Tag Archives: Rafael Correa

Ecuador – Mid-Term Elections Send Ecuador Back to the Future

The results of Sunday’s mid-term elections indicate that Ecuador may be returning to the days of political fragmentation and instability, raising issues for the country’s democracy.

It was not supposed to be like this. A little over a year ago President Moreno received overwhelming support for his plebiscite, was riding high in the polls, and heading a largely unified political sector. Yet, as outlined previously in this blog, the point of unity was a shared opposition to former president Rafael Correa. As predicted, this proved a less-than-satisfactory basis for future governance.

Instead Ecuador’s economic and political future has begun to resemble its past. Moreno’s beleaguered administration bears an increasing resemblance to the chaotic governments that made Ecuador a byword for instability during the 1990s and early 2000s[i]

Beset by economic and political problems, Moreno’s approval rating has slumped to 30%; he has lost a second vice-president to a corruption scandal; and ruling party Alianza PAIS has been broken into “100 pieces”. The month of March witnessed the return of the “demonised” IMF to prop up the country’s ailing economy, evoking memories of former crises[ii].

Now the country’s politics is following a similar path. After a decade of near-hegemony by Alianza PAIS, Sunday’s elections for prefects, mayors, and councillors saw the resumption of what Simon Pachano dubbed the “provincialisation of representation”[iii]. The best that Moreno can say after failing to run candidates in the mid-terms is that no other party or movement has emerged obviously strengthened. 

An election that saw 11,069 posts contested by over 84,000 candidates from among seven political parties, nine national movements and 54 provincial movements, has left Ecuadorian politics atomised.  Localised, proto-populist movements have helped to elect mayors in four of the country’s five major cities, including the capital Quito.

The results have implications for some established political players. Correa’s Citizens’ Revolution Movement failed to  make any headway, although this can be largely attributed to the government prohibiting them from running candidates. Meanwhile the overwhelming ratification of Cynthia Viteri as mayor of Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil, may point to a return from the political wilderness of the conservative Social Christian Party.

But the overall picture is one of a “political vacuum” that has not been filled by any political force, mainly due to squabbling and division. This may be good news for Moreno in terms of political survival. 

Taking a broader view, however, the results bode ill for Ecuador’s democracy and economy. Having won elections as Correa’s former vice-president, Moreno has steadily moved away from his predecessor’s geopolitical and economic positions. Late last year Moreno introduced an ‘paquetazo’ of austerity measures, including layoffs in the public sector, and cuts to state subsidies. These moves paved the way for the formal approval of a $4.2 billion line of credit from the IMF, a highly controversial move.

Moreno has sought to blame the poor economic circumstances that he inherited from Correa. There is no doubt that levels of public debt were understated by Correa, and issues with salary payments for public sector workers pre-date the current president. But there is some evidence to suggest that Moreno is now overstating debt, perhaps to justify more cuts. Meanwhile, the Ecuadorian economy is continuing to contract.

While it is valid to argue that Moreno has largely continued the economic policies of Correa’s latter years – the former president reached an accord with the IMF for interim credit in 2016 –Moreno has significantly “accelerated” this process. As prior research shows, this kind of ‘switch’ can have a strongly negative impact on public faith in democracy[iv]. Recent survey data from Latinobarometro revealed that almost 20% of the public would favour an authoritarian government, providing some support for this thesis.

Accordingly, Moreno has been branded a “traitor” not only by Correa, but by many on the left. Justifying his break with the past by painting the Correa administration as corrupt, Moreno has overseen the conviction of his former vice-president and Correa loyalist Jorge Glas on corruption charges, and has sought Correa’s extradition from Belgium. 

But attempts to portray himself as the new broom of Ecuadorian politics have failed. Moreno’s second vice-president, María Alejandra Vicuña, was forced to resign following a corruption scandal, while rumours of offshore accounts and secret payments continue to swirl around the president. At a time when Ecuador is in dire need of political leadership, its president enjoys little credibility.

Instead of national unity, the mid-term results indicate a return to the days of high electoral volatility and moveable allegiances – referred to as “swapping jerseys” in Ecuador. Reduced policy coherence and enhanced instability appear the likely outcomes.

Geopolitically, Moreno has re-aligned Ecuador with the US, supporting Juan Guaido in Venezuela, and pulling out of the Unasur regional body. Economically, Moreno’s plan involves a combination of IMF-mandated cuts to the public sector, renewed privatisation, and a continuation of the extractivism that characterised the Correa era.

Yet the mid-term results point to issues for the president in this area also, with the election of indigenous anti-mining activist Yaku Perez Guartambel as Prefect of mineral-rich Azuay, and the rejection of the Quimsacocha mining project in a local popular plebiscite. Along with the protests that met Moreno’s austerity measures, these events may herald the return to political prominence of Ecuador’s social movements, so weakened under Correa[v]. Were that to occur, the echoes of the past would be undeniable.


[i]Pérez-Liñán, A. (2007), Presidential impeachment and the new political instability in Latin America. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

[ii]Aguirre, M. (2019), ‘Informe de Coyuntura: El Juego del Ahorcado’, CEP Informe de Coyuntura, Enero. Available at: http://www.cepecuador.org/images/PDFs/coyuntura_enero_2019_opt.pdf.

[iii]Pachano, S. (2006), ‘Ecuador: The provincialization of representation’, in S, Mainwaring, A.M. Bejarano, and E. Pizarro Leongómez (eds.), The Crisis of Democratic Representation in the Andes. Stanford, Stanford University Press.

[iv]Stokes, S. C. (2001). Mandates and democracy: Neoliberalism by surprise in Latin America. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press; Johnson, G. B., & Ryu, S. R. (2010), ‘Repudiating or rewarding neoliberalism? How broken campaign promises condition economic voting in Latin America’, Latin American Politics and Society52(4), pp. 1-24.

[v]Becker, M. (2013), ‘The stormy relations between Rafael Correa and social movements in Ecuador’, Latin American Perspectives40(3),pp. 43-62.

Ecuador – President Lenín Moreno ousted as head of his party

Last week, the President of Ecuador, Lenín Moreno, was removed as head of his own party, Alianza PAIS, following a meeting of the party leadership in Quito. Moreno, who only won the presidential election as the Alianza PAIS candidate last April, by narrowly defeating the right-leaning banker Guillermo Lasso by just over two percent of votes, was ostensibly removed as leader of the party because Moreno had been absent from a number of the party’s meetings over the course of the last three months. Most commentators however, believe that Moreno was removed as head of the party because of his decision to shift his stance away from that of the former president, Rafael Correa. Ricardo Patiño, a former Foreign Minister and Minister of Defense was chosen by the party’s national directorate to replace Moreno, while the party also issued an invitation to Correa to lead a restructuring of Alianza PAIS.

Moreno, an experienced disability campaigner, who is in a wheelchair following a robbery in 1998 when he was shot in the car park of a supermarket, served as Correa’s vice-president between 2007 and 2013, before assuming a role as a UN Special Envoy for Disability and Accessibility. For most of his presidency, Rafael Correa managed to maintain very high approval ratings. He was re-elected for a third term in a veritable landslide victory in May 2013, and his approval rating remained consistently between 65 and 85 per cent. Back in April 2014, Correa began indicating support for a constitutional amendment that would largely abolish presidential term limits. Correa had already overseen a constitutional reform to allow him run for a third consecutive term, and with national assembly backing of his proposed amendment to term limits, it was widely expected that he would run in 2017. However,  by the end of his presidency, falling oil prices had badly hurt the oil-exporting economy and economic growth had begun to grind to a standstill. The stuttering economy and his declining approval ratings appear to have convinced Correa to step aside.

It was widely perceived that Moreno who succeeded Correa as head of the party, following Correa’s decision not to run again in 2017 (but who remained as honorary life president of Alianza PAIS), would become a puppet of Correa as the power behind the throne, thereby facilitating Correa’s return in 2021. However, this was not to be the case. During the presidential campaign, Moreno began distancing himself from Correa; he indicated support for a more centrist economic policy and a re-evaluation of Ecuador’s relations with other countries in the region. In fact, after only three months in office, Moreno made a number of comments that were clearly a veiled criticism of President Nicolás Maduro and his increasing authoritarianism in Venezuela, which was widely seen as a repudiation of the former Boliviarian foreign policy of Correa, which had seen Ecuador provide the Maduro government with unwavering support.

Domestically, Moreno began a more conciliatory policy towards the former enemies of Correa, and reached out to opposition parties, the media and indigenous groups. Moreno introduced reforms to media freedom, allowed the liberalisation of digital financial transactions and even cut some public sector salaries. In August, he also suspended, and instigated proceedings against, Jorge Glas, his vice-president, and a former minister in Correa’s government, due to allegations of Glas’ involvement with the Odebrecht corruption scandal.

Acrimony soon followed, and Correa and Moreno began a very public spat on Twitter and in the national media. Moreno’s removal is far from the end of the story. Moreno’s approval has jumped to nearly 77 per cent, according to a recent poll from September, and not all party deputies have accepted this decision; in fact, over  44 Alianza PAIS deputies have expressed unconditional support for Moreno. Expect things to only heat up.

Ecuador – Ruling Coalition announces Candidate for February Election

At a convention over the weekend, Ecuador’s left-leaning ruling coalition, Alianza PAIS, announced that it had chosen Lenín Moreno as its candidate for the upcoming presidential elections in February 2017. Moreno served as the vice-president of the current Ecuadorian president, Rafael Correa, from 2007 until 2013, before being appointed as the United Nations Special Envoy on Disability and Accessibility. Moreno’s running mate for this election will be the current vice-president, Jorge Glas.

This election can be seen as a good litmus test of the sustainability of Latin America’s turn to left-leaning political parties and presidents that began with the election of Hugo Chávez in 1998. Given the income structure of the region, once left-leaning parties were able to institutionalise after the transition to democracy, it was no great surprise that they were able to successfully contest elections in the face of poor growth under right-leaning incumbents during the 1990s.[1] Recently however, poor growth following the collapse of the early 2000s commodity boom, and the fall in crude oil prices, has placed serious pressure on left-leaning incumbents; Dilma Rousseff was impeached and removed from power in Brazil; as was Fernando Lugo in Paraguay; the right-leaning Mauricio Macri won the presidency in Argentina; and the beleaguered left-wing government of Nicolás Maduro is looking increasingly fragile as the opposition gains strength. Suddenly, the right appears to be on the ascendency across the region.[2]

Similar dynamics can be observed in Ecuador. Falling oil prices have badly hurt the oil-exporting economy and economic growth has virtually ground to a standstill. The current left-leaning incumbent of Alianza PAIS, Rafael Correa, managed to maintain very high approval ratings through much of his presidency. He was re-elected for a third term in a veritable landslide victory in May 2013, and his approval rating remained consistently between 65 and 85 per cent. Back in April 2014, Correa began indicating support for a constitutional amendment that would largely abolish presidential term limits. Correa had already overseen a constitutional reform to allow him run for a third consecutive term, and with national assembly backing of his proposed amendment to term limits, it was widely expected that he would run in 2017. The stuttering economy and his declining approval ratings appear to have convinced Correa to step aside.

Moreno, an experienced disability campaigner, who is in a wheelchair following a robbery in 1998 when he was shot in the car park of a supermarket will face a splintered opposition on the right. Although the Ecuadorian electorate appear eager for change, the fact that the right is split between Guillermo Lasso of Creando Oportunidades (CREO) and Cynthia Viteri of the Partido Social Cristiano (PSC), will favour Moreno providing the election does not go to a run-off, which would allow the right to coalesce around one candidate.

It remains to be seen whether bad economic times will claim the scalp of another left-leaning incumbent.

[1] See Steven Levitsky and Kenneth Roberts (eds.) 2011. The Resurgence of the Latin American Left. John Hopkins University Press.

[2] See the companion book to the one above: Juan Pablo Luna and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser (eds.) 2014. The Resilience of the Latin American Right. John Hopkins University Press.

Ecuador – President Correa Fires Military High Command

Last week, the President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, fired all of Ecuador’s military high command for their refusal to pay back to the government money that the army allegedly owes. President Correa announced via Twitter that he had dismissed the army high command after they refused to refund US$41 million to the Ministry of the Environment. The former army high commander, Luis Anibal Garzon, refuted Correa’s claims and argued that the government was depriving the military of much needed funds, which it needed to cover basic pensions.

The dispute stems from the sale of 220 hectares of land in Guayaquil. The land, which was owned by the Instituto de Seguridad Social de las Fuerzas Armadas del Ecuador (ISSFA), the army social security and pension fund, was sold to the government in 2010 and used to create Guayaquil Park. Last July, the Pope, during his visit to Latin America, said mass in this park. At the time, the Ministry of the Environment paid over US$48 million for the land, even though the municipal council had apparently valued the land at only US$7.3 million. The Attorney General conducted an investigation last November, which concluded that the government had drastically overpaid ISSFA. Based on this investigation, the Correa administration then ordered the Ministry of Finance to recoup the US$41 million difference for the Ministry of the Environment.

The high command of the army refused to acquiesce to this request and instead publicly accused Correa of undermining the ability of the army to secure and pay for its pensions.

In response, Correa then dismissed the entire high command for disobedience.

Luis Anibal Garzon, chief of command of the armed forces was replaced by Oswaldo Fabián Zambrano Cueva. The new head of the navy is Angel Isaac Sarzosa Aguirre; the head of the air force, Cesar Abdon Merizalde Pavon; and head of the army, Luis Miguel Angel Castro Ayala.

Some have argued that Correa’s actions are part of a larger populist, even electoral authoritarian strategy, of centralizing power, which has seen him reform the constitution, aggressively tackle political opponents in civil society, and change term limits. [1] In response, groups of protestors took to the streets of Quito chanting “Correa Out.” These protests were marked by counter-protests in support of the Correa administration, where Correa lashed out at right-wing opponents and the media for tarnishing his regime and policies.

Worryingly, this incident does appear to indicate a step up in political polarization among opposition groups and the government. This is a trend that is reflected in other parts of the Andes. Political polarization is a recurrent feature of Bolivian politics, and polarization between the opposition and the government in Venezuela, has severely undermined the political stability of the country.

[1] For example, see the special issue on Latin America’s Authoritarian Drift in the Journal of Democracy (2013, Vol. 24, Issue 3).

Ecuador – Rafael Correa Floats the Possibility of Constitutional Reform to Allow Re-Election

Rafael Correa is one of Latin America’s most popular presidents. He was re-elected for a third term in a veritable landslide victory last May, and his approval rating has remained consistently between 65 and 85 per cent. Very few presidents in any country in the world can boast such popular support. The economy is expected to grow by 4.5 to 5 per cent this year and Correa, after defaulting on US$3.2 billion in foreign debt before buying 93 per cent of the debt back at 35 cents on the dollar, has announced his intention to return to international capital markets to raise US$700 million. Indeed, all seems to be going swimmingly for Rafael Correa.

So it is perhaps only slightly surprising that Correa, two weeks ago on Pulso Político on TC Televisón, indicated support for a constitutional amendment that would largely abolish presidential term limits. Currently in Ecuador, the president is allowed to hold office for three consecutive terms. Indeed, Correa already oversaw a constitutional reform to allow him run for this third consecutive term. This proposed constitutional amendment would allow Correa to run again in 2017.

According to Correa, amending the constitution would prevent the right, in collusion with the media, from halting the ‘historic Citizen’s Revolution’ his government is overseeing. On Wednesday, when speaking to the Harvard Kennedy School, in response to a question from the audience, Correa somewhat ambiguously stated: ‘In 2017, I want to retire from the presidency and from politics, but it’s not always possible to do what (you) want.’ It was only in January that Correa, in an interview with El Telégrafo, suggested that he had no intention of running again in 2017.

Correa’s apparent about turn is better understood in the wider regional context. Initially, most Latin American constitutions, to avoid the perils of presidentialism and prevent the long-term concentration of power in the hands of a few, limited presidents to one term in office. In fact, in 1990, the Dominican Republic was the only country that allowed presidential re-election. Beginning with Carlos Menem and Alberto Fujimori however, Latin American presidents have sought to alter their constitutions with alarming frequency in order to allow for their re-election. Only last November, Daniel Ortega oversaw the abolition of term limits in Nicaragua to join Venezuela in allowing indefinite presidential election. Currently, only five Latin America countries, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Paraguay, now prohibit presidential reelection.

Given that both the legislative assembly and Correa’s party, Alianza PAIS, have already begun discussing the practicalities of such a constitutional reform, the wind seems to be blowing in Correa’s direction. Once again.