Opinions

Moreno shows that Correa’s brand of leftist populism is not the only one

By Bello

In February, Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s then-president, compared the country’s run-off election to the battle of Stalingrad. “We are going to fight the worldwide right wing,” he said. His man, Lenín Moreno, duly scored a narrow victory against Guillermo Lasso, a conservative banker. Yet with Mr Moreno in office for less than five months, Mr Correa has now turned his rhetorical fire against his former ally, calling him “a hypocrite” and a “compulsive liar” who has achieved “what the opposition didn’t manage in ten years, to discredit our revolution”.

Mr Correa is alarmed because, to the surprise of many, Mr Moreno has turned out to be his own man with his own ideas. And that has implications beyond Ecuador, a country of 16 million people that was notorious for political instability before Mr Correa took charge in 2007 as part of a wave of populist leftist leaders in South America. Benefiting from an oil windfall, he ruled as a paternalist autocrat. In what he called a “citizens’ revolution”, he invested in schools, hospitals and motorways. He was intolerant of criticism, persecuting opponents and imposing restrictions on the media.

President Lenin Moreno

When the oil price fell in 2014, the economy weakened and opposition to Mr Correa grew. He pushed through a constitutional change abolishing presidential term limits, but only from 2021, opting to step back rather than risk defeat. Trusting in his grip on the ruling Alianza PAIS (AP) party and in Jorge Glas, a close collaborator who was Mr Moreno’s running-mate, Mr Correa moved to Belgium, his wife’s country.

In Mr Moreno, his vice-president in 2007-13, Mr Correa chose an electorally effective successor — but not a pliant placeholder. “Correa knew that on many things I disagreed with him,” Mr Moreno told the BBC recently. By acting on those differences, Mr Moreno, who has used a wheelchair since he was shot in an attempted robbery in 1998, has swiftly established his own leadership.

Where Mr Correa was a tub-thumping polariser, Mr Moreno is a soft-spoken consensus-maker. He has built bridges with the opposition, businessmen and civic groups. He has turned Ecuadoreans’ anger over corruption to his political advantage. He stripped Mr Glas of most of his powers and authorised prosecutors to proceed against him. This month Mr Glas was detained on suspicion of taking bribes from Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction firm (which he denies). In all, two dozen officials who had served in Mr Correa’s governments face corruption charges.

All this has made Mr Moreno wildly popular. His approval rating is 77%, according to Cedatos, a pollster. That, in turn, has allowed him to start to wrest control of the AP party, which holds a majority in congress. Mr Moreno is seeking to press his advantage with a referendum on constitutional changes to be held early next year. One would restrict presidents to two terms, thus barring Mr Correa from running again. Another would replace the seven members of a body set up by Mr Correa’s constitution, which controls appointments to the judiciary, the electoral authority and the prosecutor’s office. Eventually, they would be elected by popular vote. Much rides on the result.

Contrary to Mr Correa’s claims, Mr Moreno is not leading a counter-revolution or a right-wing government. He has kept several left-wingers and Correa allies in his cabinet. He has moved cautiously on the economy and in foreign policy: Ecuador remains, nominally at least, a member of ALBA, an alliance led by Venezuela and Cuba; Julian Assange, the fugitive founder of WikiLeaks, still lives in the Ecuadorean embassy in London. Things may change after the referendum. Mr Moreno faces a big fiscal deficit, low growth and the dollarised economy’s lack of competitiveness. To deal with them, he may need different policies and allies.

Ecuador shows that transitions from populist rule can potentially be constructive and consensual. In that, it is a counterpoint to Venezuela, where Nicolás Maduro took Hugo Chávez’s populist caudillo socialism and turned it into dictatorship. Perhaps nobody will be watching Ecuador more closely than Evo Morales, Bolivia’s president since 2006. Mr Morales is an autocratic socialist who both leads and is constrained by powerful social movements. His rule has been more similar to Mr Correa’s than to that of Venezuela’s chavistas. In 2016 he lost a referendum that would have abolished term limits. Now his supporters are seeking to achieve the same goal through the courts.

The longer populists remain in power, the more likely they are to mess up. But as Mr Moreno shows, a country can pull back from the brink.
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Credit: The Economist, www.economist.com

  • DnG

    What a blatant show of disrespect. It’s President Moreno despite your displeasure he is in that psoition

    • baba free

      Seemed pretty balanced coming from The Economist. Maybe you don’t know them and their ways…

      • DnG

        Plenty familiar. Most of my responses they won’t post. Surprised this one got through. After 5 years of the various incarnations of CHL, I really think I have had enough of their bias

    • StillWatching

      Feigning hurt over this imagined slight only makes you look petty. This column was pretty objective as far as I can tell. If you want someone to lick Moreno’s boots, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

      I checked with Moreno on this this morning. I suspected I knew what his attitude would be but I wanted to confirm it for your satisfaction. Here is what he said:

      “Geez, Still, you know me. Call me anything except late for dinner.”

      Of course he said it in Spanish, but I’m trying to help out the fresh-off-the-boater’s who are still struggling with their Spanish lessons.

  • Jason Faulkner

    Angela Merkel has been in power for like 14 years and was just reelected. When exactly will she “mess up”?

    The Economist is meaningless.

    • Kevin Lichtman

      The economist is an extraordinarily objective and respected publication covering geo-poilitical and international economic topics. Its editorial position can be described as left of center or moderately progressive. The article is an accurate and unbiased report of the political state of affairs. It credits Correa for his accomplishments and calls him out for his failings and provides no analysis of Moreno’s tenure beyond that of his differentiation from his predecesor which is obvoiusly due to the fact that it’s too early to judge results.

    • Steffen Thiemeier

      There are two points to make here.
      – Angela Merkel is messing up since 14 years. Her only advantage is a strong economy along with the brand name “made in Germany”. The Germans will pay bill for the non existing adaptation to the emerging inner country problems in the upcoming decades. (increasing social gap; sky rocketing housing prices, over regulation, increasing age of the population, decrease in job availabilty…..)
      – Angela Merkel is not the President of Germany. She is the chancellor. The German President is only electable twice as well. This struckture had been put in place by the allied forces (France, Great Britain, USA and Canada) after the second world war and serves pretty well.

      • Jason Faulkner

        They wouldn’t have a strong economy had she really been messing up for 14 years nor would the people keep electing her. The German president is mostly a ceremonial position. The head if the government is the chancellor. Word games do not make for a cogent argument.

        • Kevin Lichtman

          Angela Merkel is the head of government, but she is not directly elected. Rather she is the appointed leader of a coalition of disparate parties collectively holding a majority of parlimentary seats. Her coalition has been losing seats in recent elections pointing to a trend, if it continues, that might result in a new government in the next election. Clearly Germans are becoming less satisfied with her leadership.

          • Jason Faulkner

            They said that the last time she was elected. She’ll easily stay in power 20 years at this rate.

        • Steffen Thiemeier

          The strength of the economy is powerd by the massive money production of the European central bank it is overheating and becoming a bubble. She did not do any adaptation in regulations to the changing world outside. She did no kick of any cultural, technical, economical or sozial evolution/revolution. She kept everthing the same feeding the conservatism of an ageing society. This non action is now resultion in a growing and ugly nationalism and Merkel is this time not reelected. She just survived.

          (it is not a word game it is in the constitution 😉 )

          • Jason Faulkner

            So what is causing the growing and ugly nationalism in the US? The UK? I don’t see your cause and effect relationship, only an attempt to pin a trend that is occurring all over the western world on a single person.

            And seriously, she was reelected. Saying something isn’t a word game doesn’t change the fact that it is.

  • Kevin Lichtman

    Yes, it’s because they maintain a very old tradition that many European newspapers used to uphold in that “what is written is more important than who writes it”. Your argument is as specious as your own unorginal thoughts in that it does not support your claim that the article is false or innacurate and that by your own example, as a disclosed troll/author in these forums that your identity adds any credibility to your writings (it has the opposite effect).

    • Jason Faulkner

      A “tradition” so old nobody does it anymore except anonymous bloggers.

  • Jason Faulkner

    Been hearing that for years