Is there a future for Ecuador beyond President Rafael Correa?

Posted on November 30, 2015 • Filed under: Economy, Ecuador, Politics


Since taking office as a maverick outsider nearly nine years ago, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has transformed the country by centralizing economic and political power under his authority and suppressing potential opponents in the private sector, media, and civil society.

He has implemented a costly populist agenda, which has bolstered his popularity—initially tapping increased oil revenue but gradually becoming more dependent on Chinese loans and investments. The steep decline in the price of oil and other commodities has forced Correa to cut spending and to propose tax increases.

As a result, popular unrest has intensified in the last year, testing his popularity just as he decides whether to seek an unprecedented fourth term. Mercurial and belligerent, Correa took power by railing against his country’s old political order— much like Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. Mimicking Chávez, Correa has waged a controversial battle with independent media and civil society, drawing increasing criticism from the international community for cracking down on freedom of expression; an editorial in the Washington Post in January 2012 branded him “Ecuador’s bully.” Yet, in spite of his irascible behavior and numerous corruption scandals involving members of his family and political inner circle, Correa’s fragmented opposition has yet to coalesce around a significant rival. Recent polls show that Correa’s approval remains at more than 60 percent. Analysts attribute his resilient popularity to the windfall from oil prices earlier in his term, significant growth in the public-sector payroll, and cash transfers to well over one million low-income Ecuadorians. A slowing economy and fiscal deficit will curtail Correa’s ability to shore up support through social spending, so only the depth of Ecuador’s economic crisis will determine his political fate. Read Article
Roger F. Noriega, a former US ambassador to the Organization of American States and assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs (2001–05), is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and managing director of Visión Américas LLC, a Washington, DC–based firm with US and foreign clients. Andrés Martínez-Fernández contributed invaluable research to this paper.

….Years of unrivaled political power in Ecuador have allowed Correa to consolidate his control over government institutions and to all but silence critical voices throughout the country. His government’s exorbitant public spending, supported initially by abundant oil revenue, has boosted his popularity and quieted criticism of his erratic personality and authoritarian methods. As oil revenues slump, Correa is hoping that his solid political base, control over state institutions, and domination of the public discourse will get him through a period of economic stagnation and fiscal austerity. It is likely that, 15 months before the next presidential election, potential opposition candidates are still considering whether to challenge Correa rather than leave Ecuador’s future in his hands.


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