Ecuador looks to the left in presidential election

Governmental crises, general strikes, mass movements and revolutions have characterized the situation over the last six or seven years in Ecuador. Now national attention has been focused on the presidential elections where former Finance Minister Rafael Correa has emerged as self-proclaimed standard-bearer for the downtrodden masses.

Ever since the failed revolution of 2000, Ecuador has been in the grip of sharp and sudden changes, reflecting the profound crisis of Ecuadorean capitalism and landlordism. Governmental crises, general strikes, mass movements and revolutions have characterized the situation over the last six or seven years. Now national attention has been focused on the presidential elections where former Finance Minister Rafael Correa has emerged as self-proclaimed standard-bearer for the downtrodden masses.

Ecuador has known many presidential elections, complete with radical rhetoric and false promises. Due to broken promises and his capitulation to US imperialism, President Lucio Gutierrez, who was originally elected on a left ticket, was recently ousted from power, overthrown by a new uprising. The masses are hoping this presidential election will be different, but there is justified skepticism after the Gutierrez experience. Nevertheless, given the deepening crisis affecting Ecuador, the growing revolution throughout Latin America, and the heightened awareness of the masses, the electoral campaign around Correa has become a focal point for social change.

While the oligarchy was able to replace Gutierrez with former vice-president Alfredo Palacio, it simply served to postpone the crisis. The deep social and economic problems facing the masses were never resolved but only worsened. The mass of the people in Ecuador live in grinding poverty and an unemployment rate of officially 40 percent. Many barrios on the fringes of Quito and elsewhere have no electricity or running water. It was as a result of these festering social conditions that the masses in Ecuador have repeatedly taken the road of revolutionary change, only to be thwarted by their leadership.

Attention has once again been drawn to the electoral front, where Correa has been presented by the media as another Chávez. This has put enormous pressure on Correa from below, and he has become more radical in his denunciation of imperialism and the political elite running Ecuador.

At a public rally in Latacunga, a poor highland town some 120km south of Quito, 4,000 people awaited Correa's arrival. He was late. "We have waited all our lives for this revolution," pleads one of the organisers. "Please, let's wait a few minutes more." The crowd gets more excited to see this radical candidate, the frontrunner in the race to be Ecuador's next president.

Rafael Correa has promised not to renew the contract for the US military base in Manta, restructure the country's external debt and renegotiate contracts with foreign investors in the oil industry such as Repsol of Spain, Brazil's Petrobras, Andes Petroleum of China and Perenco of France. This has come on top of the recent government decision to revoke the US oil company's operating contract and seize $1bn of Occidental's assets following its "unethical and illegal" actions.

While his radical policy platform has endeared him to voters, it has set alarm bells ringing in Wall Street and Washington - the price of Ecuador's dollar bonds has been falling with each new rise in Correa's popularity. Merrill Lynch downgraded the country's weighting in its model portfolio for the second time in a month, citing Correa's growing lead in the polls. This fear is compounded by the fact that Ecuador is the second largest exporter of oil to the US.

When Correa finally arrives in Latacunga, he delivers a speech the masses are keen to listen to. "The political and economic elites have stolen everything from us, but they cannot steal our hope," he begins, in Quichua, the indigenous language of the highlands. "We will take back our oil, our country, our future."

With just over a week to go before the October 15 elections, Correa's support has risen quickly to 33 per cent, against 22 per cent for the establishment candidate, León Roldós, who is his nearest rival, according to Cedatos polls, and is in favour of a trade agreement with the US. Correa needs 40 per cent of the vote to win outright and avoid a second round run-off in November.

Correa has homed in on the masses' deep hostility both to their own corrupt political oligarchy and to US imperialism. The Congress, dominated by traditional parties, is widely loathed, and Correa has declared war on its corrupt "partidocracy". If elected Correa has promised to call a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution, undermining the power of the legislature.

Correa has also based himself upon the widespread anti-imperialist feelings that exist, especially against the United States. He has announced his opposition to restarting derailed trade talks with the US and has demanded that Manta, Washington's only military base in South America, be closed down. He has also promoted himself by establishing relations with Chávez and Castro.

"George W. Bush is a terrorist and a warmonger who wants to impose his will on the rest of the world," stated Lenin Moreno, Correa's vice-presidential candidate.

Correa even stated that Chávez's comparison of Bush with Satan was unfair to the devil, since, he argued, the devil is evil, but at least intelligent. This has not gone down well in Washington, where Correa is regarded as a potential Chávez, serving to add force to the revolutionary wave sweeping Latin America.

The Roldós camp is hoping desperately to force a second round, in which they hope to copy Alan García's presidential election victory this year in Peru by attacking Correa's connection with Hugo Chávez. However, out of desperation Roldós is playing with fire. Rather than reducing Correa's lead, he will simply radicalize the situation even further. Support for Chávez in Ecuador is markedly different from Peru. In a continent-wide survey this year by Cima, a regional pollster, 86 per cent of Ecuadorean respondents expressed admiration for Chávez - a higher figure than in Venezuela itself!

For many of the poorest sections of society, there is a feeling of distrust for all politicians. Back in Latacunga, Rodrigo Vizuete, one of those struggling to survive, is not convinced about Correa. "They all lie. They say they'll help us and they never do," he says. "But Correa's still better than the others."

It is likely that Correa will win the elections, if not in the first round. For the masses, however, this election is not a game of musical chairs. They are looking for a way out of the impasse and a means of ending their misery. If Correa is elected he will have very little room for maneuver. There will be colossal pressure from below. He will face the choice of carrying out policies in the interests of the masses or the interests of imperialism and the oligarchy. There is no middle road. If he disappoints the masses it is very likely that he will end up like Lucio Gutierrez. The revolution in Latin America is sweeping through every country of the continent. In particular Venezuela and Bolivia are a revolutionary example for the Ecuadorean masses. Only the overthrow of landlordism and capitalism can resolve the crisis and solve the problems faced by the masses. There is no half-way house.

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