ECUADOR: Correa’s Complex Legacy and the Future of his Political Project

Widely regarded as a populist, Correa (like the other Bolivarian leaders) remains a deeply divisive and complex statesman. Photo (cc) Wikimedia, Agencia de Noticias ANDESWidely regarded as a populist, Correa (like the other Bolivarian leaders) remains a deeply divisive and complex statesman. Photo (cc) Wikimedia, Agencia de Noticias ANDES

Ecuador’s Presidential Election will now go to a run-off after the ruling party’s candidate, Lenin Moreno, failed by less than 1% to secure the necessary 40% percent electoral majority. If elected in the second round of voting, Moreno will likely follow the path laid out by his predecessor, President Rafael Correa. However, should Moreno lose to the opposition candidate Guillermo Lasso, the Pink Tide of Bolivarian Socialism will suffer another heavy blow, and Ecuador may begin to chart a very different course from that of the last decade.

To assess the impact of any potential change, it is necessary to understand the policies that Correa has introduced. Widely regarded as a populist, Correa (like the other Bolivarian leaders) remains a deeply divisive and complex statesman.

Lenin Moreno (right), Correa's chosen successor. Photo (cc) WIkimedia, Agencia de Noticias ANDES

Lenin Moreno (right), Correa’s chosen successor. Photo (cc) WIkimedia, Agencia de Noticias ANDES

Serving as Finance Minister in 2005, Correa pushed for greater social spending (financed through Ecuador’s oil revenue), and was subsequently blamed for the withdrawal of a loan from The World Bank. Resigning from his post, Correa became the most popular and trusted Ecuadorian politician at the time. Having seemingly allied himself with Ecuador’s people rather than the international elite, and having used his time as Finance Minister to meet with other Latin American leftists (Chávez, Kirchner, da Silva), Correa had built a strong platform from which to launch his 2006 Presidential bid.

Coming in at second place after the first round of voting, Correa then secured the Presidency in the electoral run-off. In the decade prior to Correa’s ascension, the small South American country had cycled through a total of seven Presidents- the last President to carry out a full term in office had been in the 1990s. Correa, who is credited with having brought about a far greater degree of stability, was comfortably re-elected to office in 2009 with 52% of the vote.

Aligning himself with the continental movement of Bolivarian Socialists, Correa has introduced progressive reforms with the aim of reshaping Ecuador. His constitutional reform is one such example of this, a change which alongside Correa’s diverse cabinet helped bring the rights of society’s marginalised to the fore. Correa has invested heavily in education, health and housing, and has cut annual debt payments by half to fund free up funds for this social spending. He has also pushed towards diversifying Ecuador’s economy. Weaning Ecuador of its dependency on oil exports would be an important step in its national development. The dangers of failing to do this are nowhere more visible than in fellow Bolivarian state Venezuela, where the fall in oil prices has had dramatic knock-on effects.

However, whether Correa has fulfilled the promises of his progressive, socialist agenda is open to debate. While mass indigenous movements helped propel the leader to his position of power, and while his constitution has extended indigenous rights, Correa has faced increasing resistance from Ecuador’s indigenous community. This has been fuelled by the lucrative oil deals that Correa has struck with the Chinese, which have encroached on indigenous land. These deals also counter Correa’s environmentalist pledges.

The increased presence of China in Ecuador points towards another tension between Correa’s rhetoric and his governance. While Correa has increased hostilities with the US, characteristic of the anti-imperialist Bolivarians, he seems to have ignored any dangers that might be associated with Chinese economic expansion at home.

Rafael Correa visiting China. Ecuador's commercial ties with China have strengthened during his Presidency. Photo (cc) Wikimedia, Agencia de Noticias ANDES

Rafael Correa visiting China. Ecuador’s commercial ties with China have strengthened during his Presidency. Photo (cc) Wikimedia, Agencia de Noticias ANDES

Ecuador’s relationship with the US took a turn for the worse after Correa’s Constituent Assembly outlawed any foreign military bases on Ecuadorian soil. This directly targeted the US’s Manta Airbase, which shortly after was forced to relocate. Correa’s reasoning was that if the US were going to use Ecuadorian land for its military ventures, then Ecuador rightfully should be allowed land in Miami from which to pursue its own interests. Since, Ecuador and the United States have expelled each other’s ambassadors, and relations between the two countries have continued to worsen. The most widely publicised reason for this is no doubt Ecuador’s sheltering of Julian Assange. Assange has now been trapped inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London for nearly five years, having entered seeking asylum in June 2012.

Correa is a contradictory individual. A US trained Economist, who has increased hostility with the US. A Bolivarian Socialist who has flirted with globalised, free-market economics. A politician who has railed against The World Bank, but who has overseen loans of $17 billion from China since 2010. A leader who shelters a pro-transparency political dissident, but who has been criticised for limiting free expression and clamping down on the press. An alleged authoritarian who fought to be able to run again for office, but who is now stepping down.

How then could Correa’s successors build upon his complex legacy?

Lenin Moreno would almost certainly further the policies of Correa, ensuring economic stability whilst maintaining significant public spending. Moreno, who was shot in the back and rendered paraplegic during a robbery, has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his advocacy on behalf of disabled people. Moreno, like Correa, has also vowed to continue offering Asylum to Assange.

Julian Assange speaking from the Ecuadorian Embassy, Knightsbridge, London. Photo (cc) WIkimedia, Snapperjack

Julian Assange speaking from the Ecuadorian Embassy, Knightsbridge, London. Photo (cc) WIkimedia, Snapperjack

Moreno’s competitor, Lasso, is essentially proposing a move towards the right; towards the adoption of more neoliberal economic policies, and greater integration into trans-national commercial agreements. Allying himself with the emergent Latin American right-wing, such as Peru’s Kuczynski and Argentina’s Macri, Lasso would represent a break with Bolivarian Socialism. Lasso has also stated that he would leave plan ALBA (Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América), an economic partnership that was founded initially between Chávez’s Venezuela and Castro’s Cuba. Lasso has also made headlines by explaining that he will evict Assange from the London Embassy if elected.

Although Moreno came so close to victory earlier this week, his success in the electoral run-off is by no means secure. Correa has been a divisive leader, and while this means that many will stand by his successor in the hope of safeguarding his political project, the entirety of the opposition will now rally around Lasso. April’s electoral run-off has widespread implications, both regionally for the Bolivarians, and internationally if Ecuador’s emerging market opens up to increased foreign investment and trans-national trade deals. Many will be watching with interest, not least Julian Assange.