What the Ecuadoran Elections Mean for the U.S.

Photograph Source: Beatrice Murch – CC BY 2.0

The pink tide is coming back in – much to the chagrin of many in the U.S. government. With leftist governments in Bolivia, Venezuela, Argentina, Nicaragua, Mexico and Cuba, the prospect of yet another, this time in Ecuador, doubtless keeps regime changers, right-wing think tankers and other assorted Washington imperialists up at night. All those leftists the U.S. had murdered over the years, all the death squads the U.S. gave the nod to, all those dictators the North American empire supported – for what?  After generations of slaughter, the victims’ heirs keep taking over. The U.S. sponsored the extermination of hundreds of thousands of socialists and communists in Latin America, but the people there still want left-wing governments.

On February 7, leftist economist, Andres Arauz, 36, received nearly 33 percent of the Ecuadorian vote. He needed 40 percent to win outright, so he will advance to a runoff on April 11. The other two candidates, one a right-winger and the other, Yaku Perez, an indigenous eco-socialist, didn’t come close – each scored nearly 19 percent of the vote. The fact that the two left parties together add up to 52 percent of the vote, speaks volumes about where Ecuador is heading politically. Unfortunately, as often happens on the left, the rift between these two assemblages is bitter. And classic. It literally divides between a readily recognizable if traditional left-wing group focused on social gains and one whose peasant base is particularly incensed about mining and environmental destruction.

Arauz formerly served as director of the central bank and later as a minister in the government of leftist firebrand and erstwhile president Rafael Correa. That’s the traditional left-wing camp. “Arauz has pledged to end austerity measures imposed by Ecuador’s outgoing right-wing President Lenin Moreno,” according to Democracy Now! “and is close to former President Rafael Correa, who led the country from 2007 to 2017 and has been credited with lifting over a million Ecuadorians out of poverty.” In the February 7 election, other leftist parties made gains, though Arauz’s clearly had the most wins. His closeness to Correa no doubt gave Ecuadorians hope: under Correa, the country’s “minimum wage doubled, poverty plunged, education and health care spending soared, and GDP growth exceeded regional averages,” according to Bhaskar Sunkara’s recent interview with Arauz for Jacobin.

Wild charges bombarded Arauz’s campaign, with the ostensible purpose of torpedoing it. “The international press would have us believe that Arauz is a dangerous figure, a pawn of the fiery populist Rafael Correa,” reports Sunkara. “Instead what I found in my discussion was a humble figure, an ideologically committed progressive, but also a nuanced thinker, proud of his technocratic acumen and background as an economist.” Not the likely conspirator supposedly entangled with Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) – a charge which, by the way, smacks of crude right-wing smear propaganda. It’s safe to dismiss it as 150 percent bogus.

Current outgoing President Lenin Moreno made sure that neither Correa nor any of his Citizens’ Revolution leaders could run for president. So the task fell to Arauz, a relative outsider. The April runoff pits him against conservative former banker, Guillermo Lasso, 65. But problems remain. Perez, who represents the anti-extractivist peasant left, but who has supported neoliberal candidates for strategic reasons, requested a recount in 17 of the country’s 24 provinces. He alleged fraud. But the National Electoral Council suspended the request on February 17, which could have focused on six million ballots. Initially Perez led the count. Then he dropped behind Lasso. So that left Perez out of the running and Arauz as the next likely president – with lots of acrimony. Those Perez represents resent Correa’s mining deals and his criminalization of some indigenous groups. But charging fraud in a Latin American election, as Perez has done, all too easily opens a Pandora’s box.

Ominously on the scene was the Organization of American States (OAS), observing the elections. Once Perez alleged fraud, it was not unreasonable to fear that the OAS’s role in Ecuador would mimic its unseemly behavior in Bolivia’s 2019 election, when it amplified lies about fraud, leading to a rightwing coup and the flight from the country of the duly elected socialist president, Evo Morales. However, on February 21, the OAS published a preliminary report and made recommendations for the runoff. Perhaps mindful of the stinging criticism it received following the Bolivian debacle, the OAS did not adopt a similarly hostile posture to the preferred candidate, in this case, Arauz.

Ecuador’s leftist surge also derives from broad and deep popular dislike for current President Moreno, who faced huge protests in 2019 and had to flee Quito after making generally detested deals with the IMF. Moreno had to rescind those deals. The largest of those protests were led by CONAIE, an indigenous confederation associated with Perez. According to one observer, most “protestors were impoverished peasants from the Ecuadorian interior (Amazonia, Andes and Pacific coast).” Moreno also botched handling the Covid-19 outbreak, which slammed the country.

Widely regarded as a U.S. puppet, Moreno was once a friend and associate of Correa. But he went out of his way to stab Correa in the back. Moreno’s disgraceful curriculum vitae also features responsibility for opening the Ecuadorian embassy in London to British police, so they could drag Julian Assange out and toss him in prison. It’s no stretch to call Moreno a toady to empire.

Coming to power, Moreno’s guile was unexpected. He ran for president in 2017 as a Correa loyalist, but according to Joe Emersberger’s 2018 CounterPunch interview with legal scholar Oswaldo Ruiz Chiriboga, after Moreno won, “he basically implemented the plan of Correa’s opponents during the campaign.” The article details Moreno’s perfidy and his assault on judicial independence.

And it gets worse. In 2019, former president Correa predicted that Moreno would go to jail for corruption. He claimed “to have proof of flights, cash, lavish clothing as well as a luxury apartment in Spain, belonging to members of the Moreno family,” telesur reported. A year later, Moreno took his revenge, when an Ecuadorian court sentenced Correa in absentia to eight years in prison for corruption. According to Reuters, “the court also banned Correa from participating in politics for 25 years.” Correa called the charges a political attack by Moreno.

In a more recent example of Moreno’s trickery, it has been charged by Arauz, according to Ecuador on Q, that a law “proposed to privatize the central bank of Ecuador was drafted in the U.S. He also confirmed longstanding rumors that the Moreno regime will skip the National Assembly, if necessary to pass the law.” Arauz says the proposal violates the Ecuadorian constitution, “and endangers the country’s economic and financial sovereignty.”

So Moreno is the U.S. government’s guy and Big Money’s factotum. Which is exactly why Ecuadorians don’t want him or anyone like him. The fact that he and his ilk are headed for the exits testifies to waning U.S. influence. All those years of promoting regime change on the Latin American continent, of meddling in local politics to install rightist regimes, have left the U.S. with few friends in places like Ecuador. The CIA’s Operation Condor may have butchered 100,000 communists and socialists in South America, but it did not generate much good will. In fact, in the long run, it can probably be judged to have backfired.

At this point in Ecuador, the best the U.S. can do is stay away. Moreno’s governance was a nasty piece of work, and he is, of course, associated with the U.S. One wonders where he will take up residence, when and if Arauz wins the election. Presumably in a country with a U.S.-backed regime, as befits the man who betrayed Julian Assange – and who knows what assurances were given about that before Moreno won in 2017? Will Moreno settle comfortably in Colombia, NATO’s janissary on the Latin American continent? Or would he feel more at home in Honduras, run by a narco-dictator with U.S. support? Or maybe El Salvador with its autocratic, rightist president, darling of empire, who owes his win over the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front to some “anti-corruption” skullduggery? Time will tell.

Meanwhile, the very lucky Ecuadorians have a shot at a socialized economy. Such opportunities don’t come along every day.

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Birdbrain. She can be reached at her website.

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