Ecuador Election: From Rafael Correa to Guillermo Lasso via Lenin Moreno
On 11 April 2021, Guillermo Lasso, the right-wing candidate, defeated Andres Arauz, the candidate supported by Rafael Correa and part of the Left, by 52.4% vs 47.6% in the second round of ballots for the presidential election. Lasso was elected thanks to the division of the Left, since a significant part of it, which has become deeply diffident of Rafael Correa, called for a null vote. Votes on the popular side, that represented a clear majority in the first round of February 2021, were divided, which made it possible for a former banker to be elected president.
The situation is serious for an opportunity to break away from Lenin Moreno’s brutal neoliberal policies has been lost. Former banker Lasso, though critical of Lenin Moreno’s positions out of sheer electoral calculation, will continue in the same harmful direction: a deepening of neoliberal policies, submission to the private interests of Big Capital, particularly of Ecuador’s powerful banking sector and of the import-export industry, and submission to the United States. How can we explain that a significant part of popular votes did not go to Andres Arauz to prevent Guillermo Lasso from getting elected? It can be accounted for by the rejection prompted by Rafael Correa’s policies, particularly after 2011, among part of the Left, notably with the CONAIE, the Confederation of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador.
Lasso’s victory was anything but predictable for, in the general elections, the two leading political forces were on one hand the political movement supported by Rafael Correa with 42 representatives and on the other Pachakutik, the political extension of the CONAIE with 27 elected members, which was the best parliamentary result ever for the indigenous movement. In the presidential election, the outcome of the first round was clearly in favour of the popular side; indeed, if you added votes for Andres Arauz (a little more than 32%) and those for Yaku Perez (just under 19%) you had a majority, to which could be added part of the votes for a candidate that came fourth under the social-democrat label and had gathered close to 14%.
Former banker Guillermo Lasso came second with 19% but only a very short edge on Yaku Perez, the Pachakutik candidate in February 2021, and 13% less than Andres Arauz. Yaku Perez and the CONAIE first complained about what they called a massive electoral fraud. Then a couple of days after the first round Yaku Perez passed an agreement for mutual support with Guillermo Lasso, an agreement that was soon cancelled by Lasso. Next the CONAIE and other left-wng forces called for a null vote in the second round and refused to vote for Andres Arauz to beat Guillermo Lasso. The CONAIE and Pachakutik were divided on this issue for a right-wing section of Pachakutik called for a vote for Lasso while the president of the CONAIE, Jaime Vargas, had called to vote for Andres Arauz with the support of a majority of indigenous organizations in the Amazonian part of Ecuador. In spite of discordant voices announcing that they would vote for Lasso or for Arauz, the CONAIE confirmed its call for a null vote, which eventually amounted to 16.3% on election day.
The election of Lasso as president opens a new stage in the implementation of policies that will be even more favourable to Ecuadorian Big Capital, to foreign multinational corporations, to an alliance among right-wing presidents in Latin America and to the pursuit or indeed reinforcement of US domination on the continent. The election outcome on 11 April 2021 is a dark signal for the popular side. In order to understand why a significant part of of the popular side refused to vote for Arauz to defeat Lasso, we have to examine the policies implemented by Rafael Correa after he was reelected president in 2010.
Reminder of Policies Implemented by Correa from 2007 to 2010
As detailed in several former articles, from 2007 to 2010, Ecuador’s government led the way in making the sovereign decision of auditing its public debt to identify illegitimate debts and suspend repayment. The suspension of payment of a large part of its commercial debt, followed by its undervalue repurchase, shows that the government was not content with merely expressing outrage. In 2009 it unilaterally restructured part of its external debt and won a victory against private creditors, mainly US banks and investment funds. In 2007, at the outset of Correa’s presidency, Ecuador’s government came into conflict with the World Bank and expelled its permanent representative. Moreover, from 2007 to 2010, under Correa’s presidency, a number of important positive policies were initiated: a new constitution was democratically adopted, announcing significant changes which, however, never really materialized; Ecuador put an end to the US military base of Manta on the Pacific coast; Ecuador attempted to set up a Bank of the South with Argentina, Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay; Ecuador left the WB tribunal.
Rafael Correa’s U-turn from 2011
2011 marks a U-turn in the policies of the Ecuadorian government on several fronts, whether social, environmental, commercial or concerning debt. The conflicts between the government and a number of significant social movements such as the CONAIE on the one hand, teachers’ unions and the student movement on the other, deteriorated. Rafael Correa and his government went ahead with trade negotiations with the EU, making more and more concessions. As for debt, from 2014, Ecuador gradually began to have recourse to international finance markets, not to mention the debts contracted with China. On the environmental front, in 2013 Correa’s government abandoned the commitment not to extract oil in a very sensitive part of the Amazon. Correa also condoned patriarchal and reactionary positions on the issue of depenalizing abortion and on the LGBTQI+.
The Yasuni-ITT Initiative Abandoned in 2013
The Yasuni-ITT Initiative was presented in June 2007 by Rafael Correa. It consisted of leaving underground 20% of the country’s oil reserves (about 850 million barrels of oil), situated in a region of outstanding biodiversity, Yasuni National Park, in the North-West of the Ecuadorian Amazon.1 As Matthieu Le Quang explains, “To compensate for the financial losses of non-exploitation, the State of Ecuador asked the countries of the North to make an international financial contribution equivalent to half of what the country would have earned from exploitation (3.6 billion dollars, based on the price of oil in 2007). This was an extremely ambitious policy, particularly the goal of changing the energy matrix of a country which, although exploiting and exporting crude oil, nevertheless remained an importer of its derivatives and dependant on them to generate its electricity.”2 Matthieu Le Quang goes on, “A very strong decision made by the Ecuadorian government was to have registered the Yasuni-ITT Initiative in United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), that is, to have placed the emphasis on the non-emission of greenhouse gases that would result from non-exploitation of oil.” In August 2013, Rafael Correa, who had been re-elected for a third presidential mandate in February with over 57% of votes in the first ballot, announced the end of this project. He justified his decision by the very real lack of commitment from the various countries supposed to finance the non-exploitation of oil in Yasuni-ITT.
Rafael Correa’s failure even to begin abandoning the extractivist-export model was a fundamental flaw of his presidency. This model consists of a set of policies aiming to extract from below ground or from the land’s surface a maximum of primary goods (such as fossil fuels, minerals or timber…) or to produce a maximum of agricultural produce intended for foreign market consumption, in order to export them on the global market. In the case of Ecuador this means bananas, sugar, African palm, flowers, broccoli.3 To these should be added the export of farmed prawns and tuna fished on an industrial scale. This model has numerous harmful effects: environmental destruction (open-air mines, deforestation, contamination of running water, salinization/ depletion/ poisoning/ erosion of soils, reduction of biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions, etc.); destruction of the natural habitat and way of life of entire populations (first peoples and others); depletion of unsustainable natural resources; dependency on global markets (stock-markets for raw materials and agricultural commodities where the prices of export products are determined; salaries kept low to remain competitive; dependency on technologies owned by the highly industrialized countries; dependency for inputs (pesticides, herbicides, seeds whether transgenic or not, chemical fertilizers…) produced by major transnational companies (mostly from highly industrialized countries); dependency on international financial and economic conditions.
François Houtart (1925-2017), who had studied the process unfurling in Ecuador closely and supported Rafael Correa’s policies, did not hesitate to express criticism and make it known to the government. Shortly before he died, he wrote the following about the agricultural policies: “These are also short-term policies. They do not take account of natural changes and their long-term effects, of food sovereignty, workers’ rights, or the origins of rural poverty. They emphasize an agro-export model presented as an objective without mentioning the consequences.” He further stated: “As authors, we asked ourselves in our report whether it was possible to build 21st century socialism from19th century capitalism. (…) Once again as throughout history, it is the rural world and its labourers that pay the price of modernization. It was the case for European capitalism in the 19th century, for the Soviet Union in the 1920s, and for China after the Communist revolution.”4
Rafael Correa and the social movements: A conflictual relationship
Rafael Correa’s government had great difficulty in taking on board the contributions of a certain number of front line social organizations. Rafael Correa’s tendency and the orientation of his political movement Alianza PAIS (“for a proud and sovereign country”, in Spanish), most often consisted of side-stepping or ignoring the biggest of the indigenous organizations, the CONAIE, the biggest teachers’ union (the National Union of Educators, or UNE), the union of Petroecuador (the national oil company) and a good many other social organizations. All these organizations underwent regular attacks from the executive authority that accused them of mobilizing for corporatist reasons with the aim of defending privileges. Moreover, Rafael Correa did not act upon the historical claim, mainly carried by the CONAIE, for integration of the indigenous component of society in the decision-making process on all the major issues relating to the government’s orientations. For its part CONAIE, fighting for the general principles of the Constitution to be transcribed in law,5 did not hesitate to confront Rafael Correa. On several occasions, the government tried to push measures through without entering into any dialogue with the organizations of the social sectors concerned. This approach is not unlike that adopted by the Lula government in Brazil, when the latter undertook a neoliberal-style reform of the pension system in 2003 (just when, in France, the right-wing government led by Jean-Pierre Raffarin was putting a similar reform in place). Lula conducted his campaign for pension reform by attacking the rights of civil service workers, labelling them as privileges.
Among the most serious disputes opposing the executive power to Ecuador’s social organizations were, on the one hand, the draft bill on water, and on the other, Rafael Correa’s policy of opening the economy to private foreign investment in the mining and oil industries.6 At a special meeting held on 8 and 9 September 2009 in Quito, the CONAIE did not spare the Correa government’s policies that it stigmatized as neoliberal and capitalist.7 The CONAIE “demand[ed] of the State and the government that they nationalize the country’s natural resources and instigate an audit of concessions in the domains of oil, mining, aquifers, hydraulics, telephone, radiophone, television and environmental services, external debt, tax collection and the resources of the social security” and also “the suspension of all concessions (extractive, oil, forestry, aquifer, hydro-electric and those linked to biodiversity).”8 After 30 September 2009, the CONAIE took action, organizing rallies, blocking roads and bridges against a draft bill on water. President Correa reacted against these anti-government mobilizations first by refusing any kind of negotiation, then by casting suspicion on the indigenous movement by claiming that Right-wing forces were at the heart of it, especially former president Lucio Gutiérrez. But finally the CONAIE obtained public negotiations at the highest level. Thus 130 indigenous delegates were received at the seat of the government by President Correa and several ministers, and they finally managed to get the government to back down on several points, notably the instigation of a permanent dialogue between the CONAIE and the Executive, with amendments on the draft bills on water and the extractive industries.
Another social conflict also broke out against the government with the mobilization of teachers, under the aegis of the main union of the profession, the UNE, in which the MPD9 party is extremely influential. There too, the conflict finally led to dialogue. In November and December 2009 a third social front emerged with the protest movement in universities against a draft reform which aimed in particular to reduce the autonomy of universities, something that is considered in Latin America to be an irreversible element of social progress and a guarantee of independence regarding political authorities.
All in all, Rafael Correa’s government soon showed serious limitations when it came to defining policies involving the point of view of the social movements without the latter having to make their point through a power struggle. In 2010 and 2014, there was major social mobilization against the Correa government’s policies. The list of demands upheld by organizations which, led by CONAIE, called for people to join the struggle in June 2014 speaks volumes about the government’s orientation: resistance against mining and oil extraction, against the criminalization of social protest, against the new Labour legislation; demands for a different policy for energy and water; for the rights of indigenous communities and especially the refusal of ethnic community school closures;10 rejection of the Constitutional reform which would enable unlimited electoral mandates; rejection of the free-trade agreement to be signed with the European Union.
In December 2014 Rafael Correa wanted to expel the CONAIE from its premises which incited the CADTM, like numerous other organizations, both Ecuadorian and foreign, to insist that the government renounce this decision.11 The government backed down. At the end of 2017, Rafael Correa’s government wanted to withdraw legal personality from a left-wing ecological organization called Accion Ecologica. Again, it took a wave of national and international protest to get the authorities to finally give up this infringement of liberties.12
Conclusion on Rafael Correa’s Presidency
From the beginning of his first mandate, Rafael Correa took care to include both ministers from the left and ministers with more or less direct links to different sectors of the traditional Ecuadorian capitalist class in composing his government, which led to constant arbitration. As time passed, Correa made more and more concessions to big capital, both on the national and the international level.
Despite a discourse in favour of changing the productive model and of 21st century socialism, Correa, in ten years of 21st century presidency, did not initiate profound modification of the country’s economic structure, of property relations or of relations between social classes. Alberto Acosta, formerly minister of energy in 2007, president of the Constituent Assembly in 2008 and an opponent of Rafael Correa’s since 2010, wrote with his colleague John Cajas Guijarro: “the absence of structural transformation means that Ecuador remains a capitalist economy tied to exporting raw materials and therefore tied to long-term cyclical behaviour dependent on the demands of the transnational accumulation of capital. This long-term cyclic behaviour is due to the contradictions inherent in capitalism, but is also strongly influenced by dependency on massive exportation of barely transformed raw materials (extractivism). In other words, capitalist exploitation – of both labour and nature – following international demands, keeps Ecuador ’chained’ to a succession of ups and downs which originate as much within the country as abroad.”13
Lenin Moreno or the Return to Neoliberal Policies and to Submission to US Interests
In 2017, at the end of Rafael Correa’s presidential mandate and just when he was succeeded by President Lenin Moreno (the candidate Correa had supported), the country’s debt surpassed the level attained 10 years earlier. Rapidly Lenin Moreno turned once more to the IMF. That led to massive popular protests in September-October 2019 which obliged the government to capitulate to the people’s organizations and abandon the decree which had triggered the revolt.
We should remember that Correa’s government offered asylum to Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London from June 2012 onward. Correa resisted pressure from the UK and the US, demanding that Assange be delivered to them. Lenin Moreno, who succeeded Rafael Correa in 2017, disgraced himself by handing Assange over to the British justice system in April 2019 and by withdrawing the Ecuadorian citizenship that Correa’s government had granted him in 2017.14
In 2019, Lenin Moreno acknowledged Juan Guaido as president of Venezuela whereas the latter was calling for a US armed intervention to overturn the government of the elected president Nicola Maduro.
In 2020, Lenin Moreno signed another humiliating agreement with the IMF and in 2021 he tried to have a bill voted that would make the Central Bank completely independent of the government and thus even more closely subjected to the interests of private banks. His popularity faded to nothing: in the last polls, Lenin Moreno had a mere 4.8% approval rating. Candidates supported by Moreno at the general elections and in the first round of the presidential election in February 2021 did not get more than 3% of the votes.
The Programme of Guillermo Lasso, elected president in Ecuador on 11 April 2021 and the new stage
When Rafael Correa became president of Ecuador in 2007, it was thanks to the social mobilizations that punctuated the years from 1990 until 2005. Without them, his proposals would never have received the attention they got and he would not have been elected. Unfortunately, after a very good start, he clashed with a significant part of the social movements and opted for modernization of extractivist-export capitalism. Then his successor, Lenin Moreno, broke away from Rafael Correa’s policies and went back to brutal neoliberalism.
This hard-line neoliberal policy will be further developed by Guillermo Lasso. He has clearly announced that he wants to lower taxes on companies, to attract foreign investment, to give even more freedom to bankers, to consolidate the policy of free trade by joining the Pacific Alliance. It is likely that Guillermo Lasso will try to somehow integrate leaders linked to Pachakutik and the CONAIE into his government or administration. If this succeeds, the CONAIE and Pachakutik will emerge even more divided than they were on the eve of the run-off elections. It is fundamental for the future of the popular camp to radically and actively oppose the government that Lasso will form.
Ecuador’s future with Guillermo Lasso as president
Once again, only social mobilization will end these policies and bring back the measures of anti-capitalist structural change indispensable for emancipation. In 2019 the CONAIE and a whole range of trade union organizations, feminist associations and ecologist collectives drew up an excellent alternative proposal to capitalist, patriarchal and neoliberal policies: this should constitute the basis of a vast government programme.15
The issue of rejecting the policies of the IMF, the World Bank and illegitimate debt will be back at the heart of the social and political battles.16 In a document made public in July 2020 by more than 180 Ecuadorian people’s organizations can be found the following demand: “suspension of payment of external debt and an audit to be carried out on external debt accumulated between 2014 and the present, as well as citizen controls of how the debts contracted were utilized.”17
Final Considerations on the Election on 11 April 2021
With 98.84% of votes counted,
- Arauz got 47.59%, which corresponds to 4,100,283 votes.
- Lasso got 52.4%, which corresponds to 4,533,275 votes.
- Null votes: 16.33%, which corresponds to 1,715,279 votes.
- Total of voters: 10,501,517 voters.
- Absenteeism: 2,193,896 people.
Null votes reached 9.5% in the first round; the null vote increased by 6.83% between the first and second rounds; in terms of votes this yields:
- Null votes February 2021: 1,013,395 votes.
- Null votes April 2021: 1,715,279 votes.
- Difference: +701,884 votes.
All in all, a large part of this difference can be traced to the campaign led by Pachakutik, the Conaie, social movements and left-wing organizations that did not support Correa’s candidate. This means that less than half of their voters chose a null vote; remember that Yaku Pérez had got 19.39% in the first round, i.e. 1,798,057 votes. Assuming that a majority among those voters follow Pachakutik, this means that 39% of its voters opted for a null vote. As it is likely that other sectors opted for an null vote, it is a fair assumption that the null votes related to Pachakutik be around 30% of its voters. In other words, one Pachakutik voter out of three opted for a null vote, probably the most reliable and determined Pachakutik voters.
Unfortunately the remaining 70% mostly went to Lasso, probably in rejection of Correa’s heritage in terms of a history of aggression against the popular movement; but this still means a right-wing vote, thus reneging their votes in the first round.
This also shows how fragile a vote for an alternative away from polarization between Correism and traditional Right is.
It further shows that if the CONAIE, Pachakutik and other left-wing organizations had called to vote against Lasso or for Arauz, it was perfectly possible to defeat Lasso and put pressure on Arauz for him to take into account the demands formulated both in the CONAIE text of October 2019 and in the proposal by the parliament of the peoples of July 2020. Those are excellent statements that are further left than the content of Yaku Perez’ electoral campaign for the first round or Andres Arauz’ programme. •
This article first published on the Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt website.
- For a presentation of the project in 2009, see Alberto Acosta interviewed by Matthieu Le Quang “Le projet ITT: laisser le pétrole en terre ou le chemin vers un autre modèle de développement” (The ITT Project: leave the oil in the ground or the path toward another model of development) published 18 September 2009, (in Spanish and French).
- Matthieu Le Quang interviewed by Violaine Delteil, “Entre buen vivir et néo-extractivisme : les quadratures de la politique économique équatorienne” (Between good living and neo-extractivism: how Ecuador’s economic policy squares up) in Revue de la Régulation, Semester 1, 2019, [accessed 30 December 2020] (French only).
- Regarding broccoli production in Ecuador, François Houtart wrote: “Mention should be made of the 2013 study on broccoli production in the Pujilí region, in the province of Cotopaxi. 97% of broccoli production is exported mainly toward countries capable of producing their own broccoli (the United States, EU, Japan), for reasons of comparative advantages (low salaries, less demanding environmental laws, etc.). The production company monopolizes water resources, leaving insufficient water for the needs of the neighbouring communities. They also ‘bombard’ rainclouds to deflect showers from the broccoli fields to the surrounding area. Chemical products are used within the legal limit of 200m of human habitations. Polluted water runs into the rivers. Workers’ health is affected (skin, lungs, cancer). Contracts are drawn up partly on a weekly basis, with a foreman who gets 10% of the workers’ salaries. Overtime is often not paid. The company that transforms the broccoli for export works 24 hours round the clock, in three shifts. Workers are often obliged to work on two successive shifts. Trade unions are prohibited. Moreover, of the two firms, which have now merged, one had its capital in Panama and the other in the Dutch Antilles.” (in Spanish only).
- The original text in Spanish: “Estas políticas son también a corto plazo. No tienen en cuenta los cambios naturales y sus efectos a largo plazo, la soberanía alimentaria, los derechos de los trabajadores, el origen de la pobreza rural. Se acentúa un modelo agro-exportador presentado como una meta, sin indicar las consecuencias.” “Como autores, nos hemos preguntado en nuestro informe, si era posible construir el socialismo del siglo XXI con el capitalismo del siglo XIX ¿(…) Una vez más en la historia, es el campo y sus trabajadores los que pagan el precio de la modernización. Fue el caso del capitalismo europeo en el siglo XIX, de la Unión Soviética en los años 20 del siglo XX, de China, después de la Revolución comunista.”
- See Floresmillo Simbana “Movimiento indígena y la revolución ciudadana.”
- Ecuador’s economy is based mainly on oil revenues. It is important to bear in mind that in 2008, oil represented 22.2% of GDP, 63.1% of exports and 46.6% of the State’s general budget.
- Asamblea Extraordinaria de la CONAIE: Resoluciones de Nacionalidades y Pueblos, “Declarar al gobierno de Rafael Correa como gobierno neoliberal y capitalista por sus acciones y actitudes,” (in Spanish).
- MPD: Popular Democratic Movement, the electoral arm of the Marxist-Leninist (Maoist) Communist Party of Ecuador.
- Concerning the Correa government’s intention to close the community schools, François Houtart wrote in 2017: “the plan to close 18,000 community schools (known as ’poverty schools’) in favour of ’millennium schools’ (early 2017: 71 were built, 52 under construction and by the end of 2017, 200 were functioning) highlights the problems. No doubt these millennium schools are well-equipped, with competent teachers, but they belong to a philosophy which breaks away from traditional life, opening up to a modernity which is now called into question because of its social and environmental consequences. Nor do they easily fulfil the constitutional right to a bilingual education. Furthermore, in several cases, the transport system has not been adequate to needs and obliges students to walk for hours on badly maintained paths, which also results in high rates of absenteeism.”
- See Letter from the CADTM Ayna to Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador, published 27 December 2014.
- See in Spanish “Acción Ecológica, ¡ GRACIAS!”, published 17 January 2017.
- Alberto Acosta, John Cajas Guijarro, Una década desperdiciada Las sombras del correísmo, Centro Andino de Acción Popular Quito, 2018. The original quote in Spanish: “la falta de una transformación estructural provoca que el Ecuador se mantenga como una economía capitalista atada a la exportación de materias primas y, por lo tanto, amarrada a un comportamiento cíclico de larga duración vinculado a las demandas de acumulación del capital transnacional. Tal comportamiento cíclico de larga historia es originado por las contradicciones propias del capitalismo pero; a su vez, es altamente influenciado por la dependencia en la exportación masiva de productos primarios casi sin procesar (extractivismo). Es decir, la explotación capitalista – tanto de la fuerza de trabajo como de la Naturaleza – en función de las demandas internacionales, mantiene al Ecuador ’encadena do’ a un vaivén de animaciones y crisis económicas que se originan tanto interna como externamente.”
- CADTM AYNA, “Ensemble avec le peuple équatorien”, published 15 October 2019, (in French and Spanish). See also the collective work: Franklin Ramírez Gallegos (Ed.), Octubre y el derecho a la resistencia. Revuelta popular y neoliberalismo autoritario en Ecuador, Buenos Aires, CLACSO. It can be downloaded free of charge.
- CONAIE, Entrega de propuesta alternativa al modelo económico y social, 31 October 2019.
- Collective statement signed by Éric Toussaint, Maria Lucia Fattorelli, Alejandro Olmos Gaona, Hugo Arias Palacios, Piedad Mancero, Ricardo Patiño, Ricardo Ulcuango “We denounce the renegotiation of the debt by Lenín Moreno’s government,” published 1st August 2020.
- See PROPUESTA-PARLAMENTO-DE-LOS-PUEBLOS, published in July 2020.