Ecuador’s Succession Politics Get Ugly

BloombergBy Mac Margolis

When the government candidate eked out a victory in the bitter runoff for president of Ecuador in April, incumbent Rafael Correa was ebullient. The willful populist who ran the small Andean nation like a private finca for the last decade had staked his legacy on the continuation of his “Citizen’s Revolution,” pulling out the stops for his anointed successor against a surging opposition.

So it wasn’t unreasonable to expect both gratitude and fealty from his understudy. But in the two months since taking office, President Lenin Moreno has been anything but the doting mentee. Calling for a national dialogue, he reached out to opposition leaders, including Correa’s blood enemy, former president Abdala Bucaram. At a time when high-ranking Ecuadorean officials from Correa’s administration are being questioned for graft, he announced an anti-corruption drive, and granted generous property rights to indigenous communities with whom Correa had repeatedly clashed.

The differences between creator and creature flared into a public battle, spilling over to social media. Correa called his successor “disloyal” and “mediocre,” and warned of the danger of “crossing red lines.” On Twitter Moreno parried that “we continue committed to reconcile the country,” adding: “As for hate, don’t count on us.” Such apostasy is new in Ecuador, according to political scientist Andres Mejia Acosta, of Kings College London. “The unspoken code for a new leader is that you leave your predecessor alone and the party allows you to govern,” he told me.

Latin America has seen such struggles before. In 2010, for instance, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos rode into office on the coattails of his charismatic former boss, Alvaro Uribe, only to scrap his mentor’s bellicose script, reaching out to Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez and launching peace talks with insurgents. That gamble paid off, eventually ending the hemisphere’s longest shooting war and winning Santos the Nobel Peace Prize.

For Moreno, more than political branding is at stake. Correa built his Citizen’s Revolution on resource nationalism and aggressive government investment in infrastructure and social policies, all fed by soaring prices for oil and minerals during the roaring 2000s. Such lavishness burnished his popularity, allowing Correa to centralize power by capturing the courts and to bully critics and the media. He called the press “assassins with ink”; the government-packed media oversight authority, with its telling acronym Supercom, imposed more than 675 sanctions on media outlets and journalists since 2013.

But the spending outlasted the commodities bonanza. And as was the case with many other populists in the Americas, the bill has come due, in this case on Moreno’s watch. Moreno takes over as Ecuador heads into its second year of recession, with the economy set to shrink by 0.2 percent in 2017 on top of a 1.5 percent contraction last year, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Public-sector non-financial debt has almost quadrupled since 2011 to nearly 40 percent of gross domestic product, a flashing yellow light for the new government, the EIU’s Mark Keller estimated. The amount Ecuador spends just to service its external debt has doubled since 2012, to $5.9 billion and counting.

For Moreno, moving to the political center, slashing spending, and easing political tensions are not a backlash against Correa, but a matter of survival. “Moreno will have little choice but to make tremendous cuts in government expenditures,” said Keller. “Government has acknowledged growth must come from the private sector.”

To Correa and his allies such moves would only compound the heresy, presaging difficult times for the new government. However, even if no counterrevolution is in the works, indications are the tensions may be easing. Though Moreno won just over half the vote, his approval ratings have topped 60 percent in some cities. And on July 3, a court in Quito, where the Andean strongman is used to winning, acquitted a web journalist whom Correa sued for “defamation” and “injuring his honor.” It’s a small sign that after a poisonous political decade, Ecuador may be ready for something new.

Click here for original article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Subscribe to our newsletter!

Latest Tweets by @IASecurity

Videos Featuring Our Experts

Kingpins and corruption: Targeting transnational organized crime in the Americas Roger Noriega on the Crisis in Venezuela: The world's response | IN 60 SECONDS

Venezuelan crisis: A brief history by Roger Noriega | IN 60 SECONDS

WAC Philadelphia: Latin America’s Role in 2017 and Beyond, feat. José R. Cárdenas

Promo for CNN's AC360°: "Passports in the shadows", feat. Roger Noriega

Ambassador Roger Noriega on PBS NewsHour discussing U.S.-Mexico relations under Trump

José Cárdenas Interview with Opinion Journal: "Hungry in Venezuela"

Ambassador Noriega Analyzes President Obama’s visit to Cuba on PBS’ ‘Newshour’

About

During the last several decades, the United States has invested billions of dollars in trying to help the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean deliver better lives for their citizens. This has meant helping them increase internal security by combating the illicit growing and trafficking in narcotics and the activities of terrorist groups, as well as helping them to shore up their democratic and free market institutions.

Unfortunately, in recent years, continued progress in these areas has been threatened, not least by the elections of radical populist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. These governments have instituted retrograde agendas that include the propagation of class warfare, state domination of the economy, assaults on private property, anti-Americanism, support for such international pariahs as Iran, and lackluster support for regional counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics initiatives.

We are a group of concerned policy experts that fear the results of these destructive agendas for individual freedom, prosperity, and the well-being of the peoples of the region. Our goal is to inform American policymakers and American and international public opinion of the dangers of these radical populist regimes to inter-American security.