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by Bernard Duraud

A Right-Left Electoral Duel in Ecuador

Translated Sunday 22 October 2006

Elections in Ecuador. The right-wing billionaire Alvaro Noboa is leading in the first round of the presidential elections, ahead of Rafael Correa, candidate of the Left. The second round of the presidential elections will take place on November 26th.

Translator’s introduction: This article is actually a combination of two articles in l’Humanité by the same journalist - Bernard Duraud - describing both the reslts of the first round of the presidential elections in Ecuador and the programme of the left-wing candidate, Rafael Correa. There is a real ideological conflict between banana-republic politics and a candidate whi is challenging the hegemony of multinational institutions. See footnote 1

The right-wing neo-liberal candidate Alvaro Noboa created a major surprise on Sunday 15 October, by getting more votes than the favorite, Rafael Correa, in the first round of the Ecuadorian presidential elections. Correa, at the head of his party Alianza País (Country Alliance: AP), representing the aspirations of the Left. Noboa, billionaire and “banana king”, (controlling the country’s main export), obtained 26.6% of the vote against 22.5 % for Correa, more than four points difference, based on 70% of the votes cast, as announced the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE). A second round will allow voters to choose between these two candidates on November 26.

However, Rafael Correa contended yesterday morning, that he had won the first round, considering that computer errors in the official count could have deprived him of one vote out of three. “We have won; we have our own system of counting the votes, with our own delegates. The country is being duped (…) They are trying to steal the victory from us”, he declared on the TV Ecuavisa programme.

During the electoral campaign, at least according to the polls, Rafael Correa, economist and a previous Minister of Finance, was going to be the winner, credited with 10 points advance over Noboa. As soon as the results were announced, Noboa was gloating: “The people have humiliated this friend of the terrorist Chavez and of Cuba”, to explain the defeat of his adversary. It is the third time Noboa has run for president and he promised jobs and housing during his campaign during which he was reported as distributing wheel-chairs, medicine and money.

The main target of the electoral campaign, Rafael Correa, presented himself as an “anti-system” candidate, in a country where mistrust towards political parties goes deep. He started his electoral campaign, just a few months ago, without any real campaign organization. He became the head of the “Country Alliance” (Alianza País) which is an ad-hoc coalition between various sectors of Ecuadorian society. Correa had decided not to present candidates for the parliamentary elections which took place concurrently, because, if he is elected, he is counting on convening a constituent assembly to create a new Republic, reflecting the desire of a large part of the population who are fed up with the inability of the national institutions to answer the people’s needs.

A Right-Left confrontation

On another hand, Rafael Correa said he was determined to follow a policy independent of the United States and of the international financial institutions such as the IMF or the World Bank, to alleviate his country of the weight of Ecuador’s international debt (ten billion dollars). On this, his position is close to those of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, a theme that has been exploited by the right, Noboa in particular, to predict chaos.

This has opened the elections to a real right-left confrontation, in a relatively unstable country, used to unpredictable political convulsions: three presidents were chased out by popular pressure or reversed by Congress during the last ten years. The last elected president, Lucio Gutierez, was removed by parliament in April 2005 and replaced by his vice-president Alfredo Palacio whose minister of finance had been Rafael Correa.

Rafael Correa, the man against the debt

Professor of economics, trained in the United-States and Europe, Rafael Correa, 43 years old was largely unknown a few months ago, a sociable person, self confident, elegant, with a dark complexion and clear eyes. We met him at the beginning of the year in Caracas, at the World Social Forum, just after his brief term in the government of Alfredo Palacio.

In the summer 2005, the Quito government had decided to change the use of the country’s oil revenues. Instead of serving to repay the debt, part of the money would be directed to social programs, particularly for the Indian population whose situation has deteriorated considerably in the last two decades. The World Bank, furious, then blocked a promised $100 million loan. Rafael Correa, finance minister and initiator of this project spoke of this “insult”; according to him, no one had the right “to punish a country for changing its laws”.

Ecuador, forced to look for funds elsewhere, turned to Venezuela and China, and finally Washington forced the resignation or Rafael Correa. “I was booted out after ten months, in a totally irrational manner”. The irrationality, said Correa, is the excessive weight of the debt ($10 billion) and particularly the financial markets which are gouging the budgets and stopping any possibility of real development. We have also been “bombed” with loans, he announced.

"The multilateral organizations have taken us for a ride." In 2005, the average monthly salary of Ecuadorians was 24 dollars, “the lending organizations demanded exorbitant rates.” The debt overload is, for Correa, “the rope around our neck”. To get out of this and reconquer the confiscated honour of the nation, he defends the idea of diverse sources of funding and the freedom from the constraints imposed by the international organizations, to the point of “not paying the illegitimate debt”. To sum up, for Correa, the problem is to know, who, “holds power”, the financial world or the people? Will the voters follow his direction?

Translator’s footnote: This is a combination of 2 articles: http://www.humanite.fr/journal/2006-10-14/2006-10-14-838619 and http://www.humanite.fr/journal/2006-10-17/2006-10-17-838772

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