Ecuador’s president seeks renegotiation of debt with China on trip to Beijing

World Today

Ecuador’s President begins his first state visit to China on Monday. Lenin Moreno is expected to discuss China’s loans to the Latin American nation, and seek further financing.

CGTN’s Stephen Gibbs spoke to the President in the Ecuadorian capital, Quito.

Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno begins his first state visit to China on Monday. Shortly before setting off he invited CGTN to the Presidential Palace in Quito, to discuss the first months of his Presidency, and his hopes for the visit.

“China is one of the principal strategic partners of Ecuador. We are going to increase many of our exports to China, and increase imports. We will talk to President Xi Jinping about the possibility of financing, which we want in order to develop the nation”

China is a major lender to the small Latin American nation; it owns about 18 percent of its external debt. The President, since taking office in May 2017 has attempted to reduce the country’s debt burden.

“Remember that we took charge of this country with many problems, a country almost destroyed,” he said. 

That was a criticism of his predecessor, Rafael Correa. The spat between the two men is unusual, as Moreno was Correa’s former vice president, and chosen successor.

But over the last seven months Lenin Moreno has distanced himself from the policies of Correa; while Correa has hurled insults at his former friend over social media, including that Moreno is a “traitor.”

The President said he was unfazed by the insults. “I never read his tweets”, he said, adding he only uses social media to keep in touch with his family.

This last weeks have been challenging for Moreno. Vice President Maria Alejandra Vicuña resigned on Dec. 4 amid corruption allegations from her time as a lawmaker. He said it was right that she was relieved of office so she could fight the accusations. She is the second vice President he has lost; her predecessor, a close ally of former President Correa, is in jail after being found guilty of seeking millions of dollars in bribes from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. 

And the ongoing situation of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks who has spent the last six years in the Ecuador embassy in London, has again been in the news, with reports the Ecuadorian President spoke last year to the US lobbyist Paul Manafort to discuss a deal, whereby Mr.  Assange would be traded for debt relief from the US. 

“Absolutely not” true said the president, in response to those reports. He said he only spoke to Manafort in 2017 about a possible Chinese investment that came to nothing. 

As for Mr. Assange, he had this to say: “He has to comply with certain conditions. Whether you are a welcome guest, or not, you have to comply with the conditions of your hosts. “Ecuador in March suspended the former hacker’s access to the internet, following a series of tweets he wrote, including one disputing the UK claim that Russia was behind the poisoning in Salisbury of the Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

The President, who is known in Ecuador for his near perfect singing voice and sharp sense of humor, told CGTN he was far from sure he would stand for another term of office in 2021. “If you ask me now, the answer would be no. But after a couple of years, who knows? We can change our minds. Maybe I turn sinister, and fall in love with power! Let’s see what the future holds. But, personally, I think not.”

He is currently the world’s only head of state in a wheelchair, partially paralyzed since 1998, when he was shot by thieves attempting to steal his car. He has since become an advocate for disabled rights all over the world. 

Disability, he said, really can be an opportunity.

 “It leads to new capabilities, new challenges, new opportunities, new types of knowledge that allow you to live a true and fulfilling life.”