Left wing candidate Rafael Correa looks set to become Ecuador’s president following elections last Sunday.
Correa is widely seen as part of a new generation of left leaders in Latin America—including Evo Morales in Bolivia and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.
Like them, Correa has sought to establish a direct relationship with the poor and excluded in Ecuador, where 80 percent of the population live in poverty.
He promised to halve debt repayments to the International Monetary Fund and spend more on social programmes, as well as renegotiating contracts with the oil multinationals.
He has also pledged that he will shut the US military base in Manta, “unless they let us put a military base in Miami”.
His opponent in the run-off election was Alvaro Noboa—a banana tycoon accused of using child labour on his plantations. Those in the banana growing regions voted overwhelmingly for Correa.
Despite Noboa’s defeat, the right will remain a powerful presence in Ecuador’s congress. Correa’s party did not stand candidates in congressional elections.
However, he plans to call a referendum on an assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution. This is likely to be followed by further elections.
Correa came to prominence in 2005, when he served as finance minister under the administration headed by Alfredo Palacio.
He attempted to introduce pro-poor policies and opposed a free trade deal with the US, before being forced out.
Strikes by workers, protests by rural communities and a powerful indigenous movement have rocked the Palacio administration.
The country is deeply unstable—Correa will be the tenth president in as many years. Palacio’s predecessor Lucio Gutierrez was driven from power by mass mobilisations.
Gutierrez himself had come to power as a result of a previous wave of struggle. The experience left many Ecuadorians nervous about all political leaders.
Gutierrez was elected with the backing of left wing and indigenous groups. But once in office he quickly did a U-turn and adopted neoliberal policies, sparking the protests that led to his overthrow.
Many now hope that Correa will be more like Chavez than Gutierrez. But Chavez’s radicalism is the product of successive waves of class struggle in Venezuela.
Ultimately the workers’ and indigenous movements, which have shown enormous power in recent years, are likely to play a crucial role in shaping Ecuador’s future.