Rafael Correa should have seen it coming. All he had to do, in fact, was listen to what his soon-to-be successor was saying on the campaign trail.
As it was, Correa seemed blind-sided almost from the moment Lenin Moreno took office. Correa’s hospital convalescence from pneumonia, immediately following the inauguration, was a fitting metaphor.
Even before the presidential campaign began in January, Moreno had made it clear that he would govern with a radically different approach than Correa. Although he pledged allegiance to most of the principles of Alianza País and paid Correa the compliment that an aggressive, even belligerent, style might have been necessary to uproot the good-ol’-boy system that held sway in Ecuador when Correa took office in 2007, Moreno said times had changed and that his would be a gentler, less combative, more inclusive approach to governance.
He was also clear about his policy differences with Correa on such issues as freedom of speech (he wanted more), the government’s relationship with private enterprise (cut the antagonism), and the separation of governmental powers (restore it).
Correa apparently assumed it was all touchy-feely platitudes that would be cast aside once Moreno took office. He assumed he would retain the influential voice in the affairs of state that he coveted, even after he relocated to Belgium to assume his professorial duties. He assumed wrong.
Despite the miscalculation, Correa refuses to acknowledge defeat. Through social media, mostly Twitter and Facebook, and the editorial columns of the government-owned El Telégrafo newspaper, the ex-president is firing poison darts at Moreno and proposed changes to Correa-era policies, as well as at some members of Alianza País who he considers disloyal. Although Correa is careful not to refer to Moreno by name, he has made it clear he does not like what’s going on in the executive branch of Ecuador’s government.
Mostly out of public view is Correa’s anger at the treatment of Vice President Jorge Glas by the new administration and the fact that it has done little to defend Glas against corruption charges in the Odebrecht and Petroecuador scandals. The only die-hard Correista in the new administration, Glas has been excluded from the inner circle of Moreno’s government according to social media comments by Correa supporters.
Although Moreno agreed to keep Glas on as vice president as a courtesy to Correa, it is well-known that Moreno is not fond of him. As corruption charges continue to swirl, and as Glas spends a lot of time defending his innocence, Moreno has come to see him as a toxic asset. In a social media post, a Moreno acquaintance quoted the president saying about Glas, “I understand how Hamlet’s mom felt,” referring to the famous Shakespeare line, “Thou dost protest too much.”
Even more than Glas’ treatment, however, what upsets Correa the most about the Moreno government, and what could be the defining play in the Correa vs. Moreno conflict, is Moreno’s choice of Gustavo Larrea as his chief advisor.
A co-founder with Correa of Alianza País, and a member of Correa’s first presidential cabinet, Larrea turned against the president in 2008 over what he said were philosophical differences. Since then, he has attacked Correa’s “power grabs” of the courts and authority he believes should remain in the hands of local governments.
A friend of Moreno since their university days, Larrea has long favored a “power to the people,” ground-up, leftist approach to government. “Correa abandoned the constitution he claimed to support in 2008, which favored a decentralized government,” Larrea says. “His support was a hoax only intended to accumulate power.”
In several interviews, Larrea has gone so far as to label Correa’s style of government “neo-fascist” and “super-egotistical.”
Although Larrea criticized Moreno for agreeing to run on the Alianza País ticket in 2016, the two had a reconciliation in January based on Moreno’s plans for policy changes.
What Larrea brings to Moreno’s administration is a strong, often forceful, personality, that counter-balances the president’s Mr. Nice Guy persona. Just as important, it is a personality that can go toe-to-toe with Correa behind the scenes and, if necessary, in public.
Although it is unclear whether Larrea will hold an official post in the government, it appears almost certain that, even as an advisor, he will be an “impact player” in major decisions.
Last week, Larrea’s nameplate was nailed above an office door in the presidential palace.