Saturday, August 15, 2009

Ecuador's Correa launches new term, promises change

On August 3, Ecuador celebrated a milestone when left-wing President Rafael Correa was sworn in for a second term — the first president to serve a second term since democracy was restored 30 years ago. 

The same week, Ecuador celebrated 200 years since it first declared independence from Spain - the first such declaration in Latin America - and Correa assumed the rotating presidency of the new Union of South American Nations, whose capital is in Quito.

Correa - a left-wing economist and former finance minister - was elected in 2006, promising to overhaul Ecuadorian society through a socialist "citizens' revolution" that would reduce poverty and strengthen democratic institutions.

Once elected, he initiated a popular re-write of the constitution, securing re-election in April this year on the platform of building "21st century socialism", despite media opposition and the impact of the financial crisis on Ecuador's weak economy.

Correa's support stems from the fact that he has redirected Ecuador's wealth towards eradicating poverty - having already increased welfare payments and the minimum wage - and his opposition to the corrupt political elite who ruined the economy while lining their own pockets.

Signalling his intent to continue the citizens' revolution, at his inauguration Correa said: "It's not just about helping the poor, it's about stamping out the structural causes of poverty."
"It's a gigantic struggle", he said, "but we have already started and no one is going to stop us".

Correa's inauguration was attended by leaders of most Latin American countries, including leftist presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Evo Morales of Bolivia and Raul Castro of Cuba.

Legitimate Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, overthrown in a June 28 military coup, was also present, and received the support of his fellow Latin American leaders. President Alvaro Uribe, of neighbouring Colombia, was notably absent.

Relations between Colombia and Ecuador have been frosty since March 1, 2008, when the Colombian air force bombed a guerrilla camp in Ecuadorian territory, killing more than 20 people, including civilians. Other Latin American nations united to condemn the bombing and Ecuador cut off diplomatic ties with Colombia.

The two countries are also in conflict over Colombia's illegal spraying of chemical pesticides over Ecuador, causing serious environmental and economic damage and severe health problems.

Ecuador has increased tariffs on Colombian imports and increased troop numbers on the border, and has expelled the US military from the Manta airforce base on the Ecuadorian coast. The US has since announced it will shift the base to Colombia, which has prompted fears that the bases could be used to launch an attack on Venezuela.

Correa also faces internal opposition to his citizens' revolution. At his inauguration he pointed out: "The biggest adversary that we've had in the past 30 months of government has been a press with a clear political role, although without any democratic legitimacy."
He said many radio and television stations in Ecuador were broadcasting illegitimately, and could have their licences taken back under public control.

On August 6, Correa announced the creation of two new ministries - the Ministry of Labor Relations, and the Ministry of Telecommunications and Information, which will oversee a review of media practices.

Citizen participation minister Doris Soliz also announced that the government would create local "citizen committees" to protect Ecuador from foreign destabilisation and from coups like that which took place recently in Honduras.

More importantly, Correa faces opposition from sectors of the influential indigenous movement - responsible for overthrowing three presidents in the past decade - which is opposed to further mining in their traditional lands.

First published in Green Left Weekly, August 15, 2009.

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