An Oct. 7 poll by the Cedatos/Gallup group shows Rafael Correa, a left-wing economist who opposes Washington’s “free trade” policies, is leading in the country’s presidential race with 37 percent of the electorate’s support.
Correa’s closest competitors are former vice president Leon Roldos, with 21 percent, and the pro-business, two-time congresswoman Cynthia Viteri, with 19 percent.
No one is likely to win outright in the first round of voting on Oct. 15, but if Correa gets to the runoff and ultimately wins, Latin America will have another leftward-leaning head of state, joining Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales.
The Ecuadorean people have high expectations that Correa, unlike his predecessors, will defend the nation’s sovereignty and keep his pledges. These pledges include his vow to close the U.S. military base at Manta, to restructure the foreign debt, to reject any so-called free trade agreements, to renegotiate contracts with foreign oil companies on more favorable terms and to convene a constituent assembly.
Correa, 43, candidate of the Alianza País (Country Alliance) party, served briefly as Ecuador’s finance minister, where he won popular support for his outspoken opposition to the onerous terms of international lending institutions and exploitative foreign oil contracts.
Correa believes foreign investment is beneficial as long as it contributes to the country’s development, instead of being a source of looting and despoliation. He is widely perceived as defending Ecuador’s national interests in contrast to the behavior of the country’s wealthy oligarchy, which typically cedes power to foreign companies.
In recent years many Latin America nations have seen their sovereignty undermined by various “free trade” agreements backed by the U.S. These pacts have devastated domestic agriculture, for example, and have left the continent’s farmers with virtually no means to legally challenge the unfair trade practices of their big competitors to the north.
Ecuadoreans have noticed that the U.S. rejects the role of the United Nations to settle international disputes and that it works to undermine the legitimacy of that body. They see how the U.S. has sought to exempt itself from prosecution in the International Court of Justice.
At the same time, the traditional liberal and conservative parties of Ecuador have largely been discredited. The people no longer believe in them.
A similar process has also been quite evident in Venezuela, where the role of traditional parties has been eclipsed by mass support for Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution. The face of politics has radically changed there.
The people of oil-rich Ecuador ask the question: With all of our oil and other natural resources, why do we see an impoverished population living on the hillsides? Where did all the money go? If it is not in the bank accounts of the oligarchy, it must be in the hands of the big oil corporations. It certainly isn’t in the hands of the people, who could use it to build housing and to provide health care and education.
Today over 70 percent of the population in Ecuador lives below the poverty line. Young people of working-class background are being forced to emigrate to find work to feed their families. A series of governments supported by the wealthy oligarchy has created only poverty and misery.
But today there is also new hope in the air. The people are placing their confidence in Rafael Correa, a self-described Bolivarian. This time they may get it right. They have certainly waited long enough.