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Ecuador: Left Set for Election Victory as Red Wave Strengthens in Latin America

“If the elections are free & fair all indications point to a victory for Andres Arauz. Very soon Ecuador, like Bolivia & Argentina, could give a further boost to the new red wave in Latin America.”

Left-wing candidate Andres Arauz looks close to a first-round win in Sunday’s Presidential Election, but authorities are taking measures that could stop him from being elected, writes Susan Grey, Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America & Vauxhall CLP:

In this week’s general election, Ecuador looks likely to reject the neo-liberal policies of the last four years and return to the progressive policies of Rafael Correa’s Citizen’s Revolution. Polls show presidential candidate Andrés Arauz of the Unión por la Esperanza, or Unity for Hope, with a strong lead over his nearest rivals Guillermo Lasso, a former banker and Yaku Perez, representing Indigenous party Pachakutik.

Arauz, a 35 year old economist, was a minister during the Correa administration. He promises to reverse the public spending cuts of the outgoing government, increase taxes on the wealthy, end deals with the IMF, and rebuild alliances across Latin America. Arauz’s manifesto has come as welcome news to many Ecuadoreans who remember the successes of the Correa years and resent the change of direction taken by his successor President Lenin Moreno.

Moreno was elected on a platform of the same socially progressive policies as Correa. However, almost immediately after taking office he began cutting public spending and breaking links with other progressive countries in favour of stronger ties to the US. As poverty and inequality increased he turned to the IMF for loans which, inevitably, came with demands for further cuts and austerity.

Not content with changing policy, Moreno also set about ensuring that his former colleagues could never participate in government again. Correa and his allies have been bombarded with accusations of bribery, corruption, and even kidnapping, on the flimsiest of evidence. Former members of government, ministers, assembly members and other leaders have been relentlessly persecuted, imprisoned or forced into exile.

Correa himself, currently living in Belgium, has been convicted in his absence and barred from standing for election. Moreno, on the other hand, has seen his popularity plummet and will not be standing for re-election.

The country has also fared badly in the coronavirus pandemic. The health service came under immense pressure as cases spiralled out of control. Having already cut 10,000 public sector workers as part of the IMF deal in 2019, Moreno then expelled around 400 Cuban health workers. By the time the pandemic reached Ecuador, the welfare state had already been weakened by cuts and underfunding.

The resurgence of left groups has been building for some time. In October 2019 Moreno announced Decree 883, a package of measures linked to the IMF deal. The plan was to reduce petrol subsidies, cut public sector wages, reduce paid holidays and force public sector workers to donate a day’s wages each month to the government. It triggered huge protests by transport unions, indigenous groups, students, labour unions and human rights groups taking to the streets across the country.

After ten days of protests in which eleven people died and many more were injured as a result of heavy-handed policing, a deal was struck between the government and the protesters whereby Decree 883 would be withdrawn and new talks would take place to reassess the package.

Under Moreno’s government the left-wing opposition has been hampered by the lack of a unifying structure. The PAIS Alliance of Correa and Moreno inevitably fragmented with Moreno’s shift to the right. Attempts by Correa to establish a replacement party or to align with existing parties were met with obstruction by government-controlled electoral authorities.

This weakness was rectified in July 2020 when Unity for Hope was launched, a new coalition incorporating former leaders of the Citizen’s Revolution together with other groups opposed to President Moreno, including social movements, some indigenous groups, smaller left-wing parties, and womens’ and students’ groups.

Against the backdrop of rising discontent with neoliberal policies, an inadequate response to the pandemic and legal attacks on a still popular political movement, the new Unity for Hope party is poised to bring progressive policies back to Ecuador.

There is concern that the authorities may find some way to prevent the election taking place, to interfere with the counting of ballots, or to not recognise the results. Assuming the election goes ahead, every effort must be made to prevent any interference with the process or the interpretation of the results. To this end, a delegation of international solidarity groups, parliamentarians and other experts have committed to work with the electoral authorities and ensure the integrity of the elections. 

After the hardships caused by the last four years, the left in Ecuador needs international solidarity more than ever. If the elections are free and fair all indications point to a victory for Andres Arauz and his Unity for Hope. Very soon Ecuador, like Bolivia and Argentina, could re-join the left in Latin America and give a further boost to the new red wave in the region.

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