At press time, with official tallies showing he had won 57 percent of the vote, Rafael Correa of the left-leaning Alianza País party claimed victory over right-wing millionaire Alvaro Noboa in the Nov. 26 run-off election for the presidency of Ecuador.

“We accept this victory with dignity and humility,” Correa said. “We are just instruments of the power of the people. With my ascension to power comes the people’s ascension into power.”

Big crowds turned out in Quito and elsewhere to celebrate.

Kintto Lucas, writing in Tintají magazine, said, “It is time to form a great social and political front in support of Rafael Correa and the changes Ecuador so urgently needs.”

Correa, 43, is an economist who once served as economics minister under the current president, Alfredo Palacio. Many feel Correa was forced to resign his previous post under pressure from the International Monetary Fund. The IMF, they say, disliked his strong defense of meeting human needs and the preservation of the public sector, and his rejection of a “free trade” agreement with the United States.

Meanwhile, Noboa, a millionaire banana tycoon and Ecuador’s richest man, has charged election fraud and plans to request a recount. However, the Organization of American States, which monitored the election, said balloting took place normally and in an exemplary way.

Ecuador’s next president will have to contend with a powerful grassroots social movement. This anti-capitalist, continent-wide, workers’ and indigenous peoples’ movement is comprised of groups such as the indigenous movement Pachakutik, which has allowed only three presidents to serve out full terms since 1979.

In April 2005 Alfredo Palacio took over power from Lucio Gutierrez, one of three consecutive presidents who have recently had to resign because of popular protests against neoliberal policies. Ecuador has had eight presidents in 10 years.

Class antagonisms, mass emigration, recession, press censorship, high inflation, oil workers’ strikes, racial strife and the replacement of the national currency with the U.S. dollar have made Ecuador the scene of political turmoil.

With over 80 percent of Ecuadorians living in poverty and much of Ecuador’s resources in foreign hands, attempts at wide-scale privatization of public social services and the planned free trade agreement with the U.S. have met resolute opposition. Successive governments supporting these positions have been forced on many occasions to back down or cede ground.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a supporter of Correa, said, “After many years of divisive social and economic policy, policy that has provoked the tragedy of despair, of wide-scale emigration — hope could not be robbed from us, for [today] we have overcome.”

Correa ran on a platform of Ecuadorian sovereignty and regional integration. His Alianza País party, which has signed an alliance pact with the Ecuadorian Socialist Party, has called Ecuador’s highly unpopular Congress a “cloaca,” or sewer, and has called for the writing of a new constitution “more in tune with the times.”

He has vowed to shut down the U.S. military base in Manta and has been quoted saying, “We can negotiate with the U.S. about a base in Manta, and if they let us put a military base in Miami, if there is no problem, we’ll accept.”

Another of his campaign themes is a call for a revision of Ecuador’s foreign-dominated oil industry, saying, “Many of the oil contracts are a true entrapment for the country. Of every five barrels of oil that the multinationals produce, they leave only one for the state and take four. … That is absolutely unacceptable. We’re going to revise and renegotiate the contracts.”

Correa has invited the Ecuadorian citizenry to “unite with this change … to work to overcome 20 years of the long, sad neoliberalist night that has damaged us so.”

Indeed it is Correa who must unite with and represent the powerful Ecuadorian social movements and the people’s will if he is to avoid a dark fate similar to his predecessors. For as Bolivia’s Evo Morales has said of Latin America, “The time of dignity for the people has come.”