The Latin American left had its fifth electoral victory of the year on November 26, when Rafael Correa, a supporter of Venezuelan socialist President Hugo Chavez, won Ecuador's presidential run-off election with the largest margin in almost 30 years.
Correa, a former finance minister and economics lecturer, received
57% of the vote, defeating Alvaro Noboa, Ecuador's richest man, a fierce
anti-communist, banana-plantation owner and advocate of neoliberal
economics, and despite a slander campaign and outright bribes (including
hand-outs of cash, computers and wheelchairs).
The mass mobilisation against Noboa by numerous social movements, and
accusations by the New York-based Human Rights Watch and other
organisations that the billionaire used child labour and strike-busting
gangs on his plantations also helped to turn what looked like a close
race into a rout.
Against the right-wing Christian populism of Noboa (who claimed God
had sent him to defeat the "communist", "terrorist" Correa), his
43-year-old leftist rival advocated a platform for radical change — a
"citizens' revolution" that promises to fundamentally change the
Ecuadorian political landscape.
Correa's campaign pledges echoed many of the radical policies being
implemented in Venezuela and Bolivia, as well as the demands of
Ecuador's powerful indigenous movement for independent national
development and social justice. He opposed a free trade agreement with
the United States, advocated renegotiating contracts on Ecuador's vast
oil reserves, as well as increased social spending on health, education,
the environment and housing.
Correa called for raising the minimum wage and the closure of the US military base at Manta.
Significantly, Correa, who describes himself as a "humanist, leftist
Christian", has echoed Chavez's call for a "socialism of the 21st
Century", advocating both a regional currency and Latin American
integration on the basis of social, rather than purely economic, needs.
He is also fiercely critical of US President George Bush, the Iraq war,
and of "free trade", which he describes as a "fraud".
While Ecuador is the second largest supplier of oil from the region
to the US, over 60% of its 13 million inhabitants live below the
official poverty line.
The country has long been hamstrung by an enormous foreign debt,
amounting to 35% of its GDP, and suffers from a decaying infrastructure.
Correa has said that Ecuador may have to default on some or all of its
debt in order to provide essential services and repair its
Correa has also proposed renegotiating oil contracts in order to
recuperate 85% of profits for social spending, and rejoining Ecuador to
OPEC, which it left in 1993. Ecuador's oil industry is nationally owned,
but foreign companies such as the US-owned Occidental Petroleum have
been exploiting that wealth while terrorising indigenous communities and
causing massive environmental damage.
Correa has also pledged to convene a constituent assembly to rewrite
the country's constitution to give the president the power to fire the
Congress, a body that Correa calls a "sewer" and that 97% of Ecuadorian
voters consider to be mired in corruption, and to make all elected
officals recallable. He has already initiated a referendum to this end,
which would put power in the hands of community-based movements that
represent Ecuador's excluded majority, rather than the traditional
political parties, run by the small wealthy elite that has dominated
Ecuador for decades.
The challenge facing Correa is significant, however, as his Alianza
Pais (Alliance Country) movement ran no candidates for the unicameral
Facing a hostile Congress controlled by his right-wing opponents who
could block proposed legislative reforms, and possibly impeach him,
Correa is reaching out to potential allies in other parties who favour
Correa's policies place him on a direct collision course with
Ecuador's racist and wealthy elite, a course that he can only maintain
with the support of the popular movements, which have overthrown three
presidents in the past decade.
The strongest of these, the CONAIE federation, which represents the
country's 40% indigenous population, has lent Correa conditional
support. Its reservations stem from the betrayal of the previous
president, Lucio Gutierrez, who broke similar promises, and was
overthrown in April last year.
Many Ecuadorians remain sceptical about the ability of electoral
politics to bring about meaningful reform — despite compulsory voting,
10% of ballot paper were left blank. Since his election, however, Correa
has maintained his radical stance. He has promised to halve the
presidential salary, and warned that if Congress tries to block proposed
reforms he will convoke mass demonstrations to force it to obey the
First published in Green Left Weekly, December 6, 2006