MADRID (AP) — Former Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa called on his successor Lenin Moreno to explain to his country why he met with the indicted former campaign chairman for U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this year.
"If they keep it secret it's because they are hiding something," Correa said in an interview Saturday with The Associated Press in Madrid, adding that "political agreements should be out in the daylight."
Paul Manafort, who was recently indicted in the U.S. on money laundering charges and other counts, went to Ecuador May 9, according to a U.S. court filing. Special Counsel Robert Mueller said Manafort used a phone registered under a false name and traveled on one of three U.S. passports he possesses before going to Mexico and China weeks later.
A spokesman for Moreno told The New York Times in September that Manafort, who was under investigation for his ties to Ukraine's pro-Russian ruling party at the time, met with Moreno but he did not explain why. The president's office declined to comment when contacted by the AP.
Correa said he was not aware of the May trip and only found out about it in the press some days ago. He said he had no information about the meeting beyond rumors.
"It's very worrying that there should be a meeting with types like Manafort and that it should be kept hidden from the Ecuadorean people," he said.
Correa, who believes that his hand-picked successor has backed policies that will undermine his legacy, says he plans to return to Ecuador Nov. 24 for the first time since leaving office to defend the social programs and economic gains that endeared him to many poor Ecuadoreans.
"This is not a fight among buddies, this is a profoundly ideological conflict," he said. "President Moreno, from the day he won, started applying the government program of the right."
A group of Correa loyalists tried three weeks ago to expel Moreno from the presidency of the Alianza Pais, the country's leftist ruling party. But the attempt was later deemed illegal by an electoral tribunal and leaders behind the attempted purge were suspended for six months by the party's ethics committee.
The same suspended officials have unilaterally called for an Alianza Pais party national convention Dec. 3, but do not have the backing of Moreno, opening a major fight for power.
"Nothing prevents me from going back to Ecuador," Correa said, adding that he was not afraid of what he described as a campaign of threats and incitement of hatred toward him in the media.
Correa currently lives in Belgium, where his wife is from, and has repeatedly said that he would come out of political retirement if there is an agreement to form a national constitutional assembly to rewrite Ecuador's political charter, which could give his allies in the ruling party more power.
As part of the deepening feud, Moreno withdrew all powers from Vice President Jorge Glas, who is being investigated for accepting bribes during Correa's decade-long rule.
"This betrayal has shown how weak the country still is and how easy they can take us back to the past," Correa said.
Correa, who was in power for a decade, also reiterated his support for Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro and pointed to recent gubernatorial elections as proof of the country's democracy. Candidates from Venezuela's ruling socialist party won a majority of governors' offices up for grabs in October, although the opposition has claimed that regional elections were shrouded in fraud.
While acknowledging Venezuela's economic problems, Correa accused the media of lying by portraying Maduro as an unpopular dictator.
"This is what progressive governments have to face daily in Latin America and the world," he said.
Correa also defended Ecuador's granting of asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been holed up in the country's embassy in Britain since 2012.
"We gave him asylum as was our sovereign right," Correa said. "Why would I regret having done what was correct and in defense of the human rights of a hunted person?"
He added that Assange had been told he could not use the embassy to interfere in the politics of other countries, such as the U.S. presidential campaign or Spain's conflict with the region of Catalonia. He cited his decision to briefly cut off Assange's internet during the U.S. elections as proof of his commitment to reining him in.
AP Writer Joshua Goodman from Caracas, Venezuela contributed to this report.