Angry at World Bank, Ecuador leader exits summit
Ecuador’s leftist president stormed out of a summit of leaders of Latin America, Spain and Portugal on Saturday, demanding apologies from a World Bank representative.
Leaders from Spanish and Portuguese-speaking nations wrapped up a two-day event here on how to weather the effects of the global economic slowdown.
President Rafael Correa was visibly upset during a presentation by Pamela Cox, a senior World Bank official for Latin America and the Caribbean.
“In an Ibero-American forum, why do I have to listen to lectures from the World Bank vice president, who openly blackmailed my country?” Correa asked, interrupting Cox.
Correa recalled an incident in 2007, the year he took office, when he kicked out the World Bank’s representative in Ecuador after the organization decided to withhold a previously approved $100 million loan.
The move was a reprisal over the reform of a fund for foreign debt payments, Correa said. The loan had been approved in 2005, when he, an economist by training, was finance minister.
“That lady told me: ‘We are not going to give you the credit because the policies have changed,'” said Correa, insisting that he did not understand why he had to listen to the “international bureaucrat.”
Cox should at least “start by apologizing for the damage done to Latin America and the countries of the world,” Correa said. He then stormed out of the conference hall.
The event host, Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, tried to downplay the incident. The Ibero-American summit “is an open forum, where people and ideas are heard,” he said.
Cox remained silent during Correa’s tirade, and when she spoke, she made no reference to the Ecuadoran president.
The Ecuadoran leader was “out of place, out of context,” World Bank spokesman Sergio Jellinek later told reporters. “Correa’s attack was personal and we lament it very much,” he said.
Correa later rejoined the event, and in his presentation again took aim at Cox — a US citizen — as well as the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which also had a representative at the event.
Nine leaders, including outgoing Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, were at the summit.
Absent, however, were the leaders of economic powerhouses Brazil and Argentina, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and several presidents from Central America.
Addressing regional growth on the back of exports of raw materials such as copper, coal, oil and soybeans, especially to booming China, Mexican President Felipe Calderon warned it could be a “mixed blessing.”
“Economies are growing in Latin America. This is happening because of the extraordinarily high prices for raw materials,” he said.
“These boom years also can come to an end. (…) And that can be bad for our whole region,” Calderon warned.
Peru’s President Ollanta Humala threw a spotlight on the fact that most countries in the region had so far failed to emerge as producers of more advanced goods and services.
“How much is each of our countries paying in exchange for modern life?” he asked.
“How much do we pay to install an audio system we did not make, in a car we did not make, or for arms we do not make; or for infrastructure we have to rent when we need it?”
In a final declaration, summit countries urged the United States to end its half-century trade embargo against Cuba, and called on Britain to settle its dispute with Argentina over the Falkland Islands, common-ground positions on issues that were not the focus of their talks here.