“Most people want President Moreno to disappear,” expresses Val*, a retired Ecuadorian school teacher. “Moreno is a traitor,” she adds.
You can sense the resentment and dismay shared by many Ecuadorians as President Lenin Moreno’s presidential term, one framed by political betrayal, economic distress, and tragic loss, gradually come to an end.
Before his presidency, Moreno served as Vice President to former leftist President Raphael Correa of the PAIS Alliance Party. Correa’s administration and his ‘Citizens Revolution’ movement were highly regarded across much of Ecuador because of their reputation for bringing change and new opportunities.
Luis Luna, an Ecuadorian immigrant, living in the United States since the age of 13, in an interview with The Politic, referred to the administration as “transformative in how much direct investment the Administration put into education, public works and infrastructure, health, and the modernization of government institutions.”
In 2017, hoping to further the progress that Correa established, Ecuadorians elected PAIS’ Lenin Moreno. But following his inauguration, Moreno was quick to distance himself from Correa’s socialist legacy.
“He immediately made a pact with the right-wing and the most economically powerful sector in Ecuador,” says Val. Because he betrayed the party’s values, PAIS Alliance requested that he be removed as Party leader in 2017.
As Moreno’s presidency passed, several economic decisions cultivated public resentment towards the administration. To nourish Ecuador’s crippled economy, Moreno adopted multiple austerity measures, such as eliminating oil subsidies supported by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Consequently, on October 3, 2019, Quito, the country’s capital, fell into a state of emergency. Protests erupted in the street for two weeks.
According to Val, “Eleven people in the protest were killed, over a thousand were arrested or injured, some even succumbed to losing their eyes.” The unrest came to a grueling end after Moreno signed an agreement to reverse his decision to suppress fuel subsidies.
Over a year later, in April 2020, Ecuador was thrown into the pandemic’s deep end, becoming one of South America’s hardest-hit countries. Ecuadorian citizen Ricardo*, like many others, described Moreno’s handling of the pandemic as a “shameful story.”
In an interview with The Politic, Ricardo stated that “Ecuador was a country with a strong medical infrastructure, with new hospitals, equipment, and doctors.” He went on to say it was “Moreno’s decisions that created a more deadly situation for Ecuadorians…during the pandemic, to help the economy, he fired over 2000 doctors.” Medical doctors’ layoffs were a part of a larger layoff initiative to cut public spending to salvage Ecuador’s damaged economy. As Ecuador has a national healthcare system, doctors succumbed to job loss.
The scale of Ecuador’s devastation, as a result, is animated in Val’s sobering recollections where she recounts “the many deaths, especially in the city of Guayaquil, where families took their dead to the streets. The demand for coffins was so great that cardboard boxes were distributed.”
In just four years, “Ecuador has been sent back 40 years,” Val says. “Institutionality has been destroyed…. Much of Correa’s infrastructure, like new schools, hospitals, and hydroelectric plants, that benefited the lives of those with fewer resources have been damaged.” Over 15,000 lives have fallen victim to COVID-19 largely due to insufficient government policy and regulation. Not only is Ecuador’s dissatisfaction with Moreno’s presidency reflected in Luna’s statements, but Moreno now has a less than 30 percent approval rating. With reelection no longer feasible, Moreno will conclude his one-term presidency on May 24, 2021.
Now eager to heal the Moreno administration’s damage and determine the leadership that will reshape Ecuador’s future, millions of registered voters traveled to polling stations on February 7, 2021. At the polls, registered voters stood in what Val recounts as “long, socially distanced lines” to cast their votes for a new president, vice president, 137 members of the National Assembly, and five Andean parliament members.
For President, 16 names lay on the ballot; however, only three had any real potential to attain a presidential nomination: Andres Arauz, Carlos ‘Yaku’ Perez, and Guillermo Lasso.
As voting concluded, the 36-year-old Unity for Hope (UNES) candidate and Correa’s protege Andres Arauz emerged on top with just under 33 percent of the total vote. With Ecuador’s voting legislation requiring a candidate to have 40 percent of the vote or a 10 percent lead to be a confirmed presidential nominee, Mr. Arauz will progress to the April 11 run-off elections.
Falling behind Mr. Aruaz was a 56-year-old newcomer and indigenous leader Carlos ‘Yaku’ Perez of the Pachakutik Party and 65-year-old conservative banker Guillermo Lasso of the Social Christian Party (PSC). The hairline margin between Perez and Lasso is 33,000 votes, with Lasso holding a slight lead and 19.7 percent of the vote overall. To confidently confirm Mr. Lasso as Mr. Arauz’s opponent in the run-offs, Ecuador’s voting officials held a partial recount on February 20. In the final recount, Mr. Lasso proved successful and will partake in the run-offs on April 11.
Although Andres Arauz’s fate has yet to be decided in April, he will likely be Ecuador’s next President. At the age of 36-years-old, he would be Ecuador’s youngest leader too. Just months ago, Andres Arauz was practically unknown to the public, which naturally leads to the question of how Arauz captivated the attention of so many Ecuadorian voters, especially when up against well-established and experienced politicians like Guillermo Lasso.
Some of Arauz’s strength lies in his intention to eliminate several of Moreno’s policies that negatively impacted many Ecuadorians’ lives, a major one being Ecuador’s 4.5 billion dollar debt agreement with the International Monetary Fund. As previously mentioned, many Ecuadorians were upset with Moreno’s corresponding austerity measures, like the “elimination of fuel subsidies,” implemented to assist Ecuador’s debt repayments, which Luna highlighted, “led to deadly protests.” Much of Andres Arauz’s popularity stems from his intentions to ignore the terms of the IMF debt agreement. His opposition, Guillermo Lasso, wishes to respect the agreement’s terms.
Political ideology may also present itself as a contributing factor in Arauz’s success. As Ecuador sees through the end of a right-leaning Moreno administration, more of its citizens favor the left-wing proposed by Arauz. But Ricardo wants to highlight that Arauz’s favorability does not purely come from his left-wing ideals, “There are multiple left-wing candidates on the ballot, some not even reaching one percent of the vote. Arauz is winning as a left-wing candidate, but it is not only because of his ‘left-wing’ ideals, he is winning because he represents the ‘left-wing, Citizen’s Revolution’ ideals.”
With Ecuador’s economic growth decreasing by a troubling 11 percent due to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, both Lasso and Arauz have shaped their campaigns to focus on the economy. If elected, Arauz plans to take a ground-up approach to the economic crisis by proposing to provide one million Ecuadorian families with $1000 as a stimulus payment the first few days of his presidency. Lasso, in contrast, is focusing on rejuvenating the job market by promising to generate two million new jobs.
In the 2021 elections, there has been a particularly significant surge in anti-mining activism, especially amongst many of Ecuador’s indigenous groups. For example, the Shuar and Canari-Kichwa were evicted from their homes in 2015 from the Quimi Valley of Ecuador’s Amazon region to build a $1.4 billion copper mine funded by Chinese company ExplorCobres S.A. Cases like the Schuar and Canari-Kichwa have not been uncommon in recent years. Moreno was driven to strengthen Ecuador’s mining industry throughout his presidency, believing that it would generate $40 billion in revenue for Ecuador’s economy. The rise in anti-mining sentiment is likely to have contributed to the loss of support that Lasso’s experienced in the 2021 elections compared to his previous campaign in 2017. Many of his previous supporters likely followed Perez, whose campaign was heavily environmentally focused.
With mining-specific policies, Arauz wishes to maintain the mining deals introduced during the Moreno administration. However, if successful in April, he plans to thoroughly examine whether mining companies comply with environmental laws and integrate local cooperation into their projects. Likewise, Lasso is heavily in favor of maintaining the mining industry. With both run-off candidates positioning themselves as relatively pro-mining, it may be difficult for anti-mining activists, originally in favor of Perez, to make a confident decision in their preferred candidate. Still, with Arauz having the environment and economy in mind, he is more likely to achieve most of Perez’s supporters come April.
According to Ricardo, “Andres Arauz represents a continuation, with many improvements, of Rafael Correa’s government…which was undoubtedly one that was accompanied by the support of the people.” Throughout the duration of his presidency, Correa produced some of the lowest levels of unemployment and greatest levels of economic growth in all of recorded Ecuadorian history. For example, the population of Ecuadorians living in poverty went from 45 percent to 25 percent. Additionally, the country experienced an average annual growth of four percent each year.
“The success of President Correa’s ‘Citizen’s Revolution,’” says Ricardo, contrasts with the failures of current President Moreno, who has governed in cooperation with all of Correa’s former opposition.”
But despite Correa’s achievements, his legacy is being challenged. He faces corruption charges for allegedly accepting bribes in exchange for public contracts between 2012 and 2016. With such allegations tainting the former president’s reputation, one is inclined to question why voters are not weary of his relationship with Arauz in the current elections.
However, most Ecuadorians do not consider the allegations against the former President to be legitimate. Instead, the allegations are viewed as a weapon utilized by the Moreno administration to bar Correa from further political participation.
“Earlier this year, the ballot was going to read Andres Arauz as President and Rafael Correa as Vice President; however, due to some legal maneuvers by powers that did not want to allow Mr. Correa to run for office again, he was not permitted to participate as a candidate,” says Ricardo.
Val adds that, “The Moreno government has spent the whole time blaming everything bad on Correa. People have already realized that the former President and many of his officials have suffered real persecution with the private sector’s help.” Today, Correa resides in retirement in Belgium, his wife’s birth country, where he plans to advise Arauz if he wins the election.
But Arauz is more than his political relationships and policies. On the podium, he is an underdog. Therefore, the question remains: why is much of the public excited about Andres Arauz?
According to Val, “He is young, very well prepared, with public administration experience. He knows what he is saying and offers possible policies, not demagoguery. He offers a positive campaign with new ideas and proposals. He speaks clearly, and that is why he reaches the simplest people.”
Luna highlights that one factor that works in favor of Arauz is the young economist’s higher education, which took place in the United States, giving him what Luna and others believe is “a different and beneficial perspective.”
Beyond his educational background, Val calls attention to Arauz’s willingness to “maintain good relations with all the countries of the world and strengthen unity and agreements with the countries of the region, especially in health, education, trade, economy, and tourism sectors.”
As 16 million Ecuadorians come to close the door on Moreno’s presidency, Ecuador’s elections become a story of resilience. April 11 will be a symbolic day, not only for the country but for the rest of the world in that it will stand for the strength of democracy. For four years, Ecuadorians have been battered with betrayal; they watched the lives of their loved ones disappear at the hands of COVID-19. Thousands lost their jobs or slipped below the poverty line. They fought disparity. Rather than succumbing to the devastation, the people united under their right to vote to ensure they get their second chance at reconstructing the ‘Citizens Revolution’ and healing Ecuador. Ecuadorians like Val, Ricardo, and Luna are confident that Arauz is that second chance. Of course, if the young economist wins the election, the pain, loss, and damage will not disappear at what Val refers to as the “stroke of a magic wand.” Still, with the people’s hope and determination, democracy will survive, and Ecuador will begin its healing process.
*names changed for anonymity