7 December 2006 Edition

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Ecuador - social movements overthrow political elite


It started in Venezuela, followed by Argentina and Brazil, it happened too in Uruguay and then came Bolivia, and now it is finally the turn of Ecuador. After several botched attempts, including a coup d'etat led by the indigenous movement and part of the army, Ecuadoran social movements have finally managed to get rid of the political elites that for hundreds of years imposed poverty and discrimination against the indigenous and the poor.

It was on Thursday 30 November that the victory of presidential candidate Rafael Correa was finally and officially confirmed. Correa is a charismatic, clever and young US-educated economist. A former finance minister with the current government of President Palacios, he is also the preferred candidate of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who sees Correa potentially as another supporter of his Bolivarian revolution for Latin America.

The Venezuelan ambassador in the Ecuadorian capital Quito explained that his government hopes to work closely with Correa's because of "ideological similarity" between both administrations. He also said that there are outstanding energy projects between both countries and that the Correa administration will help to develop them.

A symbol and a challenge

The election of Correa symbolises how political and social currents are changing in Latin America. The defeated candidate, Álvaro Noboa is one of Latin America's richest men, his family fortune built on banana plantations. Correa got over 57% of the vote while Noboa polled 42.8%. Correa spoke about a "citizens' revolution" to overturn what he called the discredited political establishment.

Correa has said his presidency - his inauguration will take place in early January - is a challenge to the rule of financial institutions and the US State Department. He has promised to stop Ecuadoran participation in the US proposed Free Trade Area for the Americas (FTAA), to end the contract that allows the US to keep the military base of Manta on the border with Colombia, and to go back to the oil exporters' organisation (OPEC) that Ecuador abandoned 20 years ago.

Correa also said during his electoral campaign that he would renegotiate contracts with foreign oil companies. The question is whether he will nationalise Ecuador's energy industry as Morales did in Bolivia.

Correa's approach differs from what many would be expect from an economist educated in the land where liberal free market economy guru Milton Friedman reigned till his death on 26 November, but he will not be the only radical economist in the cabinet. He announced that Alberto Acosta, an economist better known in Ireland for his visits as one of the leaders of the debt cancellation movement in Latin America, will become his Energy minister. Correa also named left-wing economist Ricardo Patiño as his Economy minister. It is also expected, that as Chávez and Morales did in Venezuela and Bolivia, respectively, Correa will establish a constituent assembly that would allow for proper and equal indigenous representation.

Ecuador's indigenous movement is one of the strongest in Latin America, with its own political party Pachakutik and the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) among others. It was through their mobilisation that the last three elected presidents were overthrown. Ecuador has had seven presidents in the last decade and only three since 1979 have succeeded in serving full terms.

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