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The report card on Correa after eight years: Some remarkable accomplishments but storm clouds gather on the horizon

By David Morrill

Rafael Correa is a megalomaniac, a loud-mouth, a control freak, a religious fanatic, the architect of a nanny state, a muzzler of free speech, and a court-packer. He is, by turns, intolerant, insulting, insensitive, paranoid, condescending and thin-skinned.chl DavidM logo

He is also the best president Ecuador has had in decades, possibly since Eloy Alfaro at the beginning of the 20th century.

By defeating the Ecuadorian oligarchy that had functioned as manager and handler to the country’s presidents for most of the last two centuries, Correa, with his Alianza Pais party in control of the National Assembly, has effectively ended Ecuador’s long rein of status quo governance.

President Rafael Correa

President Rafael Correa

Over the last eight years, Correa has overseen the largest infrastructure building project in the country’s history. Highways, airports and bridges have been built or rebuilt, and work on a series of hydro-electric generation projects that will make Ecuador electricity independent, are well underway. In Quito and Cuenca, light rail mass transit systems are under in construction. Public hospitals and medical clinics, schools and universities, are being built and upgraded, at an unprecedented pace.

His social programs have made Ecuador the leader in reducing poverty in Latin America, and strengthened law enforcement has put Ecuador among the top five countries for lowest crime rates in Latin America in several categories, including murder.

In all, Correa has committed almost 45% of Ecuador’s GDP to public projects, both infrastructure and social programs, the largest percentage of any country in the western hemisphere.

Correa’s critics correctly point out that he has been the beneficiary of extremely favorable economic conditions, most notably high oil prices, which have generated as much of 25% of the national income since 2007. He has also had more money to invest by defaulting, in 2008, on bonds issued by previous governments, calling them “illegitimate.” Critics also note the fact that poverty and crime rates began their decline before he assumed office.

It is hard to argue, however, that the results of the last eight years have not been achieved without a sophisticated, well thought-out vision of the country’s future. There is little doubt that Rafael Correa has a genuine interest in putting Ecuador among the first rank of Latin American countries.

Just as important as his vision, is the fact that he has been reelected twice and has been in office for eight years. The previous eight presidents, both elected and interim, served an average of 16 months, three of them being run out of Quito with a mob in hot pursuit. With such rapid fire turn-over of power, political survival trumped any thought of advancing the interests of the country.

Rafael Correa meets Ecuadorians in Genoa, Italy in 2012.

Correa meets Ecuadorians living in Genoa, Italy in 2012.

AN ERA OF STABILITY

Correa’s staying power and support from a majority of the poor and middle class, has led to an era of stability the country has not seen for decades. The number of street demonstrations by the indigenous, campesinos, students and various labor unions that disrupted transportation and business –and ousted presidents– have declined dramatically since he took office.

Before Correa, long-time Cuenca expats well remember having to call a hotline before taking car and bus trips to Loja or the coast to find out if roads were blockaded by protests. Sometimes, in fact, roads were closed for days at a time and the only way out of Cuenca was by air. On protest days in Parque Calderon and on Av. Doce de Abril, passersby also remember checking the wind direction to avoid the tear gas.

Among other things, the prosperity and tranquility of the Correa era has attracted thousands of North American and European expatriates.

TROUBLE ON THE HORIZON

Trouble is brewing, however.

The plunge in oil prices has left a gaping hole in the national budget, and despite the government’s effort to manage the shortfall with budget cuts and Chinese loans, a large funding gap remains.

Several government programs and decisions are proving unpopular with large segments of the population, handing political opponents potent issues for the 2017 election.

Recent legislation eliminating a 40% government contribution to the Social Security program is mobilizing groups of workers and retirees for legal challenges and street protests. Although the government insists that pensions are guaranteed, it has made a number of changes that will reduce future payouts. The move to make Social Security self-sufficient is also forcing drastic budget reductions for the program health care system.

May Day marchers opposed to government policies in Cuenca's Parque. Calderon.

May Day marchers in Parque Calderon.

The elimination of the LP gas subsidy, scheduled for late 2016 or early 2017, in the midst of the next national election cycle, could also prove to be political dynamite. Correa’s plan to shift the country from gas to electric cooking, which involves an offer of low interest loans for the purchase of new cook tops and re-wiring, is running far behind schedule. Don’t be surprised if he kicks the canister down the road and delays the subsidy elimination until after the election.

Another trouble spot is the vast array of increased government regulation, much of it aimed at businesses and employment rules.

And then, there are the dubious personality traits and management style issues mentioned at the top, that have alienated constituencies on both from the left and the right. Correa’s strong aversion to even the most mild criticism, even from insignificant sources, often seems bizarre. Criticism of his government is typically met with tirades and prescriptions of hell fire, frequently delivered through social media.

Tiko Tiko the clown.

Tiko Tiko the clown.

Often, his anger descends to the level of theater of the absurd, such as his confrontation two weeks ago with a school boy who shot a bird at the presidential motorcade in Quito.

Another memorable theater episode came in February when Correa felt compelled to respond to comedian John Oliver’s tv show comment about the entrance of a clown during one of Correa’s Saturday morning television broadcasts (Oliver simply said that every president should have a clown). Through his Twitter account, Correa reacted, and when Oliver reacted to the reaction, Correa fired back again. Oliver finally asked Correa, “Don’t you have a country to run?”

The low point of the confrontation came when Tiko Tiko the clown weighed in in defense of the president. Surely, there is nothing more pathetic than a pissed-off clown.

THE COMING ELECTION

It remains uncertain whether Correa will seek another term, assuming that the constitution is amended to allow it, which appears likely. Some insiders say it is his preference that a strong Alianza Pais candidate will emerge to succeed him. On the other hand, given his out-sized ego, it is hard to imagine him not running if none does.

Although his poll numbers have dropped significantly in recent months, Correa remains the most popular Ecuadorian president in generations, and for good reason. With a deeply divided political opposition, it is difficult at this point to imagine him losing if he decides to run again. Warts and all.

_________________

Ecuador’ Secretaría Nacional de Comunicación responds to the article 

On June 22, 2015, CuencaHighLife received an email from the SECRETARÍA NACIONAL DE COMUNICACIÓN (Office of National Communication). They requested that we publish their response to this article as a PDF document instead of in the comments section. To read it, click here.

 

About the Author

A California native who spent most of his life in north Florida, David
Morrill has been a newspaper and magazine editor, columnist, and book
and art reviewer. He was also a public relations agency owner and
university administrator. He has lived in Cuenca since 2004.

  • What do you mean religious fanatic? He is a practicing Catholic in a Catholic country.

  • Lawrence Allen

    Your article is balanced and fair. It is unlike that other site that doesn’t even allow the readers to comment.

  • Good article.

  • James Novak

    A good summary of Correa’s eight years in office. Little mention that Ecuador’s public schools have so advanced that many parents are now confident to send their children to public schools. No mention that the police still do nothing when you are robbed-and robbery is high among all categories of people. Also no mention that Ecuador might be facing a pricing bubble in Real estate/loan repayment as many public employees are being laid off or their wages frozen and loan payments on cars and homes might not be possible.. Finally when does an authoritarian president pass the political line of strong leadership into a dictatorship?

  • BDev

    Regardless of Correa’s charisma and personality traits, he’s a fervent Keynesian and economic socialist. All socialist/communist/fascist political systems fail in a huge way, so you can expect that to happen sooner or later.
    Nice to be here as an expat and benefit from the subsidies and the largess from previous oil prices, but I have no illusion that all is well. Look to Venezuela – pathetic.
    And based on Ecuador’s history, when this Daddy-Nanny State comes crashing down, the local people will be extremely pissed, as they have had their lifestyles artificially propped up for some time now.
    What is it, exactly, about Central and South American states? Nearly all have a long history (since Spanish invasion) of pathetically inept, corrupt and evil governments. Sure, all govts are inherently corrupt and evil, as no human being should have a ‘privilege’ to force others to do what they want, but C and S America seems to remain firmly stuck in the mud in many respects.
    Is it the education system? Something about Spanish cultural influence? Resistance to progress based on traditional views? Lack of a sense of individual empowerment and ambition? Lack of weapons of self defense to back up that individual empowerment?

  • Lawrence Hamilton

    Excellent analysis, David.

  • I will probably vote for Correa next time. Not only for the good that he has done for Ecuador, but also because the opposition party seems to stand for a return to the oligarchy mediocracy of the past. I will take a chance on living with Correa’s negative qualities.

  • SpiffyHeart

    There has never been a successful politician…in the entire world, who didn’t have a huge dose of self confidence and/or ego. Period! He could never have survived these many years without it. I just hope and pray he can control his emotions and feelings in order to continue doing good and finishing all the projects the party has begun! However….when a leader has to make up a financial shortage, as he’s now facing….it’s usually by raising or installing taxes….which the people aren’t used to paying, and will resent. The common response by all people who only think about themselves, and whether it’s their ox being gored or not, is to vote against the guy who is making them pay! Gimme’, gimme’!!!

  • to BDEV…..you sound like a Tea Partier…if you are afraid of the “socialist” aspect of Correa’s efforts to level the playing field to benefit the majority of the ecuadorean people, long left out in the cold by governments of the oligarchs (such as you have in the U.S. with corporate interests buying Congresss through “campaing contributions” aka “bribes”, perhaps you should go back to Texas or whatever anti government, gun toting, right wing state you came from. If you want guns, go back home. In Ecuador we seem to manage quite well without uzis in every home. And as far as the economic and political instability in Latin America, historically, the principal source of problems has been the meddling of “Tio Sam” and its CIA in setting up fascist military and other right wing governments which have ruled for the benefit of U.S. interests and their upper class partners.

  • Mr. Morrell: You mention Eloy Alfaro as the best president of Ecuador prior to Correa. I suggest you read a bit on the accomplishments of ISIDRO AYORA who led the country from 1925-1930 during harsh economic times. Having been educated in Germany and the U.S. upon assuming the presidency at the request of a governing coalition and given extensive powers to resolve the serious problems facing the country, he invited a group of U.S. intellectuals from Princeton to examine the situation and make recommendations. As a result, he implemented a number of measures that brought Ecuador into the 20th century (something Alfaro never attempted as he was a simple military leader who was largely unsuccessful in governing). These included: establishing the Banco Central, women’s suffrage, establishment of a lay state, redistribution of land, new custom/aduana rules and enforcement of them, a labor code to provide rights to workers and abolish previous abuses of farmworkers, establishment of Galapagos as a protected province, development of a public health infrastructure to provide health care to rural areas, construction of modern water treatment plants and sewerage systems in Guayaquil and other urban areas. After 5 years in office, although he was asked to stay on as President, Isidro Ayora chose to return to his clinic in Quito, where he tended to the health care of indigent patients (he was trained in Berlin as an obstetrician). He was NOT a politician, but an exceptional citizen, dedicated to serve his country, a leader with the integrity, dedication and foresight sorely missing in politicians today.

  • A well thought out and well written, balanced article, supporting and applauding the hard work, progress, and improvements achieved by President Correa. It takes courage to point out flaws in any person of power, and I hope the President will take the criticism as a way to improve his status and programs, not as a personal attack by a supportive, but concerned reporter of integrity.

  • Keith

    Yep, BDev, that’ll be it, what they need is a couple of assault rifles each.

    At least for starters.

    Perhaps if they instigate dialogue with the Bush family (those paragons of incorruptible, non- interventionist “people before self” ideologies and government) they can get themselves a few.

    From what I remember, the Bushes would be quite happy to send truckloads of assorted weapons pretty well anywhere in South America.

  • Smmr44

    He promised Expat certain things if they did certain things and many of us did exactly what he requested we were delighted he kept his word. I looked at other countries to since the $1.00 was worth more there but in Ecuador still beat other countries in so many issues. I have been extremely happy with his control on crime with his Health Care which I am paying for and so many other things. No one
    wants people poor everyone wants to help he has to be very strong and opinionated its part of the job.
    I agree with him he is a fanatic he is Catholic in a Catholic Country that makes sense sir. Obama is guiding his country his way because he is musliums. Interesting article though. Look the grass always looks greener but when I look at other countries they don’t look better then Ecuador.. Cuba is a mess,
    Venez. is a mess, Russia is a mess and many others are starving to death he is doing a great job he is not responsible for everything he has to keep a handle on things or they will go crazy. He runs it like a father and right now a lot of countries are running crazy looko and he is not. That is why I am still here.
    The Austriain Leader kick out all musliums just like that there thinking was too drastic for the safety of her people done. Giving them no pass ports wow now that is firm.

  • Chuck

    Lack of weapons? HAHAHA

  • How does Cuenca HighLife get away with criticizing President Correa when he’s averse to criticism? For a long time, I haven’t understood this. Is the audience too small for him to care about? Somehow, I can’t imagine him being worried about upsetting immigrants (including ex-pats), so I don’t think it’s that. Is it that his rants against purveyors of free speech are solely political calculations designed to win/maintain support? Or are his crackdowns on free speech not as terrible as are often reported?

    I’d be grateful for an explanation because this is a confusing matter to me. Things don’t seem to add up.

  • Kenneth A. Merena Ph.D.

    Never the less, BDev’s longer range view will eventually win out. There is no example in history of any statist government who believed in and employed Keynesian principles, standing permanently. All such governments eventually fall of their own weight, just as communism did in a relatively short period, historically. However, as BDev aptly points out, all of the ex-pats enjoying those subsidies and not being able to see beyond the end of their own noses, will defend them until the end. That is what allows them to be spawned in the first place. Most people will vote to take money from Peter to subsidize themselves but when there are too few Peter’s to support all the takers, the system fails. Government can give no one anything that it doesn’t first take from someone else. There is no free lunch————– at least in the long run.

    Kenneth A. Merena Ph.D.

  • Sue

    We are very happy and proud having Mr. Rafael Correa as president of this beautiful country, he has done so many good changes to make Ecuadorians and expats feel well. We do not care about the malicious criticism of the opposition. If you are not happy here you know what to do………….
    Sue.

  • Grace Hillan

    We moved to Cuenca five years ago and during this periods we have watched this country go ahead in leaps and bounds. From the start we have been very impressed by the deeply spiritual attitude of the people as evidenced in their love of God, their closely knit, loving families and their friendly attitude to us as foreigners. We don’t see this government failing any time soon despite efforts to undermine it by imperialist powers. We have seen what they are capable of in our own country and so many other countries around the planet and we are fully behind Rafael Correa in his strong resistance to their devious attempts here.
    We are also grateful for the unadulterated food, clean water and readily available natural remedies that are keeping us healthy in our very senior years.
    Rafael Correa, we’re with you all the way.

  • Pablo

    You bet, BDev giving everybody a gun would make the country less socialisitic and more democratic!

  • Valerie Christensen

    Is this article available in Spanish? I would love to share it with some of my Ecuadorian friends!

  • Grace Hillan- unadulterated food? Unless the stuff comes from a certified organic farm, the food is sprayed against pests, the livestock are given hormones. The poor Ecuadorian farmer wants to increase his yield so he can make more money. Simple as that.

  • Janet LeBlanc

    I do not yet live in Ecuador so perhaps I am out of line to offer an opinion, but I admire Rafael Correa for being a practicing Catholic, like the vast majority of Ecuadorians, and sticking to his guns to uphold Catholic values in a Catholic country. There are not many places left on this earth where practicing Catholics can go anymore and have their faith respected and even reinforced by the laws of the land. If people do not wish to live in a Catholic country – if they prefer a secular society or any other faith/ belief system – then by all means go live someplace where your values are supported by the government. I offer the same advice to Americans who find that the USA doesn’t support their beliefs. There’s room in the world for everyone to be someplace where their belief system can be respected, but it is never going to be one size fits all. Some people don’t like living in a Catholic country with a Catholic value system, and that’s okay. I don’t like living is a secular state which violates my belief system. Viva la difference! We can all remain friends, but we may all be happier living someplace that respects our point of view and beliefs.

    • Ahmad Hassan

      Where in the states do you live where your believes are not respected? Just a side note, Correa is not a fan of the catholic church, he only does it because the majority of people in the country are.

  • I will start with a simple observation…facts matter. With that in mind, Correa’s popularity is not waning, but rising: http://www.andes.info.ec/en/news/approval-ecuadorian-president-rafael-correa-76.html

    He had approval ratings of 70%-72% in 2014, rising to 76% 1st Quarter of 2015. His is still a presidency in ascendency.

    I lead with the whole “facts matter”, because it is easy to avoid those positive facts, in relation to Correa, to favor innuendo and opinion. The lead of this article bears repeating: “Rafael Correa is a megalomaniac, a loud-mouth, a control freak, a religious fanatic, the architect of a nanny state, a muzzler of free speech, and a court-packer.” The article is “kind enough” to go on to bequeath the “Best President in Ecuador’s history…” title, but by then isn’t the intent to hollow out that “honor”? Sort of like saying, “He’s the tallest midget in the room.” As can be readily witnessed, I am not big on being PC…just candid.

    The opinions – and be mindful that is exactly what they are and not to be confused with fact – offered in the first paragraph, serve to water down the real facts: Correa has been the most successful President in the history of Ecuador, by most any measure, building much needed roads, schools, clinics, police stations and creating a middle class out of thin air, where before none truly existed. This in less than 8 years time, after inheriting a country that was not only bankrupt (literally), but further saddled with a burden of debt at what can only be described as “loan shark” interest rates. That he managed this during “good” economic times is just a sad, pathetic way for the ineffectual opposition to diminish the greatness. Many Presidents, on a global scale, have inherited good economic times. How many of them not only squandered the opportunity, but created an economic calamity out of prosperity. This, of course, fails to consider that the reason the “good times rolled” in Ecuador is 50% the price of oil and 50% the innovative and very much capitalist (as opposed to Oligarchic) economy policies ushered in by a very savvy Correa.

    In closing, despite allusions to the facts of Correa’s success as President, the article seems to present those facts, sandwiched between the fallacies of perception and opinion, along with the factually erroneous closing statement that mystically divines Correa’s pending decline, based on faulty polling data. Correa is Ecuador’s best President…and that…well…deserves better than innuendo and falsities.

    • Ahmad Hassan

      How much debt does the country own to China??? Hmmmmmmmmm

  • Fingers

    BDev, I hope socialism doesn’t fail in the US before your next Social Security check arrives in the mail.

  • Grace Hillan

    To Terry Neuvenhaus Read what I said again, I said available.

  • While I have very strong opinions about Correa, I refrain from expressing them for the sake of my visa. I am a high-profie expat after all.

  • Dan

    to Hector Quintana: Actually, the article is correct: Correa’s poll numbers have been trending down. Gallup-Cedatos, the most credible polling service in Ecuador, has Correa’s popularity at 54% in March, down from the low 60s a year earlier (check it out at http://www.cedatos.com.ec). The polling data you mention, Perfiles de Opinión, has a history of inaccuracy and the news services that reported the numbers you refer to, El Telegrafo and Andes, are owned by the government.

    Davd Morrill would agrees with you that Correa is the best president in many years. He says it in his article. He is honest enough, however, to point out the weaknesses too. You have to admit, Correa has done some pretty bone-headed things.

  • Dan, appreciate your observations and the citation. It is always a good way to present one’s position. Thank you. My perspective is this…Gallup….a Washington, DC based entity…and “impartial” when it comes to Ecuador and rating Correa. They are selling…this guy is not buying. For me, the postiion stops there…except…that Gallup’s data collection and interpretation has proven so flawed…and…so repeatedly…that not even Gallup themselves can deny it:

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2013/06/04/gallup-poll-election-obama-romney/2388921/

    Nor…can others:

    http://www.dexmedia.com/blog/gallup-report-social-media-flawed/

    http://www.altimetergroup.com/2014/06/gallups-buzzy-social-media-report-appears-deeply-flawed-with-rebecca-lieb-in-adweek/

    http://www.adweek.com/news/technology/gallups-new-social-media-report-looks-deeply-flawed-158507

    http://www.newrepublic.com/blog/electionate/112112/usa-todaygallup-break-good-news-election-watchers

    My respect for Gallup would have to rise considerably to reach absolute zero. Particularly damning is when you can’t meet the standards of USA Today. Like saying one can’t meet the ethical standards of USA Congressmen.

  • Grace Hillan- Here is what you said. I copied and pasted it exactly. It seems to me that readily available refers only to natural remedies. Now, you could have put “readily available” in front of “unadulterated food” and that would change the meaning.
    We are also grateful for the unadulterated food, clean water and readily available natural remedies that are keeping us healthy in our very senior years.
    Rafael Correa, we’re with you all the way.

  • An excellent article. I have been thinking along exactly the same lines. President Correa is certainly. in many ways, the best president in decades and is the most unusual politician I have ever seen due to his ability to maintain popularity in a world where almost all presidents are unpopular.

  • halfbakedlunatic

    Great article, thanks David! I may be wrong, by my understanding of the bond situation in 2008 is that he threatened to default, as you say – calling them illegitimate contracts from the previous administration. But when the bond prices plunged after his threat, Correa bought up all the bonds on the open market, through a third party, at the drastically reduced prices. I believe that technically, there was no default.