[News] Ecuador’s Economy Under Rafael Correa: Twenty-First Century Socialism or the New-Extractivism?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jul 12 16:09:20 EDT 2010

Ecuador’s Economy Under Rafael Correa: 
Twenty-First Century Socialism or the 
New-Extractivism? – An Inteview with Alberto Acosta

Written by Jeffery R. Webber
Monday, 12 July 2010 09:54

I spoke with Alberto Acosta, ex-Minister of 
Energy and Mines, and ex-President of the 
Constituent Assembly, in his Quito office on July 8, 2010.

Jeffery R. Webber: In a few words, can you 
describe your political formation and political trajectory?

Alberto Acosta: I’m an economist. I’ve worked as 
an international consultant and as a university 
professor. I’ve been an advisor to social 
movements, to the indigenous movement. I’ve been 
involved in various struggles in the last few 
years which are trying to build a country based 
in equality, liberty, and justice. In the early 
part of the Rafael Correa government, I was the 
Minister of Energy and Mines and the President of the Constituent Assembly.

JW: As a former Minister of Energy and Mines, can 
you talk about the strengths and weaknesses of 
the economic model being advanced by the Correa 
government in the current conjuncture?

AA: We can’t talk about the economic development 
model of only this government. Stretching way 
back, Ecuador has had a model of accumulation 
based on the extraction of natural resources. 
Ecuador has been a country based in the 
production of bananas, flowers, shrimp, and oil, 
and there are people who now believe that it can 
be a country based in mining production.

In reality, we’ve been living off the rent of 
nature. In the last few decades, since the 1970s, 
Ecuador has had as its principal source of 
revenue the exploitation of oil – the extraction 
of crude oil and the export of oil into the 
international market. This is a fundamental 
characteristic of the Ecuadorean economy. And 
this has not changed substantively under the government of Correa.

It’s true that he’s sought greater participation 
of the state in generating the oil rent. There’s 
been a certain increase of state control over oil 
activities. There’s been an attempt to increase 
the efficiency and to strengthen the state oil 
company. And the state’s greater take of the oil 
rent has allowed for improvements in education, health, and social welfare.

But at the root of things, the fact that Ecuador 
has an economy dependent on natural resources has 
not been altered, and we remain highly dependent 
on our insertion into the world market.

JW: You were also President of the Constituent 
Assembly. Can you talk about this process, and 
the advances and setbacks related to the new Constitution.

AA: The new constitution opened the door for a 
series of profound changes. Its statutes 
guarantee the construction of a plurinational 
state. This means the incorporation for the first 
time of marginalized groups, like indigenous 
peoples and nationalities, and Afro-Ecuadoreans. 
The constitution mandates respect for their 
unique ways of life and community organizing, and 
a new way of structuring the state in general.

The Constitution also commits the country to 
“living well,” or sumak kawsay, in Quichua, which 
is an entirely distinct way of understanding 
development. It’s another form of development. 
It’s an alternative to development, an 
alternative not within development, but an 
entirely different concept to development. Along 
these lines, the Constitution guarantees the 
rights of nature. Nature is a subject with rights 
in the Constitution. Ecuador’s Constitution is 
the only one in the world with this characteristic.

The Constitution also notes that water is a 
fundamental human right, not just access to 
water, but water itself. Water is a strategic 
patrimony. Water is part of biodiversity. It is central to nature.

JW: How do you explain the contrast between, on 
the one hand, the rhetoric of the Correa 
government – “citizens’ revolution,” 
“twenty-first century socialism” – and, on the 
other, the tense relations, often open clashes, 
between this government and prominent social movements?

AA: These phrases, citizens’ revolution and 
twenty-first century socialism, have to be 
understood in their full context. Socialism of 
the twenty-first century has absolutely no 
meaning. It has no meaning. We need to rescue 
socialism from the errors of the last century, 
but we can’t do this by promoting some kind of 
“new age” socialism. For me, twenty-first century 
socialism has no meaning, it is pure rhetoric.

The phrase citizens’ revolution is what popular 
struggles in Ecuador proposed and struggled for 
beginning in 2006 and 2007. Lamentably, it would 
appear that the Correa government has its doubts 
about making a revolution in reality. The very 
things this government proposed initially it is 
failing to make a reality; it is failing to 
respect the integral components of the new 
Constitution. This is the crucial thing to take note of.

At the moment, the “citizens’ revolution” suffers 
from a major deficit of citizens’ involvement.

JW: And the contradictions with the social 
movements, the indigenous movements, government 
accusations of “terrorism and sabotage”?

AA: I believe that these types of accusations are 
tremendously shameful for the country. They have 
no basis in justice or a democratic judicial 
system. Even during the period of the neoliberal 
governments, when social movements and the 
indigenous movement were massively involved in 
protests – there were never accusations of 
terrorism. This is a question that is putting the 
citizens’ revolution itself at risk. It would 
appear that there are forces that are configuring 
themselves in a type of counter-revolution, without citizenship.

JW: For Canadian readers, can you describe some 
of the conflicts in the mining sector, and the 
role of Canadian companies, because they have a 
massive presence in this country.

AA: Without a doubt. Look, Canadian companies 
have been very active in this country for some 
years. One could say that Canadian companies were 
the primary beneficiaries of the new disposition 
of the mining laws throughout the early 2000s. 
These laws were meant to strengthen the presence 
of mining companies in Ecuador. This was a 
project pushed forward by the World Bank, and 
which received support from the governments of 
that epoch. We’re talking about the neoliberal epoch.

Canadian companies were the ones who took 
advantage of the new laws with the greatest 
enthusiasm, to invest in Ecuador. Canadian 
companies have expanded their presence in various 
regions of the country. In the Cordillera de 
Condor, in the Intag Valley, and elsewhere. 
They’ve managed to win a huge number of mining 
concessions. Ecuador gave out over 5,000 
concessions in an irresponsible manner, without 
any controls or criteria. The great majority of 
these concessions were concentrated in the hands 
of just a few companies, Canadian companies.

We can also see how some Canadian companies, such 
as Ascendant Copper, have tried to impose their 
objectives in an authoritarian manner in the 
country. They have established schemes of 
paramilitarism, in order to divide the 
communities of Intag, to intimidate these 
communities, and to impose mining activities.

I was personally a witness to how this company 
mobilized people to protest against my presence 
as Minister of Energy and Mines at the time 
because my politics ran against this type of 
corruption. I remember receiving threats and 
having rocks thrown at me during a meeting in the 
city of Ibarra, in the province of Imbabura. We 
saw how they acted, and how they threatened the 
communities. Thanks to the struggles of these 
very communities, and the actions of the Ministry 
of Energy and Mines at the time, we managed to 
disarm these paramilitaries, and achieved some 
justice. But there are still many problems in the 
region. I believe it’s important to highlight 
these events and what they signify.

JW: Shifting themes, we’ve seen a shift to the 
left in Latin America – full of contradictions, 
but nonetheless a shift – over the last decade. 
What has Ecuador’s role been inside this regional turn to the Left?

AA: There has been a series of very interesting 
processes in Latin America – in Venezuela, 
Bolivia, and Ecuador. However, none of these new 
processes have managed to overcome the economic 
structures of extractivism. Bolivia continues to 
be dependent, even more dependent than before, on 
natural gas. Bolivia is making concerted efforts 
to extend oil, gas, and mineral extraction. In 
Ecuador the orientation is toward ongoing 
exploitation of oil. Although, one has to 
highlight the proposals of Ecuador to leave the 
oil under the ground in the National Park of 
Yasuni, which is positive. But, in general, it’s 
clear that there is no coherent position against 
the extractive model. There is a lot of talk of 
transformation and revolution, but it continues to be more of the same.

As I suggested, I don’t think there’s anything to 
what they’re calling socialism of the 
twenty-first century. What we’re witnessing 
instead is a neo-extractivism of the twenty-first century.

JW: In the long term, what does Ecuador need to 
change in its development model?

AA: What we need to do in the medium- to 
long-term is overcome this model of accumulation. 
We need another way to organize the economy, 
which is not so dependent on the exploitation of 
natural resources. We need to move from an 
extractive economic model, to one based in the 
knowledge, and forces, and needs of human beings, 
individual and collective. We also need another 
way of inserting ourselves into the world market 
that is more intelligent than simply providing 
raw materials. We need to start producing other 
kinds of products for the international market. 
But more than anything, fundamentally, we need to 
strengthen the internal market and to strengthen 
regional integration in Latin America. Ecuador 
needs to break with the extreme concentration of 
assets and income, and change the pattern. We 
need to achieve equality if there is to be 
justice and freedom. This is what we need. And 
this requires a lot of democracy. Always more democracy, and never less.

Jeffery R. Webber teaches politics at the 
University of Regina. He is the author of Red 
October: Left-Indigenous Struggles in Modern 
Bolivia (Brill, 2010), and Rebellion to Reform in 
Bolivia: Class Struggle, Indigenous Liberation 
and the Politics of Evo Morales (Haymarket, 2011).

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