Gorka Castillo: The British writer Richard Gott considers Colombia to be the main element in the region’s instability. Do you share his view?
Rafael Correa: This is nothing new. It goes way back. Colombia is the only country which has paramilitaries, guerrillas, drug traffickers, widespread coca cultivation and large areas of thecountry that aren’t controlled by the state. Paramilitarism and narco-politics don’t exist in Ecuador. Nor do we cultivate coca. Those are exclusively Colombian conditions. I say this with regret because this is a sister country, but Colombia today is the focus of the greatest instability in Latin America and this hurts all of us.
GC: Are you saying that the Colombian government’s image in Latin America is not a good one?
RC: Uribe’s government is completely discredited. We’ve already pointed out his lies; now no one believes him.
GC: In Europe it’s not seen that way.
RC: It’s true that in both the European Union and the United States, the backing of [Uribe’s] lies by some powerful media has harmed us. For that reason I will shortly be undertaking a tour of Europe to let people know about Ecuador and show that we are a decent government and a peaceful land; that the problem lies on the other side of the border; that we’re the victims of the Colombian conflict and not the perpetrators – nor are we accomplices [in the conflict].
GC: You give the impression that a media war has been launched.
RC: It’s not that I’m giving that impression, it’s a fact. We know who we are dealing with: a militaristic country with a president who has a shady past, enormous support from foreign intelligence agencies and an impressive propaganda machine. We have faith that truth and justice will prevail. We’ve already achieved that in Latin America, where Colombia has been comprehensively defeated politically, diplomatically and in terms of information.
GC: What drives Colombia to accuse its neighbouring countries of collaboration with the FARC?
RC: Uribe’s militaristic policies began as soon as he became president. First he reversed the strategy of his predecessor, Andrés Pastrana, who had come to embrace [FARC leader] Manuel Marulanda. But in came Uribe with his hard line and he wanted us all to do the same. He’s like a little emperor who follows his boss’s dictates. It’s obvious that his political and economic power is based on this struggle against the FARC. Peace is not convenient for Uribe because fighting guerrillas gives the Colombian electorate a secure feeling. What is troubling is that this conflict is spilling over the borders.
GC: But before the bombing on 1 March, relations between the two countries were respectful.
RC: Uribe has always shown a lack of respect toward Ecuador. So much so that [Colombia] continues to spray our territory with glyphosate, and frequently violates our airspace with their planes. Colombia’s civil war has now been raging for more than half a century. The conflict has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and taken on a complexity that few English-speaking analysts have been able to grasp.
It has been fuelled by the active involvement of the US government, for which Colombia is both ally and agent on a continent dominated by progressive governments generally hostile to US economic and political interests. Colombia is the third largest recipient of US military aid (behind Israel and Egypt), and all the evidence points to this financial support being tied to a persistent strategy of destabilisation of the elected governments of neighbouring Venezuela and Ecuador.
The most recent evidence is the regional crisis provoked by the Colombian military’s raid on Ecuadorean territory on 1 March this year. It resulted in the death of the Colombian FARC guerrilla leader, Raul Reyes, who had been involved in negotiations with President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and representatives of the French government to release hostages and mediate an end to the conflict. The two following articles shed light on this international dimension of Colombia’s civil war. As for the 1 March bombing, there’s a question that still remains unanswered.
GC: What’s that?
RC: They had Raúl Reyes and his group under their control when they could still be found on Colombian soil. Why did they wait until they crossed into Ecuador to kill them? Was it, by any chance, in order to involve Ecuador in a conflict that is not theirs? Was it not an act of intimidation? Could it have been to force us to participate in Plan Colombia [the US military aid programme]? What Uribe didn’t count on was our response, nor the condemnation he received from the countries in the OAS [Organisation of American States]. The plan failed because we didn’t fall for it.
GC: During the meeting of the Rio Group in Santo Domingo, you showed your hands to Uribe and told him to take a good look at them because they are clean and without blood. What were you referring to?
RC: Uribe has tried to involve us, not only my government, but also [Ecuador’s] armed forces, as supporters of the FARC. Later he alleged that my presidential campaign had been financed by the guerrillas. It’s disgraceful. Where does this gentleman get off, after having violated every international law, accusing us of support for guerrilla groups whose actions we’ve said a thousand times we reject? It’s insulting.
That’s why I told him to look at my hands. Just to highlight the contradiction with Uribe’s position, which has been so scandalously related to drug trafficking. There are many books which detail this. There are also videos which show him meeting with paramilitaries. His warmongering policy is not going to end the [Colombian] conflict. Instead it will exacerbate it and he’s going to leave thousands dead as a result. My hands are clean and bloodless. That’s something President Uribe cannot say.
GC: However, they continue to claim that you were aware of the FARC’s activities in your territory. They say that you were warned as many as 16 times of guerrilla bases in your territory, and you ignored this. Is this true?
RC: This is an unbelievable infamy. All my orders are on record. It’s all so coarse and ridiculous that we’ve decided it’s not worth answering … We don’t know why he does it. Just when relations improve with him, something strange happens and you get stabbed in the back. Something in his head is not working right.
GC: How is it possible that this climate of tension has been reached if at the end of the Rio Group meeting, you managed to shake hands?
RC: That’s Álvaro Uribe Vélez. Something’s wrong with him. His behaviour is terribly psychotic.
GC: Is it true that Reyes had contacted the French in order to negotiate the liberation of Ingrid Betancourt, when he was bombed?
RC: Uribe doesn’t want peace, nor does he want hostages released, because Betancourt is a potential presidential candidate. It’s true that we’d known that contact would be made in a neutral third country in order to liberate them later on Ecuadoran soil. President Chávez also asked me if we could receive hostages in our territory because a transfer over the Colombian-Venezuelan border had become very dangerous. We were in the middle of that process. Those moves towards securing the release of the hostages held by the guerrillas were entrusted to Reyes and it’s precisely Reyes who they destroy.
GC: Ecuador has just denounced Colombia to the Hague tribunal for illegal spraying on its territory.
RC: The verdict will still take many years but we hope that a stiff sentence will be handed down to force Bogotá to suspend the aerial glyphosate spraying they’ve been doing since 2006. These fumigations have caused Ecuadorean farmers on the border to leave their homes, lose their crops, their income, and have caused serious illnesses, even death. But do you know what the Colombian government’s reaction has been up until today? It’s to say that our demand that the spraying cease coincides with the FARC’s pleas. It’s shameful.
GC: The crisis has revealed huge cracks in the Ecuadorean intelligence system that have caused the military leadership to be relieved of its duties. What reforms should it undertake?
RC: Something serious is going on with our intelligence services. We still don’t have all the concrete information but we can say that we have been infiltrated by the CIA and this agency works for Colombia.
GC: There are some who criticise you for being naive in having waited so long to change the military leadership, whose loyalties lie with the previous regime.
RC: They’re probably right. And also for having trusted Bogotá. You might say that we underestimated the threat of external attack, as things with Peru have been resolved and we had good relations with Colombia. But we underestimated the fact that Uribe was there.
The original interview by Gorka Castillo was first published in the Spanish newspaper Público. The English translation by Machetera was revised by Pablo Navarrete. Machetera is a member of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History