On February 17th, 2013, Ecuador concluded their Presidential Election with the obvious victor in the form of Rafael Correa. Which means I am finally free of the political propaganda bombardments most of my friends escaped back in November. Correa is a liberal. He does not favor U.S. interests (as far as I can tell) and is arguably the most successful president Ecuador has had in years. This however is not a hard accomplishment as the last time the country had a President who completed his or her tenure was in 1996 (Fun fact of the day: Ecuador has had a female president, Rosalía Arteaga. She last a whole two days in office).
I like Correa. I feel as though I am not allowed to say so. I also write this having met and respected greatly one of the other candidates, Norman Wray, when in Quito. He’s the leader of a South American country. He has been in power since 2007 and he will continue to hold power until 2017. He kicked out my ambassador and almost gave the boot to USAID this summer.* Those do not seem like a beneficial combination in regards to the Western perception of leadership in the area, spear-headed by the poster-children, Castro and Chavez. Aren’t South American politics supposed to be riddled with corruption and historically plagued by dictatorships? …Isn’t it true that many of those dictatorships, responsible for thousands of deaths on the continent and in Central America, were partially caused by my country? (Ironic fact of the day: The day Augusto Pinochet took power in Chile was September 11th, 1973).
Waking up the day after the election, I went to the school I work at to use the Wi-Fi for more detailed information about the results. I knew Correa had been in the lead the night before; yet I was not sure if he had gained the 50% majority of votes needed to forgo the traditional run-off vote and propel him straight to the Presidency (He had; thus making Ecuadorian history as the first person to have accomplished this not only once, but twice). As I was perusing the web however, I found the following bio of the President Rafael published by The Economist (http://www.economist.com/news/21566553-rafael-correa).
“Like Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s president, has used an oil bonanza to fund vote-winning social spending while blowing raspberries at the United States and, by extension, at liberal orthodoxy. Unlike Venezuela’s leader, fighting cancer and suffering the attrition of two decades in power, Mr Correa is fresh-faced and still in his first term. He looks set for a second after elections in February—and the readiness with which Ecuador’s London embassy offered asylum in August 2012 to Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder wanted in Sweden for sex crimes (which he denies), will do his campaign no harm. With Cuba’s Castro brothers in the autumn of their days and Mr Chávez’s star waning, in 2013 he may start to assume the mantle of America’s irritant-in-chief south of the border.”
That is all I could think.
How sad that this is how a Western newspaper is choosing to inform my fellow English-speakers about this person. This person who gave my host mother a house of her own. The President who is responsible for requiring my co-workers to work full time instead of treating education as a part-time job, for the InfoCentro (free computer lab) that I use to Skype with my mom, and for a greater extensions of the subcentros (health clinics) where I go when sick for no cost even as a foreigner.
Yes, Correa has invested heavily into social programs for the country, but they are helping his country. If using “an oil bonanza to fund vote-winning social spending” was the magic ticket to staying in power, than why didn’t any of his much more corrupt predecessors invest as heavily into supporting people in el campo? As for “blowing raspberries at the United States,” is not agreeing and following another country’s ideas now considered arrogant rudeness? The fact that the current Ecuadorian government has managed to maintain decent relationships with the USA at the same time as being close allies of Venezuela and a ALBA country speaks to me of skillful diplomacy more than anything else. Finally, I see absolutely no way in which having given Julian Assange sleep over privileges in London helped the campaign.
I like Correa. But Correa is being compared to the likes of Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro. Do I then agree with the governments of Venezuela and Cuba? …What do I actually know about those leaders? I know Cuba has one of the best schools of medicine in the hemisphere…not much else. What do you know? Rafael Correa’s final term as President under the new laws of the 2008 Constitution will expire in 2017. Will some new law arrive allowing him to legally extend his years in power? Might he continue as President regardless? Maybe a coup d’état will take place and Rafael will never see 2017 as the country’s leader. It almost happened to him in a nasty incident during 2010…..Or maybe he might die in a plane crash. Just as Ecuador’s human rights champion, President Jaime Roldós Aguilera died in 1981.
I have no idea. All I know about the politics in this country and continent are from what I’ve seen and heard. I have talked to my Spanish teacher (who I respect more than anyone else I have met this year) who compares Correa to Eloy Alfaro, the George Washington of Ecuador. I have listened to my host family call their elected leader, “Papa Correa,” cordially over dinner. Listen to them tell me after the final tally, “We now have four more years of hope.” And when I asked people why the majority love their leader so passionately, they tell me it is because “aun no les ha traicionado.”
He has not betrayed us.
On election night, I watched on the T.V. as thousands of people thronging the Avenue de Los Shyris in Quito drowned out President’s Correa speech with their chanting “!Correa! Correa! El pueblo esta contigo!” Thousands. I doubt that any American media will really give much notice to a reelection in this tiny South American country, but please know that Rafael Correa was elected because Ecuadorians believe in him.* They believe in him and have reason for their believe.
I wish I could say the same for my Congress.
Here’s to the next irritant-in-chief south of the border,
* In all fairness, after learning how USAID runs its operations on the ground level, particularly in comparison to the German aid agency, GIZ, and the Spanish Agency, Ayuda en Accion….I’m surprised that they didn’t get kicked out the country.
* ALBA is the abbreviation for The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America. The organization Hugo Chavez started in reaction to the USA’s Free Trade Area of the Americas. Ecuador first joined under the direction of R. Correa.
* Out of every Ecuadorian I have talked to about the elections, I know of only two who said they were not voting for the incumbent.
* Specific details about the election:
This past Presidential Election had eight different candidates, a decrease from previous years. The major contenders aside from Correa were Guillermo Lasso and Lucio Gutiérrez. Lucio was a former President who had to flee the country in 2005 after being voted out of office and almost impeached, seeking asylum in Brazil, Peru, and then the USA. Lasso, who came in second place with the most votes behind Correa, is a former Banco de Guayaquil executive. A banker in a country which loathes bankers after the dollarization crisis in 1999-2000 and the supposed “robbing” of millions of savings from bank customers…It is required for all citizens to vote upon the completion of which they receive a “certification of voting”, necessary for them to apply for a job. The voting is done on paper (at least in the countryside where I live) and voters are given pictures of the candidates with their corresponding numbers. They then check the number of the candidate they prefer.
Correa = 35
Lucio = 3
Lasso = 21
I have been told that the numbering is random.
If you are curious: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rafael_Correa