The progressive forces in South America were further consolidated with the 17 February third-term presidential electoral victory of Ecuador’s Rafael Correa. (Due to constitutional changes, his first term lasted for just two years.)
Correa achieved a convincing first-round victory, securing 57 percent of the vote, against 24 percent for his closest rival, Guillermo Lasso, a right-wing former banker.
In his six years in office, Correa has carried out widespread and deep reforms in his country of 15.6 million people, aimed at achieving a fundamental shift in wealth and power in favour of working people and the poor and against imperialism and the local oligarchs. This accounts for his solid support among the masses of the people (prior to Correa’s first electoral victory, Ecuador had had seven presidents within a decade) as well as the hatred directed at him by the rich and US imperialism.
As a result of Correa’s popular, democratic policies, a number of major companies have been nationalised and unfavourable contracts with imperialist oil companies have been scrapped or renegotiated on more favourable terms. Ecuador is attempting to enforce a fine of $6.8bn on the oil monopoly Chevron for its despoliation of the country’s rainforest, which has had grave effects on communities of indigenous peoples, in particular.
Correa has pursued policies that have seen schools and health clinics built throughout the country, thousands of miles of roads built and improved in rural areas, low-cost or free education introduced, along with free school uniforms, the minimum wage regularly increased above the rate of inflation, mortgages subsidised, and monthly cash payments introduced for the country’s two million poorest people, especially among single mothers and the elderly.
In the sour words of the Economist, from whom, incidentally, a number of the above-cited facts are sourced:
“Mr Correa raised the government’s share of oil and other taxes as well. The result is that government revenues have almost tripled since 2006, with oil accounting for about half of the rise. Opportunistically, Mr Correa scrapped previous fiscal rules that required part of windfall revenues to be saved, and defaulted on $3.2bn in foreign bonds. He has lavished all this cash on public spending.” (‘The man with the mighty microphone’, 9 February 2013)
All this instead of salting it away in a private bank account in some tax haven – how unforgivable!
As a result of such popular policies, since Correa came to power in 2007, the number of Ecuadorians living in poverty has declined by 8 percent, while life expectancy, time spent at school and average income have all risen steadily over the period. In the last four years alone, 95,400 new jobs have been created.
Correa’s Ecuador has further enraged imperialism by forging close ties with Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and other progressive states in the region, taking a central role in Alba, the socialist-oriented trading bloc initiated by Hugo Chávez, and has also strengthened alliances with such countries as China, Belarus and Iran. In the words of President Correa: “Ecuador is no longer for sale. The country of despair has become one of hope.”
It is this combination of a solid social base among the mass of the poor, along with strong regional and global alliances with progressive forces (China has advanced Ecuador at least US$3.4bn to assist in its economic development) that has enabled the Correa government to resist reactionary pressures from within and without.
In 2010, a police mutiny and attempted coup placed his life in danger, but the reactionary putsch was crushed not only by Correa’s own courageous actions, in a confrontation that claimed the life of one of his supporters, but by tens of thousands of his supporters taking to the streets and forcing the army to uphold the constitutional order.
The following year, Ecuador expelled Heather Hodges, the US ambassador, after documents were released by WikiLeaks showing that the US maintained extensive covert connections with anti-Correa elements in the Ecuadorian national police.
Testifying to Ecuador’s strength in the face of reactionary pressure, last year, the country’s London embassy granted refuge to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, prompting the British government to threaten to rip up the Vienna Convention (which governs international relations among states) by launching an assault on the diplomatic mission. The strong reaction, not just from Ecuador but from the whole of Latin America, has, for now, forced the British government to back down, although it still refuses to grant Assange safe passage.
Previously, Correa had expelled a US military base. He told Oliver Stone in the documentary South of the Border that he had no objections to the US having a military base in his country – so long as Ecuador could have one in Florida.
Following his election victory, Correa announced his intention to continue with what is termed the Citizens’ Revolution, saying that the challenge of the next four years “is to go faster and deeper in the same direction”.
Correa’s victory was warmly welcomed by the government of Venezuela, which stated:
“The impressive re-election of President Rafael Correa for a new period, at the head of the process of democratic transformation [through] which Ecuador is living, constitutes a victory of dignity for the Ecuadorian people. It is a new lesson for those powers, which have failed in their attempt to put obstacles in the path towards the consolidation of independence, sovereignty, and well being of all Ecuadorians.
“The re-election of President Correa is a victory for Alba, for the Bolivarian and socialist forces of Our America.”
Correa dedicated his own victory to Hugo Chávez, declaring:
“It’s worth taking this opportunity to also dedicate this victory to this great Latin-American leader who has transformed Venezuela.”