During his weekly broadcast to the nation on Saturday, President Rafael Correa ticked off a list of formidable challenges facing Ecuador.
Two active volcanoes, an El Niño that could be one of the worst on record, slumping oil prices and a strong U.S. dollar that has incited cross-border consumer buying frenzies in Colombia and Peru, top the list.
“And there are a few other problems too,” the president said, adding: “But we are well prepared to deal with all this and together we will handle these problems and Ecuador will be fine.”
Correa spent most of his weekly Sabatina explaining what the government has done to prepare for natural disasters and financial hard times. “Ecuador is much stronger than it was in the past,” he said. “We have the resources, infrastructure and plans to handle our problems and to help our citizens who are in need.”
Correa said preparations for a possible eruption of the Cotopaxi volcano are almost complete and that meeting and drills are being held on a daily basis to insure public safety. The reactivation of the Tungurahua volcano near Ambato also presents challenges that will also be met, he said.
Discussing the El Niño weather phenomenon which is already affecting the country’s weather and is expected to reach full strength between November and January, Correa said that recently completed water control projects will alleviate coastal flooding. “We have planned ahead for this and are ready,” he said. “We have invested $400 million in projects in Guayas and Cañar (Provinces) to protect land and communities downstream when the heavy rains arrive. We have also prepared our risk managers for emergencies on the coast,” he added.
Correa said that the government is also working to protect Ecuadorian businesses near the borders with Colombia and Peru from the effects of the strong U.S. dollar. In recent weeks, businesses have complained of increased traffic across the borders to take advantage of depreciated Colombian and Peruvian products. “The (Colombian) peso has lost almost 60% of its value to the dollar and this means that some goods in Colombia cost half as much as in Ecuador,” he said.
The government says it will begin charging tax at the border on hundreds of goods purchased by Ecuadorians in Colombia and Peru. “Our manufacturers and businesses are hurting and we must limit the damage,” he said. Two weeks ago, the government eliminated import taxes on some items needed by Ecuadorian businesses in Carchi Province, which borders on Colombia.
Correa plans to talk with Colombian President Juan Santos about cross-border financial issues. Santos said on Friday that he understood Ecuador’s situation and was willing to help find remedies.
During his Sabatina, Correa also praised the improvements in education over the past eight years. “Today, we are providing the best education available in Latin America,” he said. “We are spending more money on our students than any other country.”