In a debate that focused as much on the past as on the future, presidential candidates Andrés Arauz and Guillermo Lasso faced off Sunday night ahead of the April 11 runoff election. Arauz, protégé of former president Rafael Correa, claimed that Lasso, former president of Banco Guayaquil, planned to maintain a system that benefits Ecuador’s privileged class and that commits “usury” against the poor. Lasso insisted that an Arauz presidency would be a “continuation of 14 years of failure” based on the Correa model of government.
Organized by the National Elections Council, the debate covered five themes: the economy and employment; health, vaccination, social security, child malnutrition; democracy and state institutions; education, human development and technology; and international relations, human mobility and sustainable development.
The candidates presented contrasting plans for pulling the country out of the pandemic-induced recession, with Arauz proposing to put “dollars in the pockets” of the poor and returning offshore money to Ecuador where it can be accessed to rebuild social and physical infrastructure, while Lasso said he would reduce taxes and business regulation and pursue a free trade policy.
“We propose a plan to have dollars stay in Ecuador, of buying from Ecuadorians and promoting work for and by Ecuadorians,” Arauz said. “We will not allow the bankers to take the dollars away to be put in banks in Panama and Miami. Ecuadorian money should work for Ecuador.”
Lasso responded that the way to prosperity is by dismantling “failed economic plans” of the past. “We are going to create a climate of trust. The dollar is going to be the currency of Ecuador and we are going to eliminate excess taxes, eliminate excess procedures, promote both local and foreign investment to reactivate public works and the private sector. We are going to work to create jobs and opportunities in Ecuador.”
Lasso accused Arauz of plotting to replace the U.S. dollar as Ecuador’s currency, citing a report by an economic advisor to the Arauz campaign. “This not true,” Arauz responded. “We are going to maintain dollarization and we are going to strengthen it by recovering off-shore money.”
Relatively little debate time was devoted to the Covid-19 pandemic, with Lasso pledging to vaccinate nine million Ecuadorians in his first 100 days in office while Arauz said he would rehire 6,000 public health employees fired by the administration of President Lenin Moreno and “rebuild” the health system.
Despite his efforts to “talk about the future” Arauz spent much of the debate responding to or ignoring Lasso’s claim that he “owned” the policies of the last 14 years. “We can clearly see what you propose by looking at the government of your master and father-in-law, Rafael Correa,” Lasso said, referring to the deficiencies of the social security health and retirement system, the misuse of funding to rebuild after the 2016 coastal earthquake and the response to the pandemic.
Arauz responded that the Moreno administration was not a reflection of his vision for the future. “Moreno was a betrayer” who instituted neo-liberal policies that led to the current economic crisis. In rebuttal, Lasso said that 70 percent of the officials in the Moreno government also worked for Correa.
Arauz rejected Lasso charge that he was a supporter of the regime of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela. “The cuckoo from Venezuela is not my inspiration,” Arauz said. “In my government, Ecuador will carve its own path and will not be subject to outside policies or ideologies. When I observe other countries, I look to the success of Uruguay, Norway and Costa Rica. Ecuador will be a friend to all countries but will be submissive to none.”
On several occasions, Arauz referred to Lasso’s banking background, saying it suggests how Lasso would govern. “Based on your past actions, I question your loyalties, Mr. Lasso. If you are considering the benefits to Ecuador on the one hand and the benefit of your bank on the other, what decision would you make? Would it benefit the country or your financial institution?” He added: “In my calculation, I will always support the country and its people.”