Commentary: Chronicles of a Chronic Caribbean Chronicler: Red lights flashing for Ecuador’s Citizens Revolution
By Earl Bousquet
Red lights are flashing across Ecuador, as millions in the small South American nation prepare to return to the polls on April 2, in an election that will determine whether they continue the ‘Citizens Revolution’ of the past decade, or opt to reverse the progressive socialist trend that has so changed their lives during that time.
|Earl Bousquet is Editor-at-Large of The Diplomatic Courier and author of the regional newspaper column entitled Chronicles of a Chronic Caribbean Chronicler|
It’s a close race following the first round on February 19, which was won by the candidate seeking to succeed outgoing President Rafael Correa.
The Correa-led ‘Citizens Revolution’ cut poverty in half under a system of ‘21st Century Socialism’ that created what the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) judged as “the world’s most inclusive period of economic growth”.
Located between Peru and Colombia and with ownership of the Galapagos Islands 1,000 miles away in the Pacific, the 272,045 square kilometer country of over 15 million people has seen much social progress under Correa, who from 2007 restored peace and stability, social and economic progress, to a nation that earlier counted seven presidents in ten years.
Correa’s two successive administrations put political reform alongside economic nationalism, moved swiftly to overhaul the constitution and discredited political institutions and renegotiated agreements with the mainly American private oil companies to increase the country’s share of its oil revenue.
But as with all left, progressive or liberal governments south of its border, the US has been quite displeased — over the past decade — with Correa’s absolute refusal to cooperate with or pursue its South American policies or dictates.
Lenin Moreno, Correa’s successor to lead the ruling Allianza Pais party, won the majority of the votes in the first round. But he didn’t get the 40% needed – plus a 10% margin over his closest rival — to win outright.
Ecuadoreans now have to choose between either continuing the progressive, political, social and economic policies Correa led, or switching to the fiscally conservative and right-wing policies of a pro-US financial oligarch who already promises to reverse social gains and cut social spending.
The two leading candidates for the April 2 poll each represent an opposite side of Ecuador’s clear-cut left-right political spectrum.
The leading candidate, Vice President Lenin Moreno – a co-founder of the Citizens Revolution – approaches the poll in the lead, with all of five separate and final pre-election polls giving him a slight lead, one week ahead.
An author who also loves music and comedy, he also had active ties with the grassroots “Forajido” movement in Quito, which helped organize the popular uprising that toppled President Alfredo Palacio in 2005.
One of several 2006 diplomatic notes from the US Embassy in Ecuador — originally leaked by Wikileaks and re-released ahead of this year’s February poll — noted Moreno’s “genuine commitment to making a positive difference” in Ecuador.
The memo also said the then newly-elected Vice President “conveyed a sincere desire to improve coordination of social programs” and he had “a mature, serene demeanor and a genuine commitment to making a positive difference for his country.”
It said further that he “spoke with passion about the need to attend better to the country’s most disadvantaged populations” and “underscored the importance of the fight against corruption.”
The leading right wing candidate, former banker Guillermo Lasso, was revealed in the same Wiki-leaked 2006 cables as a regular visitor to and political consultant for US officials in Ecuador.
But he was also one of the most powerful figures in Ecuador’s finance sector — a former head of Coca-Cola’s Ecuador operations and also a President of the Bank of Guayaquil.
In 1998, Lasso was appointed Governor of Guayas province by President Jamil Mahuad — and as one of his biggest election campaign financiers, Mahuad appointed him Ecuador’s Minister of Finance and Energy in 1999.
In 2000, the US dollar replaced the Sucre as the national currency. But soon after, Lasso tactically resigned as finance minister — just months before Mahuad fled the country, after being ousted by an uprising led by the country’s indigenous people.
The uprising had been inspired by a massive banking and dollarization scandal — under Lasso’s watch — that crippled the country’s economy and led to the forced migration of almost three million Ecuadoreans. But the scandal left Lasso several times richer after.
Much is at stake for Ecuadoreans.
The past decade saw a repatriation of fiscal sovereignty through a taming of the influence of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the US lost a strategic military base it had in the country and US multinationals lost much of their absolute control of the nation’s vast oil resources.
Correa also rejected US demands to deliver Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who was granted political asylum five years ago at the Ecuador Embassy in London.
Washington remains very hungry for Assange — and Lasso has already promised to expel him from the embassy within 30 days, if he wins the vote.
However, the US is also quite interested in regime change in Quito – and for bigger strategic geopolitical, economic and security reasons.
Ecuador on March 5 expelled the wife of jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez after she landed on a tourist visa to support Lasso’s candidacy. Days earlier, Lilian Tintori had met President Donald trump at the White House, where he blasted the Maduro government and demanded her husband’s release.
Emboldened by the constitutional coup that deposed leftist Brazilian President Dilma Roussef, strengthened by the right-wing replacement of successive left-leaning governments in Argentina and supporting the increasingly aggressive agitation by the Venezuelan opposition of late, Washington smells blood in Ecuador.
Lasso claims he has closed Moreno’s lead and is already threatening street protests should he lose. Moreno, on the other hand, says his party has extended its slight lead and will indeed emerge victorious.
The president elected by Ecuadoreans on April 2 will be sworn-in on May 24th.