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.