Early in 2007, Rafael Correa was quoted saying, “Indefinite reelections are absurd, because democracy requires a rotation in leadership.” How things have changed. That year, Correa became President of Ecuador, while his friend Hugo Chavez of Venezuela was pushing for a referendum to amend the Constitution to lift election limits. Now Correa is using a similar tactic, calling it an option to continue his social programs. He now believes that “rotation of leadership is a bourgeois discourse that no one believe anymore, it’s a myth.”
Sure, on one hand some of Correa’s social programs have worked. From oil profits that peaked in 2006, he funded new infrastructure, invested in scientific and technological research, subsidized a massive overhaul of educational institutions and teacher training, added 113,000 new jobs to the public sector, reduced poverty from 38% to 26%, and grown the economy an average of 4.3% annually.
On the other hand, his critics accuse him of being increasingly authoritarian, “keeps influencing the courts, law enforcement and the media”, “reorganized the police to centralize them and purge any likely dissenters, created laws that regulates media content while expanding the state media apparatus, and reshuffled the courts throughout the country, and appointed new judges to his liking.”
More controversial are Correa’s relations with the press and civil society groups. “Last year, his supporters passed a communications law that mandates criminal charges if media outlets do not report news in ways regulators deem fair and balanced.” Ecuador has also announced new restrictions on civil society groups that activists say threaten their work.
Other Latin American allies of Correa have also extended their presidencies. Chavez abolished term limits in 2009 and Nicaragua’s Congress in January passed a law permitting President Daniel Ortega to also run indefinitely. President Evo Morales of Bolivia is planning on staying in office for longer, after being permitted by the Supreme Court to run for a third term this past October.
It is very reasonable to say that Correa could be a new Latin American dictator, or at least, as he likes to refer to himself “one of the best presidents in Ecuador’s history.” It is no surprise that the United States wants to keep their eyes and ears on Correa.
Ecuador has already expelled three US diplomats, USAID, and 20 Defense Department employees in the US Embassy’s military group, and ended an agreement with Washington that allowed US drug interdiction flights to be based at the Ecuadorean airfield in Manta. On top of it all, Correa provided asylum in 2012 to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadoran Embassy in London and voiced his willingness to take in NSA leaker Edward Snowden.
Just this past week, through Twitter, Correa accused the US of hacking his private Internet accounts. “On Thursday (Nov 20), all day I received attacks that came from abroad and traced back to a server in the US, targeting my bills, trying to hack my information, turn on microphones, listen in on our conversations.” Correa’s position on the matter is that they are “unscrupulous domestic opponents” and this has resulted in his creation of a dedicated cyber defense department this summer.
There is no denying, Ecuador is changing. The social programs are what the people of Ecuador vote for, and Correa is willing to give to his people what they vote for, but for a price.