Ecuador on the Edge: A Tale of Two Presidential Candidates
Ecuador on the Edge: A Tale of Two Presidential Candidates
The question of who wins the election race in
Correa was widely seen as the front-runner heading into the Oct. 15 vote, which made Noboa's victory by an estimated four percentage points a welcome surprise for Washington and Wall Street.
As in most political elections, money will have a huge influence in the outcome -- and Noboa has a lot of it. "Being a billionaire in
Noboa has handed out money to voters and will undoubtedly have more access to media and other resources than Correa. Noboa has tried to brand himself as a populist, who will use his business experience and free market policies to create jobs, wealth and access to social services for the millions of Ecuadorians living in poverty. Unlike his opponent, he would embrace
Noboa amassed his fortune largely by owning the fourth largest banana company in the world, which sells its bananas under the Bonita label. In July of 2002, The New York Times published a story, "In Ecuador's Banana Fields, Child Labor Is Key to Profits",
that revealed the widespread use of child labor at Noboa's plantations. (Human Rights Watch also documented this.) This was just before that year's election, which Noboa eventually lost to Lucio Gutierrez. But child labor is just the tip of the iceberg. In May of that year Noboa hired and ordered armed thugs, some concealed with masks, to attack striking workers at his Los Alomos plantation. The workers went on strike after Noboa fired union leaders following the Ecuadorian Labor Ministry's decision to legally recognize three new unions representing about 1000 banana workers -- which was the fruit of months of organizing.
More recently, a 2005 government investigation uncovered that Noboa was using shell companies to skirt around labor laws. In addition, the government determined that several of Noboa's companies owed millions of dollars of back taxes.
If the Ecuadorian media decides to hammer Noboa on these issues it could turn the tide of the election, especially since recent polls have him comfortably ahead of Correa. At the same time, the media outlets (many in the
Correa, on the other hand, has rarely been defined by the media here as nothing more than a "Chavez ally". But to be fair, much of that is his own doing, as throughout the campaign he has highlighted his admiration and respect for the Venezuelan president and his policies. He has also adopted Chavez's bombastic rhetoric when criticizing Bush. Correa has called the
"Calling Bush the devil is offending the devil...[because] the devil is evil, but intelligent," said Correa. COHA's Birns believes that Correa would have been better off leaving Chavez's name out his campaign.
"It has been suggested that leftist candidates in
But on a policy level Chavez and Correa's (proclaimed) rejection of free trade, World Bank and IMF polices and distrust of transnational corporations resonates well with many voters in this impoverished country. Correa's rapid ascension from long shot to front-runner in just a few months is a testament to this.
In March countrywide protests broke out which forced outgoing president Alfredo Palacio to declare a state of emergency. Protestors demanded that the government end negotiations with the
Correa has used these demands, which were largely galvanized by the country's powerful indigenous social movement, as pillars of his platform. In addition, during his short tenure as economic minister, Correa publicly butted heads with the World Bank, which prompted Palacio to demand his resignation. In addition, he has stated during his campaign that he would half the level of debt repayments to the IMF in order to spend more on social programs -- a truly populist proposal.
"The world is recognizing that the (International) Monetary Fund and World Bank have not been a part of the solution, but rather the problem," said Correa. "Life and national commitments come first, before the pockets of creditors and supposed international commitments."
Correa would also renegotiate contracts with oil companies in order for the government to gain a greater share in the profits. If the companies don't like it then expect state-owned Petroecuador to take over the oil fields. If elected, he also plans to review contracts in the extractive industries that are opposed by local populations.
Conn Hallinan, a foreign policy analyst with Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF), believes that if Correa wins and follows through with his campaign promises that there could be a target on him. "I think the
In a recent column titled "Hunting Hugo", Hallinan writes that the "U.S. Southern Command, the arm of the U.S military in Latin America, concluded that efforts by Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia to extend greater control over their oil and gas reserves posed a threat to U.S. oil supplies." This would make these countries a threat to our national security. The article goes onto examine how Chavez is in Washington's crosshairs and concludes his article by suggesting that "the people the [Bush] administration has recruited to target [Chavez] are just the kind of operatives who won't shy away from anything up to and including, the unthinkable: assassination."
That's not to mention Correa has also said that he would not renew the country's agreement with the
Finally, Correa is determined to hold a constitutional assembly, much like the one that happened in
Right or Left, or Right or Right?
Noboa has been viciously attacking Correa, taking a page from
This kind of talk plays well in the
"Chavez's economic policies are not extreme, but rather are similar to the New Deal," said FPIF's Hallinan. "The fact that the media and the general population views Chavez as extreme shows how far the political spectrum has gone to the right in the
The two paths
"Never again are they going to allow such a loose understanding guide a participated electoral performance," said Birns.
This explains why Pachakutik, the political arm of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), rejected a proposal from Correa to form an alliance where he would guarantee them the vice presidency. Instead Pachakutik chose to run Luis Macas as their presidential candidate. Macas, when asked why he didn't accept Correa's offer, revealed the profound distrust the Gutierrez debacle instilled in the indigenous population.
"First of all, we don't know who Rafael Correa really is," said Macas. "Just like we didn't know who Lucio Gutierrez really was."
If Correa has a chance he better hope they get to know him, because if the indigenous vote doesn't turn out in full the election result is going to drive him bananas.
Cyril Mychalejko is an assistant editor at www.UpsideDownWorld.org, a website uncovering activism and politics in