The recent election in Ecuador presents the country with an opportunity to return to the progressive agenda of former president Rafael Correa following four years of neoliberal austerity under Lenin Moreno.
Ecuador’s leftist candidate Andrés Arauz won the first round of the country’s presidential elections held on 7 February 2021, garnering 31.5 per cent of the vote. An economist and former minister in socialist president Rafael Correa’s government, he led the ticket for the Union for Hope coalition – which was Alianza País headed by Correa before the party split in 2017.
However, it appears that Arauz did not win by enough of a margin to avoid a second runoff, provisionally scheduled for 11 April 2021. The election was marred by allegations of voter suppression, as Ecuadorians were forced to wait for hours in uncharacteristically long polling lines, especially in areas known to support Arauz.
Arauz faced two politicians – Guillermo Lasso and Yaku Pérez Guartambel. According to a quick count by the National Electoral Council (CNE), Pérez and Lasso took 20.04 per cent and 19.97 per cent of the votes, respectively.
Lasso is the candidate for the conservative alliance ‘Creating Opportunities’ (CREO). He is also a member of Opus Dei, banker and businessman. A true representative of the Ecuadorian oligarchy, he served as Minister of Economy in the Jamil Mahuad government in 1999, which fell in the winter of 2000 at the hands of two million rural and urban workers who took over the streets in protest against dollarisation.
Pérez is the candidate of the indigenous Pachakutik Party. While he portrays himself as an ‘eco-socialist’, many from the Correa camp have questioned his commitment to defend indigenous communities and remember that some factions of the Pachakutik Party have, in the past, opportunistically aligned with the right against Correa’s government. Moreover, he is also known for supporting US-backed rightwing coups in Latin America and wholeheartedly backing imperialism.
Arauz’s electoral hegemony is explained by the strength of Correismo – the ideology based on the policies of Correa’s government. Between 2007 and 2017, Correa undertook a series of post-neoliberal counter-reforms, strengthening the state, increasing its regulatory and economic planning power, as well as broadening its social influence.
Correa reconstructed Ecuador by way of a Constituent Assembly convened in 2007. In his inauguration speech on 15 January of the same year, he stated: ‘This historic moment for the country and the entire continent demands a new Constitution for the 21st century, to overcome neoliberal dogma and the plasticine democracies that subject people, lives and societies to the exigencies of the market. The fundamental instrument for such change is the National Constituent Assembly.’
The Constitution set out a social agenda whose essential axes are: (1) social protection aimed at reducing economic, social and territorial inequalities, with special attention to more vulnerable populations (children, youth, elderly); (2) the economic and social inclusion of groups at risk of poverty; (3) access to production assets; (4) universalisation of education and health. To this end, inter-sectoral cooperation was initiated among the Ministries of Education, Economic and Social Inclusion (MIES), Agriculture, Health and Migration.
The 2008 Constitution established the need to build a health system oriented toward comprehensive health care for the population, called the ‘Sectoral Health Transformation of Ecuador’, and created the ‘Model of Comprehensive Health Care’, which provided communal underpinnings to the approach toward healthcare. It is characterised by free health services for users, the deployment of sanitary infrastructure (hospitals and primary care centers) and training for health personnel.
The construction of the Ecuadorian state was based on ‘good living’ (el Buen Vivir) – a conception which places life at the centre of all social practices and includes the strengthening of the welfare state in order to guarantee it. Correa acolyte René Ramírez argues that buen vivir means ‘free time for contemplation and emancipation, and the broadening or flourishing of real liberties, opportunities, capacities and potentialities of individuals/collectives to bring that which society, territories, diverse collective identities and everyone – as a human being or collective, universal or individual – values as key to a desirable life.’
An essential part of buen vivir is communal action. While there were many gaps in the achievement of this aim, the Corriesta administration did try to start the ‘citizenisation of political control’ – the election of institutional and control authorities not by the legislature, but by an ad hoc organisational structure called the ‘Council of Citizen Participation and Social Control’. These measures were intended to establish a framework for participatory governance.
Lenin Moreno assumed the presidency in 2017, riding on the back of Correa’s support. Having served as vice-president (2007-13) in Correa’s government, he was expected to continue the progressive agenda of a strong welfare state. Instead, Moreno chose to comprehensively break away from the previous paradigm of anti-neoliberalism, persecuting Correa and his supporters.
Moreno used a February 2018 referendum to destroy the CNE, the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, the Judiciary Council, the attorney general, the comptroller general and others. With the assistance of the CNE, Moreno divided and took control of Correa’s party. When the Correistas tried to reorganise themselves in a new party, the state blocked them. They said that the proposed names were misleading or that the signatures collected were invalid. By 2019, the Correistas used the ‘Social Commitment Strength’ platform to run for local elections in 2019. This platform was then banned in 2020.
The suppression of Correistas has occurred against a backdrop of a neoliberal onslaught. Moreno has followed laissez-faire economic policies, privatisation, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade and state reduction promoted by the Washington Consensus. His initial actions aimed to incentivise private economic activity, including the elimination of advances on income taxes for firms and a move toward labour market flexibility. Further, Moreno introduced tax exonerations for firms that repatriated funds within the next twelve months.
In August of 2018, the National Assembly approved the ‘Organic Law for Productive Development, Attraction of Investment, Employment Generation and Fiscal Stability and Equilibrium’. This law included amnesty for any outstanding interest, fines or surcharges owed to a number of government agencies.
A ten-year income tax exemption was introduced for new investments in the industrial sector. Along the same lines, a 15-year exemption for investment in basic industries, and a 20-year exemption for investments located near the country’s border, were also specified in the bill. Exemptions were introduced to the tax on capital outflows for productive investments. These measures reduced the high-tax burden that private companies earlier faced.
Moreno has announced many austerity adjustments: reduction in the salaries of many government functionaries, elimination of bonus payments for state employees, overall reduction in the number of public sector workers and the sale of state-owned companies. All this resulted in the October 2019 uprising.
Hope for Socialism
It is likely that Arauz’s socialist leanings will help him succeed in re-gaining presidential power. He is committed to rolling back Moreno’s neoliberal measures, standing firm against the ruthless demands of international capital, increasing public spending on education and healthcare and imposing restrictions on capital flight. Arauz has conceived of a state model oriented towards selective economic interventionism for the benefit of the poor.
This model argues that the people-centric acceleration of economies is not a spontaneous phenomenon that results exclusively from market forces, but is the result of vigorous state involvement in strategic sectors through planning and structural reforms in the context of a mixed economic system. Considering the fact that absolute poverty has tripled during Moreno’s four-year presidency, Ecuadorians will elect a leader who promises to provide them with dignified lives.