The left has sight of victory in the second round of Ecuador’s presidential election, but fears persist of intervention to stop it.
When Ecuadorians go to the polls to choose their president on 11 April, the choice could not be starker. A young left-wing economist, Andrés Arauz, will run off against Guillermo Lasso, the founder of one of Ecuador’s largest banks, arch free-marketeer and a former minister linked to Ecuador’s deepest ever economic crisis.
Arauz is the clear favourite, with a double-digit poll lead and having topped the first-round vote with a 12 per cent advantage over Lasso.
Ecuador looks set to be the latest Latin American country to elect a left-wing government after Bolivia, Argentina and Mexico in recent years.
But faced with this progressive threat, there are growing concerns that some – both inside and outside Ecuador – are pursuing undemocratic means to prevent a left victory.
Recent regional developments offer plenty of reasons to be apprehensive. The 2019 military coup against Evo Morales in Bolivia and the jailing of Lula da Silva in Brazil after a politicised judicial witch hunt to stop him winning Brazil’s presidential election cast a dark shadow over Ecuador’s election.
In one worrying turn, Ecuador’s third-placed candidate Yaku Pérez recently endorsed a call to annul the first-round results and for Ecuador’s military to intervene in the electoral process to stop a left victory.
But perhaps the most serious attempt to prevent an Arauz victory, or to remove him as president if elected, is one using the kind of judicial processes that targeted Lula in Brazil known as ‘lawfare’.
While recent court rulings have highlighted how Lula was the victim of political, judicial and media persecution, this has taken years and prevented the left from winning elections it otherwise would have.
In Ecuador, one absurd but dangerous claim is that Arauz’s campaign is funded by the National Liberation Army (Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional – ELN) guerrilla movement in neighbouring Colombia, one of the groups that has fought that country’s decades-long civil war.
This baseless claim was first published by the right-wing Colombian magazine Semana (Week) before being widely circulated across Latin America. The claims soon fell apart. But it was then followed by a video of masked ELN gunmen allegedly in the Colombia rainforest announcing their support for Arauz.
This clearly staged video quickly became an international laughing stock. As the Guardian reported, a local bird enthusiast proved the video must have been shot in Ecuador as bird noises heard in the video are from a rare species found in Ecuador but not Colombia.
This should have been the end of the bizarre affair. But then in a clear political intervention, the Colombian Attorney General Francisco Barbosa arrived in Ecuador claiming to have ‘intelligence’ that proved the guerrillas’ links to Arauz. This was followed up by a visit last week of Colombia’s deputy prosecutor to meet with her Ecuadorian counterpart with information to help make ‘progress with the investigations’ against Arauz.
Colombia is perhaps the closest ally of the US in South America, a recipient of vast military funds over recent decades and has long been a reactionary bulwark against the region’s progressive governments.
Such threats to Ecuador’s democracy can’t be dismissed lightly. Not only have anti-democratic events across the region shown what could happen, but there has been widespread political persecution of the Ecuadorian left itself in recent years.
This has specifically targeted Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s president from 2007-2017, and his wider political movement. Correa was one of the key leaders of Latin America’s ‘Pink Tide’ and an ally of leaders such as Hugo Chávez, Lula da Silva and Evo Morales.
Since Rafael Correa stood down as president in 2017, his former vice president has been jailed on trumped-up charges. Other leading figures including the former foreign minister and the former head of Ecuador’s National Assembly have been forced into exile in Mexico.
Ecuador’s constitution was changed to prevent Correa from running for the presidency again. He was then barred from running as Andrés Arauz’s vice presidential candidate on phoney corruption charges that echo the treatment of Lula in Brazil. He faces numerous politically motivated criminal charges if he returns to Ecuador.
Even the political party through which Correa and his allies governed Ecuador for a decade was stripped from them and handed over to political adversaries. Then when the left regrouped and won seats in local elections, their new party was also banned. The authorities have even gone as far as censoring the use of images and the voice of Correa in campaigning materials during the current presidential race.
This trampling of rights in Ecuador has also involved human rights abuses against the wider population. When tens of thousands rose up against the Ecuadorian government’s deal with the IMF to impose deep austerity in 2019, the state responded with brutal repression.
Ecuador’s human rights ombudsman this month released a report into the widespread abuses that took place. It cites how police and military agents of the Ecuadorian state committed crimes against humanity during the uprising, including extrajudicial killings, attempted killings, sexual violence and torture.
The ombudsman’s office has officially presented a complaint against President Lenín Moreno, ministers, former ministers and senior police officers over what it described as a ‘generalised attack’ against the civilian population.
All of these attacks on democratic, human and civil rights are directly linked to the Ecuadorian government’s sharp neoliberal turn. It seeks to stamp out all opposition to the restoration of an unpopular economic model that served Ecuador’s elites well but which punished the vast majority until Correa came to power and pursued an alternative path.
The devastating consequences of the current government’s cuts and privatisation can be seen in its disastrous handling of the Covid crisis. Ecuador has had one of the world’s highest death rates. With an estimated 46,000 excess deaths, its death rate per head is around 50 per cent higher than the UK’s. The axing of 4,000 health workers as part of IMF-imposed austerity left the country even less able to respond to the Covid crisis.
Arauz is standing to reverse this free-market model and the first-round election results saw a massive rejection of neoliberalism. Candidates standing on a broadly progressive platform won over two-thirds of the votes. While significant differences exist between these different parties, it is possible that Arauz could construct a strong grassroots majority against neoliberalism and in support of significant changes in Ecuador.
That is what the Ecuadorian elites fear more than anything else. So, over the coming weeks a ferocious media onslaught against Andrés Arauz can be expected. This may go beyond preventing a left victory.
Solidarity will have an important role to play in defending the right of the Ecuadorian people to determine their own future through free and fair elections on 11 April and without any external intervention.
This article was originally published by the Morning Star and has been edited for style.