Presidential Promise: Ecuador’s Election Critical for the Left

The citizens of Ecuador will go to the polls on February 7 and elect their new president, four years after Lenín Moreno won the position, reneged on his campaign promises, and turned the country inside out.

Following his election in 2017, Moreno sold out his predecessor and supporter Rafael Correa and double-crossed their PAIS Alliance party. As a result, Moreno’s approval rating plummeted to between 7 percent (CEDATOS, September 2020) and 16 percent (Atlas Intel, December 2020), and he won’t be seeking re-election. Correísta (pro-Correa) members jumped ship to the newly formed coalition Union for Hope (UNES) and presented 35-year-old economist Andrés Arauz as presidential candidate.

Arauz’s electoral victory in February is likely — recent polls give him an advantage of 8 percentage points (Atlas Intel, December 29) to 18 points (Perfiles de Opinion, January 5). For an outright win he needs 40 percent of the vote and 10 percent more than the runner-up, otherwise a runoff is held. Perfiles de Opinion gives Arauz 43 percent of the vote. Guillermo Lasso, candidate of the right and self-declared enemy of 21st century socialism — polling second — was runner-up in 2013 and 2017’s presidential elections.

A significant change since 2017 is the rebound of Pachakutik — polling third — a party backed by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE). One of the most significant actors in Ecuadorian politics, CONAIE represents powerful social movements and can mobilize to make or break presidents. CONAIE has consistently opposed neoliberal policies, privatizations, and environmentally damaging extraction industries. Pachakutik lost credibility with the left by supporting Lasso in 2017’s runoff.

Perfiles de Opinion, January 5, 2021 | https://www.perfilesdeopinion.com/

Moreno and government bodies, including the National Electoral Council (CNE), erected numerous hurdles for UNES. They tried to delay the election in the face of COVID-19, to block the formation of the new party, to block Arauz’s candidacy, and they successfully forbade Correa from running as Arauz’s vice president. International observers, including those from the European Parliament, are still waiting for their requests to be officially approved.

“Arauz will win unless they steal it from him,” wrote Steve Ellner, historian and associate managing editor of the journal Latin American Perspectives. “After all, Correa had a 60 percent favorable rating when he left office. Moreno is completely discredited, and Lasso has been around too long to be considered a new face for business in politics — and in addition is associated with global capital.”

Presidential candidate Ximena Peña, Moreno’s successor to represent the tattered remains of the PAIS Alliance in the February election, is supported by less than three percent of poll respondents.

The key questions posed by the election are the following: What are Arauz’s policies — will Correa’s Citizens’ Revolution continue? If elected, will Arauz turn his back on his constituents as Moreno did? Finally, what will Arauz’s election mean for the region and for the advance of socialism in Latin America? Before we tackle these questions, some recent history:

The Promises of Past Presidents

Lenín Moreno’s betrayal of his campaign promises was nothing new for an Ecuadorian leader, nor was his decision not to re-run. Rafael Correa (2007–2017) was the first president of Ecuador to be re-elected since the restoration of civilian rule in 1982, and the only one to finish his term since 1996.

President Lucio Gutiérrez (2003–2005) alienated his constituents by compromising with the neoliberal forces he had promised to oppose, and was removed from office following protests and military intervention. When he dollarized Ecuador’s currency, Jamil Mahuad (1998–2000) was ousted by massive CONAIE-led demonstrations, labelled South Americas first Indigenous coup d’état.

While Correa wasn’t universally adored, he enjoyed great popularity because he largely honored his anti-neoliberal and anti-imperialist rhetoric. Under his leadership Ecuador joined the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), intentionally defaulted on “illegitimate” foreign debts in 2008, spurned the International Monetary Fund (IMF), closed the US Air Force base at Manta in 2009, and carried out nationalizations and expropriations that increased state control over extraction industries. A 2010 law expanded “the government’s share from 13% to 87% of gross oil revenues,” for example. Under Correa poverty was reduced from 37 percent to 22 percent while public spending on healthcare and education increased astronomically.

Though he had acted as Correa’s vice president for six years and promised to follow the same path, upon taking office Moreno criticized Correa’s fiscal policies and claimed they had driven Ecuador into a financial mess. This “discourse of crisis promoted in the first two years of the Moreno government was a political strategy designed to create distance from the administration of his predecessor Rafael Correa,” said Ecuadorian economists Katusuka King and Pablo Samaniego.

In February 2019 Moreno took a $10 billion loan from multilateral agencies, including $4.2 billion from the IMF, and at their insistence implemented spending cuts to healthcare (amounting to 64 percent) and education. In April 2019 Moreno annulled Julian Assange’s asylum and left him at the mercy of the UK courts. He pulled Ecuador out of ALBA and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). Decisively, he reversed Correa’s laws and “opened up the oil sector to private operators.” Widespread protests resulted, quelled by COVID-19.

Lenín Moreno in Quito, 2018 | Agencia de Noticias ANDES/Wikimedia Commons

Arauz has criticized Moreno’s claim that Ecuador was approaching insolvency, characterizing Moreno’s policy as a familiar ruse used to profit financiers. “Some people claim the Social Security system is broke,” said Arauz. “They cite actuarial studies far into the future. Some are even audacious enough to say the system has shortfalls today. All of this ignores the fact that the system has the nations’ largest portfolio of investments and its own bank. Those who claim the system is broke are the same ones who want to raise the retirement age or who want to privatize it.”

Moreno also terminated Ecuador’s agreement with Cuban doctors. As COVID-19 struck, Ecuador’s hospitals and morgues reached capacity, and in April international media broadcast reports showing hundreds of bodies left out in the street. The nation’s death rate is one of the world’s worst — about 60 times that of Cuba.

“I think Lenín Moreno is a Shakespearean traitor in a number of ways,” said former Minister of Foreign Affairs Guillaume Long, who resigned eight months into Moreno’s presidency. “He betrayed Correa, he betrayed his party, he betrayed his electorate. He actually said a few weeks after being elected and being sworn into power that he hated the people who voted for him… I think there are a number of reasons why he did this: one of the fundamental reasons is realignment in the US sphere of influence.”

Moreno stacked the supreme court with his supporters and launched criminal proceedings against Correa and his entourage. During the course of Moreno’s presidency numerous cabinet ministers resigned including Finance Minister Carlos de la Torre, Foreign Minister José Valencia, Minister of Culture and Heritage Juan Fernando Velasco, and Vice Presidents María Vicuña and Otto Sonnenholzner. Moreno’s first Vice President, Jorge Glas, was stripped of his office and imprisoned on corruption charges. Glas had described Moreno as a “person who has continually attacked our revolutionary project.”

Unsurprisingly mainstream press hailed Moreno as “pragmatic,” while liberal academics told a version of the tale in which “Moreno broke with his mentor, took charge of Alianza País [PAIS Alliance], and began dismantling Correa’s autocratic grip on the institutions of accountability.”¹ Frequently ignored is the reality that Moreno also drove PAIS Alliance into the ground, destroying its popular support base and alienating most party members.

Moreno’s betrayal doesn’t constitute a coup as Bolivia suffered in late 2019, but was a significant setback for Latin American socialism and a failure of democracy. Ecuadorians, after all, did not receive the candidate they voted for. Similar perversions of democracy aren’t exceptional, but typical in the “backyard” of the US, and among nations historically exploited by imperialism and transnational capital. A victory for Arauz will constitute a reversal in Ecuador nearly as substantial as that of Bolivia’s in October 2020, when Movement for Socialism’s (MAS) Luis Arce was elected.

Andrés Arauz and Evo Morales in Bolivia, November 2020

If elected, will Arauz turn his back on his constituents as Moreno did?

“There is always a risk… always,” responded political analyst Jesús Rodríguez-Espinoza. “But from reading between the lines in Correa’s interviews and Arauz’s statements, it doesn’t seem possible. Correa’s coalition was too broad, and full of opportunists, but it also would be very bad for Correa to repeat a miscalculation like the one he committed with Moreno.”

Right-wing outlet Americas Quarterly were confident that Arauz will stay the course. In 2017, following Moreno’s victory Americas Quarterly encouraged him to “break from his predecessor,” and tellingly described Moreno’s campaign as “signaling to the international community and Correa’s opponents that he will implement much needed reforms to restore fiscal discipline.” Arauz, on the other hand, was portrayed in a recent article as a staunch correísta and “very ideological” — music to the ears of socialists. “I think if Arauz is elected, it won’t be him who governs,” said a think-tank researcher in the same article, “it’ll be Correa.”

Arauz is committed to Keynesian anti-austerity politics,” opines Steve Ellner. “I believe he will follow through on that. But what isn’t clear is where the money is going to come from. The main issue is whether he will force the IMF to provide Ecuador better terms, much the way Nestor Kirchner did when he came to office. Being a dollarized economy, which he says he will not alter — even though he, like Correa, thinks it was a mistake in the first place — his options are limited. Let’s see how this plays out.”

What are Arauz’s policies — will Correa’s Citizens’ Revolution continue?

Arauz is committed to continuing Correa’s Revolución Ciudadana (Citizens’ Revolution). Arauz is campaigning on the promises of rolling back Moreno’s privatizations, standing firm against the IMF and international capital, increasing public spending on education and healthcare, and restricting capital flight. He promises to reinstate Assange’s Ecuadorian citizenship, and to assert Ecuador’s sovereignty in international affairs.

Arauz’s alignment with Correa could not be more explicit. After being banned from standing as Arauz’s vice president, Correa was designated as an “accompanier” of his campaign, and Arauz indicates openly that Correa will be one of his principal advisors. The official title of Arauz’s party is the Commitment to the Citizens’ Revolution, and campaign ads — censored by the CNE — feature Correa endorsing Arauz.

The Citizens’ Revolution should be kept in perspective. Correa embodied socialism more radically than Kirchnerism or Lula’s Brazil, but not as boldly as Venezuela. Correísmo is frequently at odds with social movements and Indigenous organizations. Though Arauz has indicated that he will build “alliances with strong organized sectors in Ecuador, which include a good part of the Indigenous movement,” he is an economist, a leftist technocrat like Correa, who privileges “economism” — the rescue of Ecuador’s finances from the depredations of foreign capital and neoliberalism — over revolutionary restructuring of society.

Like Bolivia, Correa followed Venezuela by drafting a new Constitution, overwhelmingly ratified (63 percent in favor) in 2008, and lauded by environmentalists as the “first in the world to recognize rights of nature.”

What will Arauz’s election mean for the region and for the advance of socialism in Latin America?

Internationally, the election of Arauz all but guarantees that Ecuador will return to the orbit of Latin America’s socialist nations, joining Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, and — arguably — Argentina and Mexico in a powerful and more radical resurgence of the so-called pink tide.

Arauz’s candidacy is endorsed by Evo Morales, Argentina’s Alberto Fernandez and Christina Kirchner, and by the Puebla Group that includes Bolivia’s Vice President David Choquehuanca, former Brazilian Presidents Dilma Rousseff and Lula, Paraguay’s Lugo, and Uruguay’s Mujica. An Arauz victory will result in Ecuador’s departure from the Lima Group dedicated to overthrowing Maduro.

Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales, Lula da Silva and Rafael Correa

Arauz has promised to heighten Ecuador’s commitment to the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), and he will certainly return Ecuador to ALBA and UNASUR. “We’re going to be one the main promoters of regional integration for historical reasons,” affirmed Arauz in a recent interview, “and also for practical reasons.” Regional partnerships will benefit from Arauz’s victory.

“The stakes are high,” confirmed Ellner. “Following Argentina, Mexico and Bolivia, the left’s victory in Ecuador will signal a big change for Latin America, and perhaps force the US not to be so tough on Venezuela.”

Notes

  1. Carlos de la Torre. Assessing the Left Turn in Ecuador. Palgrave Macmillan, 2020.

Writing, reading, learning… Essayist, analyst, journalist… https://twitter.com/steve_lalla