Vijay Prashad

Argentina’s veteran ambassador makes a stand for the sovereignty of Latin America

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Alicia Castro does not shy away from her views. She came to diplomacy from the trade union movement, where she was a leader when she was a flight attendant with Aerolíneas Argentinas. Castro spent eight years as a member of parliament in the Argentine National Congress, where she fought for the rights of working people. Ambassadorships in the United Kingdom and Venezuela culminated in the offer earlier this year of the post of Argentina's ambassador to Russia.

While waiting to go to Russia to take up this position, Castro was angered when Argentina's government voted against Venezuela in the United Nations Council for Human Rights on October 6. She resigned from her post and made her resignation letter public. "Today," Castro wrote, "I want to present my resignation as ambassador because I do not agree with the current foreign relations policy."

I spoke to Castro a week after she resigned from her position. She indicated to me that this was not a difficult decision. Rather, she would not have been able to serve her country's government if she did not agree with its overall policy orientation toward its own sovereignty and the sovereignty of Latin America, the "Patria Grande" or the Great Homeland.

Corruption of 'Human Rights'

In July 2019, Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights and former president of Chile, published a report on alleged human rights violations in Venezuela. The report had major gaps. For instance, it downplays the U.S. sanctions, even ignoring that these unilateral sanctions were in place from 2008 and not from 2017; it fails to mention the many instances of violence instigated by the opposition such as in 2014, 2017, and 2019.

To move her agenda forward, Bachelet announced in December 2019 an agreement with the Venezuelan government to set up human rights offices inside Venezuela that would report on allegations of violations. It was clear that the issue of "human rights" was not being applied in a proper forensic and legal manner; it had become a political tool for the United States of America and its allies as part of a disinformation campaign against the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro.

In September 2020, Bachelet appeared at the UN Human Rights Council to offer her view of violations inside Venezuela. This comes as Venezuela prepares for National Assembly elections on December 6. The United States has made it clear that it would like to interfere in the electoral process and push for the destabilization of Venezuelan politics.

An instrument for this interference is the Lima Group, set up in 2017 by Canada and a handful of Latin American countries; the Lima Group provides cover for the U.S. strategy of regime change against Venezuela. In September 2019, the Lima Group and the United States pressured the United Nations Human Rights Council to set up an Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela; this mission was never "independent," since it received its $5 million largely from the Lima Group countries. The report contained unverified information, mostly from social media accounts based outside Venezuela.

Argentina, under the previous right-wing government of Mauricio Macri, had been an integral part of the Lima Group. During the left-leaning President Alberto Fernández's successful campaign in Argentina's 2019 general election, he said that his foreign minister would be Felipe Solá; Solá, in turn, announced that Argentina would not leave the Lima Group even though it had been set up with the express purpose of regime change in Venezuela. On October 6, 2020, Argentina voted with the Lima Group for Resolution L.43 to extend the mandate of the fact-finding mission. It was this vote that set Alicia Castro's teeth on edge.

Erosion of Sovereignty

"What is at stake here," Castro told me, "are two very serious concerns."

First, there is a general assault on democratic institutions across Latin America. We were speaking a few days before the election in Bolivia, where the leftist Movement for Socialism (MAS) won the election and reversed the coup d'état that overthrew the MAS government in November 2019. Across Latin America, coups of one kind or another—lawfare and hybrid wars—have been used against leftist political forces. Daily assassinations and intimidation of leftist leaders in Colombia seem not to have awoken the same kind of indignation from the governments of Peru and Brazil; they focus their attention—thanks to a magnifying glass provided by Washington, D.C.—on Venezuela.

Governments that are interested in reducing "the disgusting gap between rich and poor," Castro said, are threatened with removal. This is what Lula (Brazil), Evo Morales (Bolivia), Rafael Correa (Ecuador), and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (now vice president of Argentina) endured. "The commercial news media and social media with its armies of trolls and bots play a central role in the demonization of popular leaders and the destabilization of democracy," Castro said.

The second concern is that the Lima Group is driven by an agenda from North America and Europe. In her resignation letter, Alicia Castro referred to the Drago Doctrine. In 1902, Argentina's Foreign Minister Luis María Drago objected when the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy attempted a naval blockade against Venezuela to recover its investments; Drago said that armed intervention must never be allowed for the recovery of public debt and that the sovereignty of Latin America must be defended.

"It is particularly painful that Argentina voted together with the United Kingdom against Venezuela," said Castro, given the conflict over the Malvinas Islands between the UK and Argentina. In 2012, when Castro was the ambassador to the UK, she challenged UK Foreign Minister William Hague over London's failure to hold talks over the disputed islands.

For Argentina to join with the UK and to ride roughshod over the Drago Doctrine seemed a full violation of everything that defined its independent foreign policy.

Even worse, however, is the suggestion that Argentina's government acted in the UN to please the wealthy bondholders who are in the midst of negotiations over the possibility of a default. It could well be a coincidence that the International Monetary Fund's mission team (Julie Kozack and Luis Cubeddu) arrived in Buenos Aires on the day of the UN vote. Refinancing the $44 billion debt is the main issue before Argentina's government, which is in no mood to sour relations with the U.S. Treasury Department as the discussion about timetables for repayment are ongoing.

Ethics

Stung by Castro's resignation, the Argentinian government said that the country "does not subscribe to" the general orientation of the Lima Group. This is welcome news, but it does not explain its UN vote on October 6.

"Anti-colonialism is… an ethical imperative," Castro wrote in her resignation letter. This is a powerful sentence. It was an act of immense bravery for her to have resigned in such a public way. But her resignation has clarified for many people the importance of standing up straight in a world where too many people drop their shoulders before the arrogance of the powerful.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest book is Washington Bullets, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.

How Ecuador's democracy is being suffocated

By Vijay Prashad and Pilar Troya

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

A recent poll showed that if Andrés Arauz Galarza were allowed to run in Ecuador's presidential election of 2021, he would win in the first round with 45.9 percent of the vote. The pollsters found that Arauz—who was the minister of knowledge and human talent from 2015 to 2017—wins across "all the social strata and regions of the country, with a slight weakness among the richest voters in the country."

Andrés Arauz entered policymaking and government when Rafael Correa was the president of the country, from 2007 to 2017. A stint at the Central Bank led to a career in the planning department (SENPLADES), before Arauz became a minister in the last two turbulent years of Correa's government. There was not a whiff of corruption or incompetence around Arauz in his decade of service; when Correa left office, Arauz went to Mexico to pursue a PhD at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

Far behind Arauz in the polls is Guillermo Lasso Mendoza, the candidate of the right. Lasso, who is a wealthy banker, had run against the current President Lenín Moreno in 2017 but lost. He is the consensus candidate of the right wing, which cannot seem to advance his standing in the polls. He sits frozen at 32 percent.

Those polled said that Arauz was by far the most attractive candidate. But, if the ruling bloc in Ecuador has its way, Arauz will not be sworn in as the next president of the country next year. They will use every means to suffocate democracy in their country.

Correa and Moreno

The government of Rafael Correa, who is now living in Belgium, attempted to move a broadly left agenda while in office from 2007 to 2017. The Citizens' Revolution that Correa led passed a progressive constitution in 2008, which put the principle of good living (buen vivir in Spanish and sumak kawsay in Quechua) at its heart. Government investment to strengthen social and economic rights came alongside a crackdown on corporate (including multinational) corruption. Oil revenue was not parked in foreign banks, but used to invest in education, health care, roads, and other basic infrastructure. From Ecuador's population of 17 million, nearly 2 million people were lifted out of poverty in the Correa years.

Correa's government was anathema to the multinational firms—such as the U.S.-based oil company Chevron—and to the Ecuadorian oligarchy. Chevron's dangerous case for compensation against Ecuador, brought before Correa took office, was nonetheless fiercely resisted by Correa's government; the Dirty Hand (Mano Negra) campaign put enormous international pressure against Chevron. Chevron worked closely with the U.S. embassy in Quito and the U.S. government to undermine Correa and his campaign against the oil giant. Not only did they want him out, but they wanted the political tradition of the left—called Correistas by shorthand—out as well. Moreno, who was once close to Correa, switched sides and became the main instrument for the fragmentation of the Ecuadorian left.

In the election of 2017, Moreno defeated Guillermo Lasso, who is running again in 2021. But, within a short time, Moreno sharply moved rightward. He worked closely with Lasso in the National Assembly to undermine each advance made by the government of Correa. They defunded education and health care, withdrew labor rights and rights to housing, wanted to sell off Ecuador's refinery, and deregulated parts of the financial system. A consequence of these policies has been Ecuador's appalling response, including accusations of deliberate undercounting, to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Attack on the Correistas

Moreno and his right-wing allies needed to inoculate themselves from any criticism. They went on a frontal attack against the Correistas.

The first battleground was to fragment the Correista political organization and to deny the Correistas a political platform. A February 2018 referendum was barreled through the country that allowed the government to destroy the democratic structures of the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE), the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, the Judiciary Council, the attorney general, the comptroller general, and others. With the assistance of the CNE, Moreno divided and took control of Correa's party, the Alianza Pais.

When the Correistas tried to regroup and form a party, the institutions of the state blocked them. They said that the proposed names were misleading or that the signatures collected were invalid. By 2019, the Correistas used the Fuerza Compromiso Social platform to run for local elections in 2019. This platform was then banned in 2020.

In Brazil, the oligarchy prevented former president Lula from contesting the 2018 election; that process resulted in a new concept, lawfare—using the law as a political instrument. The same sort of lawfare was used in Ecuador to ensnare Correa and to prevent him from running for office. Correa was accused of bribery—with the bizarre notion of "psychic influence" (influjo psíquico) at the root of the case. The eight-year sentence inflicted upon him prevented him from running for office in Ecuador; that he was in Belgium meant that he could not, however, be arrested and imprisoned.

Election of 2021

The Correistas, using their platform of Union for Hope (Unión por la Esperanza), made an alliance with the Movimiento Centro Democrático to be able to run a candidate for the presidential election of 2021. Arauz won the primaries and was nominated as the presidential candidate. The party decided to have two vice-presidential candidates—both Correa and Carlos Rabascall.

The CNE's president Diana Atamaint indicated that the CNE would disqualify Correa from the ballot, and even suggested that Arauz's candidacy is illegal as a consequence of having Correa as his running mate. Matters are at a stalemate, as lawyers scurry about trying to find a solution to this crisis. The CNE has until October 7 to fix the matter. The first round for the election is on February 7, 2021.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest book is Washington Bullets, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.

Pilar Troya is a researcher at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. She is an Ecuadorian anthropologist interested in the feminist movement and social public policies, especially concerning gender equality. She served as a member of the board of Ecuador's former Women's National Council (CONAMU), an adviser to the Ministry of National Planning, and an adviser and deputy minister in the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, and Technology.

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