Interview: María Augusta Calle talks to London Progressive Journal

February 13, 2009 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

SM: What are the greatest achievements of the new Ecuadorian Constitution?

MC: This Constitution was the realisation of the collective struggle of the oppressed over various decades, almost centuries. We had more than 3 million people making the Constitution, people who came to Montecristi [the coastal city where the new Constitution was written] from all the corners of the country, from all sectors, women, men, pensioners, old people without pensions, indigenous, black, mixed race people, from all the marvelous communities of this country. We had the responsibility to collect all these voices, these proposals.

This Constitution also recognises that the time to live in harmony with the environment has come. Another thing that for me is fundamental and that the Constitution gets back, is the sovereignty of the nation, that is auto-determination, which in my own judgment is the first big step towards carry out any transformation. Importantly, the Constitution also guarantees a far greater access to healthcare and education, and introduces the bases of a lay state, as well as the right for citizenship to have more weight in public processes, through voice and vote. Hence, it is a Constitution that has very many innovations.

However, some sectors have over time distanced themselves from Correa and the Citizen Revolution…

I believe that we need to understand that it is a process that has just started, in which new paths are to be searched, but we have to keep the objective clear. I think that the criticism of many left-wing comrades with whom I have collaborated is not valid in this moment. Fundamentally, because while the finger is pointing at the sun, they look at the finger. In fact, this process started off with the basis of a neoliberal country, and we are working on this country. With the approval of the Constitution, other measures will be taken, because it is a Constitution which gives room to work on the issue of sovereignty, and until now the President had to work within existing rules.

In the year 1998, a group of the Chicago boys structured the country in order to make it available for transnational corporations. Without a juridical underpinning to protect you, you cannot make more radical changes, otherwise you would be contravening the Constitution. This is one of the reasons why the second decree of this government was that of calling a Constituent Assembly, because you cannot have a building of 200 floors, with the foundations of a one-floor house. Moreover, demanding that all changes are made from one day to another, is to stay in the most comfortable position, which consists of constantly opposing something. When doors are open for a change, and you can walk in this direction, not taking this up, not fighting from within, not looking for the spaces, not struggling, is the most comfortable position. It is not understanding that power does not just mean winning the elections, but that it rather means fighting from within every day.

Many people criticise the government for having in its ranks some figures coming from the right as well. How is it explainable?

The radical left of which I am part never managed to structure a movement with possibilities to get to power. When a space that can give us possibilities of building a revolution exists, we have to understand that is not our space, as we were not able to construct that party. That is how we joined this collection of movements. Acuerdo País is an agreement of a number of movements, where left wing people are also present, and where having space and presence is costing us dear, and we have to struggle not just against the right, but also within Acuerdo País.

I think that this struggle is valid, because the person leading the process, Rafael Correa, without falling in the fanaticism of the cult of personality, has a very strong political personality, so that as long as he discovers more cadres within the left – he does not come from the left himself, as he has not properly been involved as a militant in the revolutionary left – and lucid minds with clear proposals emerge, he will take in these people. In this moment, we have the historical responsibility to have a presence within, fight for these spaces and have an enduring political clarity. I think that our voice has been important within Acuerdo País. We have been able to influence on many things, for example we have managed to place a very clear foreign policy within the government and the Constitution.

Do you see the consolidation of a regionalist, independist project in Guayaquil?

Guayaquil has historically been the bastion of the right. I do not think that in Guayaquil the imperialist project of dividing up the progressive states of Latin America will prosper. However, the intention of the US to impede these countries from being united is clear, because that is the only way to break this democratic proposal, of a socialism that is in process. This project nevertheless exists: there is Guayaquil in Ecuador, Santa Cruz in Bolivia, Zulia in Venezuela.

Moreover, they are strategic places, that is clear. I do not think this is going to prosper because the people of Guayaquil, the poorest people of Guayaquil, are fed up with the oligarchy, and its arrogant beaviour, as well as of seeing how in the city there is ever more poverty. This is because Guayaquil is a city that receives a lot of migration, Guayaquil is fundamentally populated by migrants, poor migrants from the mountains. People have this perception, and are not going to succumb to this divisionist and secessionist temptation, which is that of the elites of Guayaquil.

What does the socialism of the 21st Century consist of?

The socialism of the 21st Century is not a cumbia with merengue, it is not like gathering successful and failed experiences and build something from there. The socialism of the 21st Century is based on the necessity of Latin American people to recover the word, freedom, to have employment, and so on. Neoliberal policies have not delivered results, and although this socialism does not have academic clarity, for the majority it is a sensation and a feeling.

The socialism of the 21st Century is based on the model of a social market economy, a social and fair economy, which is not an entelechy, but something that we practice here, which is part of the ancestral traditions of Latin America. It starts from the fact that the human being is the target of all public policy, and this is a radical change compared to neoliberalism, where it is the market that regulates all activities. But I cannot tell you that it is a finished proposal, because we are building it as we walk ahead, and we are going to make mistakes, and we will have to take steps back, rectify and keep on advancing.

What is the balance of the first ten years of the Latin American progressive experiences? What are the tendencies to be fought?

When there were no leaders in Latin America, they said that the problem is the lack of leadership, when leaders emerge, they say it is caudillismo. In every process there are clearer minds that lead, history shows that. For me Chávez, Morales, Correa, Cristina Fernandez – and I would also include Lula and Lugo – are not caudillos, they do share a political project. It is a political project that takes off in a wrecked continent, and we are not inaugurating countries, we are re-making countries, and I am sure you will agree with me that it is easier to make a house anew rather than re-make an old one. So, since we are re-making, we are faced with defects.

For example, we have had decades of enormous corruption within our bureaucracies, and those people are still there, President Correa cannot just get all the bureaucrats out, that is impossible. However, I view these processes with great optimism, as they have not been designed in universities in Europe or in the US, they have arisen from the necessities of the people, and the political rows that we have had, and that have meant considerable bloodshed, marking us profoundly.

A few months ago, some people and some sectors of the press tried to associate you with the FARC. Why?

The explanation is very simple. Since we have a US military base in Manta, one of my central political proposals has been the recuperation of sovereignty, and that is one of the reasons why I believed in President Correa. When I got to Montecristi, I was elected as President of the Foreign Relations committee, and we worked on this issue. I have been threatened since December 2006, even by some intelligence officials of Ecuador, who tried to persuade me not to proceed with this issue. I did not like that and I knew I would have consequences for that.

These were the consequences: They have tried to distort the position of Ecuador, by saying it was a proposal of the FARC. The FARC had nothing to say about this country. It is a retaliation against years of struggle which has never been an underground struggle, I am journalist and I have always spoken out very loudly, and that is why I am a person who has not received much sympathy from the US State Department. They do not scare me, but they do bother me. Another thing is that I have categorically rejected is the criminalisation of my political position. I am a left-winger, I am a revolutionary, that is my pride and my political and personal reason for living. We are not terrorists, quite the contrary, we fight for life.

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This post was written by Samuele Mazzolini

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