If the last three days of economic debate at the United Nations proves to be a guide, President Rafael Correa of Ecuador may be emerging as the leading intellectual of the Latin American left, at least among Spanish-speaking countries that have been most vociferous in their opposition to the United States.
An urbane politician and a recognized economist with European and American degrees, Correa came to the United Nations this week armed with the expected rhetoric he shares with Hugo Chávez, Daniel Ortega and Fidel Castro. But he also came with a plan. In a speech in the General Assembly on Thursday, he laid out some concrete ideas about how Latin America could, by creating its own regional financial institutions, fiscal cushions and eventually perhaps a regional central bank and common currency, build an economic future much less reliant on international lending institutions and the damaging swings of fortune caused by a dependence on the industrial countries and the “clan of the powerful.”
Correa’s presence may turn out to be the highlight of the beleaguered Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and Its Impact on Development, which was first billed as a summit, then a high-level meeting. As it headed toward a mostly bash-capitalism session planned for early June, various nations began objecting to a draft declaration being written, and the meeting was postponed for three weeks to achieve some consensus on a final document. Even with that in place, almost all government leaders opted out. Along with several Caribbean prime ministers, Correa was the only president to appear, and he made the most of it.
Notably absent from the UN meeting, attended mostly by ministerial-level delegates from around the world, were Correa’s friends and allies. President Evo Morales of Bolivia canceled out at the last moment and, to the personal disappointment of Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, the General Assembly president from Nicaragua who had staked so much on this event, his own President Ortega stayed away. Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan president, did not attend, and the Cuban leadership sent a trade minister.
But the forward-looking, take-charge projects proposed by Correa (who spoke by telephone with President Obama early this month) have resonance in other regions. In seminars and round tables on the margins of the larger gathering, African Union members spoke of the necessity for strong regional institutions on their continent as well as national stimulus plans, enhanced intraregional trade and investment in regional infrastructure so that, as one ambassador described it, he wouldn’t need to fly from East Africa to West Africa by way of Paris. In Asia, regional organizations have been working on projects along these lines for years, with mixed success. The model is the European Union.