Ecuador’s Dilemma

Ecuador’s Dilemma

Indigenous activists and workers march on March 5, 2015, in downtown Quito, protesting the government of President Rafael Correa. (Photo by Rodrigo Buendia/ AFP via Getty Images.)

The Ecuadorian government of Rafael Correa (2007–2017) stirred hopeful expectations in the continental and global lefts. Although the young economist did not have a record of participation in social movements and had not played any direct role in resistance to neoliberalism, he had been part of a group of heterodox economists known as the Foro Ecuador Alternativo (Ecuador Alternative Forum), some of whom were critics of structural adjustment. His brief tenure as minister of finance in 2005 showed the potential for a different kind of economic management, embracing a neo-Keynesianism at odds with the policies of the International Monetary Fund. Suffused with radical rhetoric, his government, under the banner of “Alianza PAIS,” undertook various measures in line with those ideas in its first years that encouraged those high expectations: the approval of a constitution that considerably widened the range of rights and laid out ample democratic guarantees, an audit of the external public debt, a reaffirmation of new labor rights (in outsourced businesses and for domestic workers), an effort to strengthen publicly owned business in the provision of social services and in strategic areas of the economy, an expansion of social spending, and an increase in taxes on the highest incomes. Correa’s government presented itself as one of the most consistent participants in the Latin- American “Pink Tide” and even encouraged people, like me, who did not expect large structural transformations in property relations or in the country’s place in the global economic order.

Still, there was no lack of contradictions and problems in Correa’s government. From the beginning, the president expressed profoundly conservative ideas about sexual and reproductive rights, was fanatically obsessed with respect for order and authority, and held an unstoppable belief that good technology was enough to solve the social and environmental problems of large-scale mining operations. But with the passage of time, many of the significant reforms of the early Correa government lost force, got stuck, or were reversed. The contradictions and problems overtook the democratic reforms and became defining features of the government.

Correa’s government included left-wing intellectuals and some old militants of socialist parties, but also his childhood friends from conservative circles in Guayaquil, business interests linked to public-sector contracts who had been attracted to the campaign team by the president’s brother (Fabricio Correa, a wealthy businessman), and a growing number of technocrats with varying levels of political experience. This heterogeneous coalition that formed the nucleus of correísmo ended up dominated by conservative factions most closely joined to groups in power. With the victory of Lenín Moreno in April 20...

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