ECUADORIANS EMBRACE NATIONALISM
U.S-EDUCATED BOLIVARIAN POPULIST BEATS GLOBALIST CANDIDATE SOUNDLY
By Richard Walker
Ecuador has become the latest Latin American nation to join in a revolutionary populistnationalist shift that is sure to send shivers down the backs of bankers, internationalists, oil executives and Bush officials.
In what is being called the “Pink Tide” Ecuadorians elected a new president, Rafael Correa, an American-educated economist who is opposed to free trade with the United States. He has pledged to reduce the level of foreign debt payments his country is forced to make to international bankers, including the World Bank whose representatives he says he will expel from the country.
His electoral success mirrors the growing populist trend across Latin America and puts Ecuador alongside Venezuela, as well as Chile, Brazil, Bolivia and Nicaragua, which have all elected populist-nationalist presidents in the past 12 months.
Correa, 43, has an economics doctorate from the University of Illinois and is a relative newcomer to politics but he shrewdly exploited anti-American sentiment throughout his election campaign. He described President Bush as “dimwitted” and applauded the recent attacks on him by Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. He also lambasted his opponent, Alvaro Noboa, 56, for being pro-U.S. and a friend of wealthy interests in Washington.
Noboa, a banana billionaire, proved an easy target for Correa in a country where Venezuela’s Chavez is seen as a hero and Bush is viewed as a villain. Noboa was making his third run at the presidency and presented himself as a Bibleloving friend of the Kennedys and Rockerfellers. He also trumpeted his wealth and his ownership of 114 companies.
During his campaign, he handed out free computers and even gave away cash.
Correa accused him of trying to scare the electorate by telling voters that if they did not elect him international companies and financial institutions would turn their backs on Ecuador.
As electioneering wound down, Correa did downplay some of his tough rhetoric. In particular he avoided earlier threats he had made to dissolve the country’s assembly and reduce foreign debt payments.
Both candidates promised a lot, each vowing he would build hundreds of thousands of homes for the poor and increase the $36 monthly “poverty bonus” to the 1.2 million Ecuadorians living beneath the poverty line.
Noboa went so far as to demonstrate his generosity and upright character by reading from the Bible at some of his rallies and handing out medicines.
Both candidates knew they were dealing with an electorate that had seen eight presidents chased from office in 10 years, the last two after widespread street demonstrations.
Correa was able to cleverly portray himself as a new face—a man not tainted by the corruption that has characterized the country for almost three decades. He was also fortunate that he was well known for his work with the poor through educational programs he hosted.
A clear signal that global bankers were concerned about the likelihood of Correa getting elected came with the intervention of U.S. investment bankers, Goldman Sachs, in the run-up to the election. Goldman Sachs made it clear it was siding with the billionaire Noboa when Goldman executives publicly warned Ecuadorians not to vote for Correa. In a public statement, Goldman Sachs said:
“We anticipate that the gridlock and confrontation between the executive and the legislature will reach new heights under a Correa administration.”
Some observers have since argued that Goldman Sachs’s meddling only helped Correa because it strengthened his case that Washington was prepared to use any means to influence the election result, even if it meant scaring the electorate about Correa’s proposed economic policies.
For Washington, the election result is now seen as yet another blow to U.S. influence in the region and exemplifies a growing disenchantment with the Bush administration.
Throughout the election, Correa exploited Bush’s unpopularity around the world, making his opponent’s support for the United States “a vote for George Bush.”
In a strange twist of irony, the moment the election result was announced, Linda Jewell, the U.S. ambassador in Quito, the country’s capital, phoned Correa to congratulate him and remind him of the historic ties between their two nations. Her overture to him came days after he announced he would not sign the lease on the U.S. military base at Mantra when it came up for renewal in just over two years.
CHANGE IS UNSTOPPABLE
Washington likes to portray the political change in Latin America as the malevolent influences of Chavez and Fidel Castro, but that may be a convenient, if not a skewed analysis.
Some study groups believe the populations of many Latin American countries simply want change and the desire is so strong that it is almost unstoppable. For example, the Center for Economic Policy and Research speculates that the election result in Ecuador was proof of ordinary people “going over the heads of the political establishment” as a way of dragging themselves out of poverty created by decades of corruption.
If that analysis is accurate, U.S. influence will further decline because it was U.S. political meddling and corporate greed that, in many instances, degraded many economies across that continent.
In other words, the days of neo-liberal economic policies in Latin America sponsored by such global speculators as David Rockefeller may soon be just a faded memory.
(Issue 49 & 50, December 4 & 11, 2006)