in a new political trend: 21st Century Socialism. He wanted to build relationships with old leaders who were once considered by the old left in Africa and Latin America as icons of nationalist movements. In December 2008, for example, he visited Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.

In fact, the Ecuadorian foreign policy has maintained a similar profile to that followed by Hugo Chávez, until his official death in March 2013, and by Nicolas Maduro, his successor. Iran, Syria and Belarus joined Rusia and China. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Quito when he was president of Iran, as did the Belarus dictator Alexandr Lukashenko. The Ecuadorian government signed broad agreements with both of them, which have ultimately ended up being just declarations of intent.

Correa also supported the organizations promoted by Chavez since 2004, with the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA). In 2008 the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) was formed and in 2011, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). The former Venezuelan president encouraged, in alliance with Cuba, a hypothetical Latin American unity against the United States.

Venezuela’s economic capacity, resulting from the oil boom, gave Chavez a regional leading role that Brazil, busy in the global geopolitical game, did not oppose. Chavez’s initiatives did not militate against its interests and, moreover, the Brazilian governments also shared some of his ideological and political traits.

Lula da Silva or Dilma Rousseff, in Brazil; Nestor Kirchner or Cristina Fernandez, his wife, in Argentina; Chavez or Maduro in Venezuela; Fidel Castro or Raul Castro in Cuba … Correa introduced himself to this club of presidents who, despite their differences, could generate dynamics before which the United States looked stunned. The regional diplomatic initiative changed and Washington found itself at times, and in bodies such as the OAS, paddling upstream.

Chavez died, oil prices fell and the diplomatic chessboard changed radically. Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela… now know serious internal, economic and political difficulties. US-Cuba relations have been restored. In Ecuador the times of plenty are over. Tabare Vasquez, who did not get on with Chavez, returns to the presidency in Uruguay …

In this context, Barak Obama signed the controversial decree that may mean, among many things, that Washington wants to once-again seize the initiative in the region. In all events it is a chess move that has thrown-off many players. Brazil is the only country that, despite its difficulties, has the means to fund its policies. But this time, instead of a key regional player, as was Chavez, it has Maduro thanking the regional chains that seek to help overcome the shortage of basic goods in his country … The military exercises he ordered as a response to Obama’s move look, in these circumstances, as a purely propaganda. Maduro has no plan B and now he knows, among other things, that the United States can keep pointing at and sanctioning the leading members of his government, who represses their opponents on the streets or in the courts.

Unasur again showed its limitations and its statement rejecting President Obama’s decision is the best evidence of this. It contains no proposals to face with facts the political crisis in Venezuela and its bias takes away from its credibility: to the extent that the opposition included it among Maduro’s allies. In other words: if Unasur confines itself to defending Maduro’s government, as it has done so far, it will definitively lose, like OAS did, any possibility of leadership in the region. The United States will continue to produce moves that will enable us to understand, more reliably, why Obama abandoned diplomatic niceties by deciding to openly intervene in favor of democratization in Venezuela.

The Ecuadorian government has no international weight and it is at a crossroads: it knows that Maduro is against the wall and that his repressive policies have been questioned in Europe following President Obama’s decision. It knows, like the other governments, that a broken country on the brink of bleeding out is dangerous for the region. And it knows, when all is said and done, that international opinion believes (after the Sbolodan Milosevic case) that a country’s sovereignty is only to be respected if its government scrupulously honors human rights and the rights of the opposition.

If President Correa understands this – and there are no signs that he does at the moment – Quito could help find a prudent way out for Venezuela. But if he favors megaphone diplomacy – as he has done so far – he will continue apostrophizing against imperialism and closing his eyes to Venezuela’s crude reality. Turning it the focus of attention is one of the benefits produced by Obama with his controversial decree.

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