Showdown in Ecuador: IMF Neoliberalism or Self-Determination?

Danny Shaw

BY DANNY SHAW

In a matter of days, on February 7, Ecuador goes to the polls to elect their next president and 137 representatives for the National Assembly. There are three major candidates seeking to win the race in this Andean country of 17 million. Andrés Arauz and his vice presidential candidate, Carlos Rabascall, represent La Unión por la Esperanza (The Union of Hope, UNES), what was Alianza País led by former president Rafael Correa before the party split in 2017. Guayaquil banker Guillermo Lasso and Alfredo Borrero are the candidates for the conservative alliance Creando Oportunidades (Creating Opportunities, CREO).

The election represents a showdown between ten years of the Revolución Ciudadana (Citizens’ Revolution, 2007-2017) and the past four disastrous years of unfettered neoliberalism. As of now, polls show Arauz, Correa’s candidate, is clearly in the lead, polling at 37 percent and Lasso at 24 percent.

The Advances of La Revolución Ciudadana

Correa’s presidential victory in 2006 was a key part of the Pink Tide and South American effort to realize Simón Bolívar’s dream of regional economic and political integration and independence from foreign domination. As Minister of Economy and Finance in 2005, Correa distinguished himself by opposing International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans, advocating for social planning and proposing a National Assembly to tap into the power of Ecuador’s diverse working sectors.

During Correa’s two terms, Ecuador saw increases in the minimum wage and social security benefits, a progressive tax on the rich, and higher investments in education and social programs, all while attaining economic growth. For this reason, traditional interests and their U.S. backers opposed Alianza País and sought to sew internal divisions and solidify alliances with sections of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, CONAIE.

The Story of a Vendepatria

The leadership and rank-and-file of Alianza País understood that Lenín Moreno, who had served as Rafael Correa’s vice-president for six years, was best positioned to carry Correísmo forward. Within months of winning the presidency in 2017, however, Moreno reneged on his campaign promises. In one of the great about-faces in the history of South America, Moreno betrayed the movement and embraced a neoliberal model for Ecuador. Under Moreno, Ecuador also withdrew from the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) in 2018 and pulled out of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in 2019, weakening two of the most important instruments of continental unity.

Throughout the ups and downs and contradictions of the Ecuadorian class struggle, the leadership of the Citizens’ Revolution has maintained a self-critical posture. After the election of Moreno, Alianza País split into pro-Moreno and pro-Correa tendencies. Sections of CONAIE have sustained legitimate critiques of Correísmo, including concerns over the environmental impact of resource exploitation and infrastructure projects. These are problems the Correista leadership continues to address and it shows the importance of the revolutionary formation of a new generation of Ecuadorians.

“Construir Poder Transformador: Debate Latinoamericano,” a book by Ricardo Patiño, Arauz and other Citizens’ Revolution leaders, lays out the pitfalls of over reliance on Correa’s charisma and indicates some of the challenges that lay ahead (Patiño is the Former Minister of Foreign Affairs under Correa’s presidency). The grassroots leadership of UNES asserts the importance of building an entire movement that can independently defend its interests: “The fundamental problem has been an absence of a solid and profound counter-hegemonic ideology that guides the decisions, practices and relations of the popular sectors as well as political leaders.”

Carlos “Yacu” Pérez is the candidate of the Indigenous Pachakutik Party. Many from the Correa camp have questioned Pérez’s genuine commitment to defend Indigenous communities and remember that some factions of the Pachakutik Party have, in the past, opportunistically aligned with the right against Correísmo. A blatant example of identity politics on steroids, Pérez has also insulted Venezuela and supported the coup in Bolivia.

Will the Tide Turn Again?

In an example of flipping reality on its head in 2017, the incoming Moreno government immediately accused the Citizens’ Revolution of wanton corruption. Similar to the oligarchies’ attacks demonizing the Pink Tide in Brazil, Paraguay, Venezuela, Bolivia and across the continent, this was a classic case of lawfare. The neoliberals, fearful of the enormous popularity of Correísmo, waged a war through judicial means. Jorge Glas, former vice-president under Correa, is still in jail on trumped-up charges and recently contracted the COVID-19. Patiño and the President of the National Assembly Gabriela Rivadeneira are still in exile in Mexico. Correa himself is banned from his homeland and faces years in jail on highly dubious charges of corruption. An Arauz victory would open the country back up to those who put human life in community before private accumulation and carry forth an agenda that targets the real culprits of corruption.

U.S. banks are fearful of Correísmo. IMF loans to the region and exploited countries have long been a neocolonial tactic for extracting wealth from developing countries. As the old proverb goes: “those who lend, command.” Under the guise of humanitarian help with the raging pandemic, the IMF issued loans to an all too willing Moreno administration to the tune of $6.5 billion just before the close of 2020. As always, the IMF stipulated austerity, the deregulation of the Central Bank and sale of gasoline and diesel without subsidies and at world market prices. Lasso has indicated that if elected president, he would not disavow the IMF agreement. Arauz promises to defy the IMF.

One of Trump’s 11th hour actions before leaving office was to oversee a U.S. Development Corporation loan to Ecuador for 3.5 billion dollars that requires the government to privatize a major oil refinery and parts of the country’s electrical grid, and to exclude China from its telecommunications development. Washington is alarmed at the growing Chinese influence across South America and the Global South and sees Ecuador as an important beachhead to prosecute this “New Cold War” through the Growth in the Americas (CRECE) program.

What’s at Stake

In October 2019, a massive protest movement rocked the country. The world watched with bated breath as a grassroots movement opposed to austerity measures occupied Quito and nearly toppled the Moreno government. The government attempted to crush the protests, leaving at least ten dead, more than 1,000 people arrested and more than 1,300 injured. When repression failed to quell the protests, Moreno rescinded on an International Monetary Fund-backed program, known as Decree 883, that raised fuel prices, proving again the power of a united, mobilized people.

The year 2020 ushered in a new tragedy for Ecuador. The Moreno government failed to respond adequately to the COVID-19 pandemic in any serious, unified way. Abandoned bodies lined the streets of Guayaquil last April putting on tragic display before the entire world, the misleadership of Ecuador’s largest city, long governed by neoliberal politicians. These dehumanizing images encapsulated what three years of Moreno’s economic and political agenda has meant for everyday people. On January 29, police in Quito shut down a clinic for giving out 70,000 fake vaccines. TV presenter Efraín Ruales, who had reported on corruption in the current administration, was gunned down and murdered on January 27. As of now, there are 249,779 coronavirus cases in Ecuador and 14,851 deaths.

This is the backdrop for this week’s election, not just for the 17 million people of Ecuador and millions of others in the diaspora, but for the future of the Pink Tide in Latin America. Will Ecuador continue down the road of subordination to imperialism, or will it resume the Citizens’ Revolution and rejoin the movement towards continental integration and independence? This decisive election will determine Ecuador’s direction for the next four years and beyond.

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