Ecuadorian President Correa gains second term, scores big win

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Rafael Correa won his third election to Ecuador's presidency on February 17, 2013. The first one, in December 2006, preceded approval two years later of a new constitution, and next two followed. Having served 10 years when his new term ends in 2017, Correa will have been Ecuador's longest serving president. In the decade prior to his first election in December, 2006 seven presidents had held office.

Correa's 56.9 percent plurality this time and his 51.7 percent victory in 2009 were each high enough to rule out second round voting. He is the first president in Ecuadorian history to win two consecutive first round victories, and the only president in three decades to have been re-elected decisively.

Banker Guillermo Lasso, heading the newly created CREO Party, was chosen by 23.8 percent of voters. Next in line was ex-president Lucio Gutiérrez who gained six percent of the votes. Those remaining were shared among five other candidates. Lasso sought tax repeal, free trade agreements, and increased private foreign investment. He belongs to the conservative Opus Dei group and is linked to ex-Spanish President José María Aznar, a lead European spokesperson against widening democracy and integration in Latin America.

At least 51 percent of candidates of Correa's Alianza Pais political party gained National Assembly seats. Never before in Ecuadorian history has a single party held a legislative majority. Voting results for provincial assemblies were incomplete two days after the elections.

The "Pais" in the party's name - "country" in English - signifies "Patria Altiva I Soberana," or in English, "Proud and Sovereign Fatherland." Backers of the socialist movement led by Correa speak of a "Citizen's Revolution." The Quechua indigenous expression "Sumak Kawsay" signifies safe and sound equilibrium with nature and communal life. Translated into "Living Well," it became the movement's slogan.

Correa found backing across Ecuador's class spectrum, with some local manufacturers grateful, for example, for policies limiting imports of some foreign goods. The economy has advanced 5.2 percent annually since 2007. Inflation has averaged 4.8 percent.

The President's victory stemmed overwhelmingly from popular mobilization built upon five years of social gains for the country's majority. The poverty rate dropped from 38 to 29 percent and unemployment, from nine to four percent. The minimum salary was increased. Health and education services; transportation services; and infrastructure, especially roads, bridges, and airports, were improved. The government recently hiked "development bonds," payments to families and handicapped persons, from $35 to $50 per month. They were in effect when Correa became president.

Augmented funding for social services is the result of increased revenues the government negotiated with multinational oil producers. Stopping payment on one third of Ecuador's foreign debt in 2008 on the presumption it was illegal also opened up resources for social spending.

One observer attributes Correa's electoral achievement to late effects of women and the illiterate having gained the vote decades ago and to voting rights extended under the new Constitution to youth, prisoners, immigrants, and Ecuadorians living abroad, of whom 80 percent voted for the President. In the campaign, Alianza País took mass meetings and rallies into the streets and to rural areas and used media and social networks to good effect.

Opposition forces critiqued Correa's supposedly arrogant style of exercising power and government repression of hostile media. Business interests pointed to high levels of public debt and low credit ratings with international lenders. Friend and foe alike warn of persisting problems, among them indigenous resistance to promotion of extractive industries, land inequalities, fragile water resources, monopoly domination of the economy, corruption, and Julian Assange, who found asylum in Ecuador's London embassy.

President Correa's admirers point to full and understandable explanations Correa offers for government policies. A Cuban editorialist cites Correa's "valor" for "policies making up for extreme poverty imposed by past governments, for expelling the Yankees from the Manta airbase, for confronting the Uribe government [of Colombia] for having killed the FARC leader Raul Reyes on Ecuadorian territory, for taking on the petroleum multinationals, for examining the country's foreign debt and reducing it, for confronting the coup of September 30, 2010, for condemning in Miami itself the unjust convictions in that city of the five Cuban anti-terrorists jailed in the United States, for tying the destinies of his country to ALBA, and for not attending the Summit of the Americas because Cuba wasn't invited."

At a post election press conference Correa dedicated his victory to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, our "friend who is fighting for his life and is the natural leader of the Latin American integration process."

Photo: Ecuador President Rafael Correa is embraced by his mother, Norma Delgado, as they celebrate his election victory.   Dolores Ochoa/AP

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