I remember when he visited us, months before the electoral campaign when he was thinking of running as a candidate for the Presidency of Ecuador. He had been the Minister of the Economy in the government of Alfredo Palacio, a surgeon with professional prestige who had also visited us as Vice President, before becoming the President in an unexpected situation that took place in Ecuador. He had been receptive to a program of ophthalmologic operations that we offered him as a form of cooperation. There were good relations between our two governments.
A while earlier Correa had resigned from the Ministry of the Economy. He was unhappy with what he called administrative corruption instigated by Oxy, a foreign company that explored and invested important sums of money, but was holding on to four out of every five barrels of oil that it extracted. He didn’t talk about nationalization, but about taxing them heavily; these taxes would be assigned in advance to specific social investments. He had already approved the measures and a judge had declared them to be valid.
Since the word “nationalize” had not been mentioned, I thought he felt apprehensive about the concept. It didn’t surprise me because he had graduated as an economist with much acclaim from a well-known U.S. university. I didn’t bother getting into much depth; I bombarded him with questions from the arsenal accumulated in the struggle against the Latin American foreign debt in 1985 and from Cuba’s own experience.
There are high-risk investments that use sophisticated technology and that no small nation like Cuba or Ecuador could take on.
Since this was already in 2006 and we were determined to promote the energy revolution — ours was the first country on the planet to proclaim this as a vital issue for humankind — I had dealt with the subject particularly emphatically. But I halted, as I understood one of his reasons.
I related to him the conversation I had had a while ago with the president of REPSOL, a Spanish company. This company, associated with other international companies, would undertake an expensive operation to drill the ocean floor, more than 2000 meters down, using sophisticated technology, in Cuba’s jurisdictional waters. I asked the head of the Spanish company: How much is an exploratory well worth? I ask you this because we would like to participate, even if it is for one percent of the total cost and we would like to know what you want to do with our oil.
Correa, for his part, had told me that for every one hundred dollars taken out by the companies, only twenty remained in the country; it didn’t even get into the budget, he said; it was left in a separate fund for just about anything other than improving the living conditions of the people.
I abolished the fund, he told me, and directed 40 percent towards education and health, technological and highway development, and the rest towards buying back the debt if the price was favorable, and if not, investing it in something more useful. Before, every year we had to buy a portion of that debt which was becoming more expensive.
In the case of Ecuador — he added — oil policies verged on treason against the country. Why do they do it? I asked him. Is it because they are afraid of the Yankees or due to unbearable pressure? He answered: If they have a Minister of the Economy who tells them privatization would improve efficiency, you can just imagine. I didn’t do that.
I encourage him to go on and he calmly explains. The foreign company Oxy is one that has broken its contract and according to Ecuadorian law it requires an expiration date. It means that the oil field operated by this company must go over to the State, but because of Yankee pressure the government does not dare to occupy it; a situation is created which is not contemplated by the legislation. The law just states that an expiration date must be set, and nothing more. The judge at the court of first instance at that moment was the president of PETROECUADOR and he made it happen. I was a member of PETROECUADOR and they called an emergency meeting to expel him from his position. I didn’t attend and they couldn’t fire him. The judge declared the expiration date.
What did the Yankees want? I asked him. They wanted a fine, he quickly replied. Listening to him I realized that I had underestimated him.
I was in a hurry because of a great number of commitments. I invited him to sit in on a meeting with a large group of highly qualified Cuban professionals who were leaving for Bolivia to be part of the Medical Brigade; it had staff for more than 30 hospitals including 19 surgical positions that could do more than 130 thousand ophthalmologic operations per year; all in the manner of free cooperation. Ecuador possesses three similar centers with six ophthalmologic positions.
Dinner with the Ecuadorian economist took place into the morning hours of February 9, 2006. There were scarcely any view points that I didn’t cover. I even spoke to him about the very harmful mercury that modern industry scatters throughout the planet’s oceans. Consumerism was of course a subject that I emphasized; the high cost of the kilowatt/hour in the thermoelectric plants; the differences between socialist and communist forms of distribution, the role of money, the trillions spent on advertising which people had no choice but to pay for in the prices of goods, and the studies made by university social brigades who discovered, among the 500 thousand families in the capital, the number of elderly folk who lived alone. I explained the stage of university courses for all that we were involved in.
We became friends even though he perhaps received the impression that I was self-sufficient. If that happened, it was truly not my intention.
Since that time I have observed his every step: the electoral process, focusing on the concrete problems of Ecuadorians, and the people’s victory over the oligarchy.
In the history of our peoples there are many things that bring us together. Sucre was always a highly admired figure, along with The Liberator Bolivar; as Marti said, what he hasn’t done in America remains to be done, and as Neruda exclaimed, Bolivar awakens every hundred years.
Imperialism has just committed a monstrous crime in Ecuador. Deadly bombs were dropped in the early morning hours on a group of men and women who, almost without exception, were asleep. That has been deduced by all the official reports right from the beginning. Any concrete accusations against that group of human beings do not justify that action. They were Yankee bombs, guided by Yankee satellites.
Absolutely no one has the right to kill in cold blood. If we accept that imperial method of warfare and barbarism, Yankee bombs directed by satellites could fall on any group of Latin American men and women, in the territory of any country, war or no war. The fact that this happened on undisputed Ecuadorian territory is an aggravating circumstance.
We are not an enemy of Colombia. Previous reflections and exchanges demonstrate how much of an effort we have made, both the current President of the Council of State of Cuba and I, to abide by a declared policy of principles and peace, proclaimed years ago in our relations with the rest of the Latin American states.
Today, with everything at risk, we have not been transformed into belligerent people. We are determined supporters of that unity among peoples which Martí named Our America.
If we keep quiet we shall become accomplices. Today they would like to have our friend, the economist and President of Ecuador Rafael Correa, seated in the dock; this is something we couldn’t even conceive that morning of February 9, 2006. At that time it seemed that my imagination was capable of embracing all kinds of dreams and risks, but never anything like what has occurred in the early morning of Saturday March 1, 2008.
Correa has in his hands the few survivors and the rest of the bodies. The two which are missing prove that Ecuadorian territory was occupied by troops that crossed the border. Now he can cry out like Emile Zola: J’accuse!
Fidel Castro Ruz
March 3, 2008
This essay appeared in Granma International today.