On September 8, the national court of Ecuador decided to uphold a ruling in the “Bribes Case” against former president Rafael Correa — effectively barring him from standing for the vice presidency in February’s election. Andrés Arauz, an economist and former minister in his government, will continue to lead the presidential ticket for “the Union for Hope” (Unión Por La Esperanza, UNES) coalition, while the renowned journalist Carlos Rabascall has been selected to replace Correa as its vice presidential candidate.
This was not the only such attack on the “Citizens’ Revolution” spearheaded by Correa. On September 16, the Fuerza Compromiso Social (FCS) party, used as the main electoral platform by Correa and his allies since early 2019, was definitively deregistered by the country’s National Electoral Council (CNE), along with two smaller parties.
This leaves the Democratic Center (CD) as the only registered party to be sponsoring the candidates of the Citizens’ Revolution. And no sooner did Arauz and Rabascall launch the new ticket, a fresh threat to block their candidacies emerged from the CNE. This prompted a mass mobilization by left-wing and progressive organizations in front of the electoral bodies’ headquarters in Quito on September 29.
The ruling against Correa is a further escalation of the politico-judicial campaign by Ecuador’s authoritarian government that has targeted the former president and his allies since the country returned to neoliberalism under the presidency of Lenín Moreno.
Back on April 8, Ecuador’s National Court of Justice had sentenced both Correa and his former vice president Jorge Glas to eight years in prison, while also attempting to bar them from holding public office for the next twenty-five years. Correa’s legal team, headed by Fausto Jarrín, appealed this decision on the grounds that the case lacked any substantial evidence or due process — not to mention its obvious political motivations. But the appeal was rejected, in a ruling that came at record speed.
The prosecution, headed by Attorney General Diana Salazar, has time and again alleged that the former president operated a “web of corruption” during his last term in office from 2013–17. According to Salazar, Correa’s then-party Alianza PAIS served as the front organization for receiving bribes of up to $7.8 million from private firms like the notorious Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.
The only material piece of supposed evidence was $6,000 that Correa borrowed from the presidential fund and then paid back. Prior to this sentencing, however, Correa already faced twenty-five other politically motivated charges ranging from bribery to corruption and even kidnapping.
Much like the case of Lula da Silva in Brazil, Correa has been victim of a campaign of “lawfare” — judicial action weaponized for political ends. Its purpose is to damage the integrity of the former president and other historic leaders of the Citizens’ Revolution through politically motivated judicial persecution, while at the same time tarnishing their legacy of economic prosperity, poverty reduction, and forging solidarity across the nations of Global South.
Correa has not been the only historic leader of the Citizens’ Revolution to face political persecution. His former vice president Jorge Glas has been in prison since October 2017 following a similar case of allegedly receiving kickbacks from Odebrecht.
Paola Pabón, the prefect of Pichincha; former MP Virgilio Hernández; and Christian González, a grassroots activist from the Bulla Zurda organization were all jailed following their support for the October 2019 uprising against the Moreno regime. Meanwhile, Gabriela Rivadeneira, the former president of the National Assembly; Ricardo Patiño, the former foreign minister; and Sofia Espin, a former member of the Constituent Assembly have each been forced to seek asylum in Mexico.
A Perfect Stranger
At first glance, Andrés Arauz appears to be an odd choice to lead the Citizens’ Revolution in the new government. The thirty-five-year-old economist was previously conducting research for his doctoral thesis at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), while working at the Washington-based Center for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR), where he became particularly vocal about the necessity of utilizing Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) as the means of financing a debt-free economic recovery throughout the Global South. He also previously served as the country’s minister of knowledge and human talent during the last years of Correa’s administration.
However, Arauz arguably represents “the new guard” of the Citizens’ Revolution — someone whose political formation and experience was shaped by the successes and struggles of Correa’s government, and who has remained loyal to the revolution despite the mass political persecution and repression conducted against them.
He was quickly named the “perfect stranger” (el perfecto desconocido) by media and the allies alike, due to his relative obscurity in the country’s political landscape contrasted with his knowledge and experience in the sphere of economics. In some ways, this parallels the experience of Correa himself during his first election in 2006.
Fourteen years ago, Ecuador was similarly faced with a socio-economic fallout following the implementation of neoliberal reforms by President Lucio Gutiérrez, another Ecuadorian leader elected on a left-wing platform only to completely betray his campaign promises. Similarly, Correa was a relatively unknown young economist who rose to prominence as the minister of finance in the government of Alfredo Palacio, the successor of Gutiérrez, and campaigned on a platform of undoing the austerity and the neoliberal policies of his predecessors.
On the other hand, Carlos Rabascall brings a different element to the UNES electoral slate. A journalist and one of the most prominent faces of the Ecuador TV public television channel throughout 2007–2017, he was also the director of the Institutional Development of the National Secretariat for Administrative Development (SENDA) and a member of the National Modernization Council (CONAM). He represents the institutional element of Citizens’ Revolution — the new state built during those ten years of governance following the devastation caused by neoliberalism.
However, Arauz and Rabascall face an uphill battle against not only the current Moreno government, but also an array of twelve other candidates across the political spectrum. Among them is Guillermo Lasso, one of the country’s most notorious corporate bankers and a perennial candidate of the Right, once again standing in the election, this time receiving the backing of the right-wing Social Christian Party that has traditionally dominated the coastal metropolis of Guayaquil.
Yaku Pérez, prefect of the Azuay province, has been selected as the candidate of the Pachakutik party — the political arm of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) coalition that has been traditionally opposed to the Citizens’ Revolution and also supported the candidacy of Lasso during the elections of 2017. The majority of other candidates are drawn from smaller right-wing, centrist, and other left-wing parties that will likely act as spoilers for Arauz and Rabascall.
Moreno vs Correa
Throughout his ten-year tenure as president, Correa became one of the most popular leaders in the country’s history. That’s because he succeeded in bringing about political stability, economic growth, and reduced inequality, as well as the introduction of a new constitution that recognized the country’s plurinational and indigenous character. Moreover, he built up a state that could guarantee a dignified life with access to health care, education, jobs with living wages, and more.
Correa’s successful renegotiation of over $2 billion of debt with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2008–9, the expulsion of the US military presence from the coastal region of Manta, the country’s integration into the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) as well as the defense of Julian Assange brought recognition, respect, and prestige to the Andean nation from across the world.
Throughout this time, Correa became accustomed to nonstop attacks by Ecuador’s notoriously decadent private press and the US-aligned right-wing opposition that never ceased to label his government as a “dictatorship.” His government was the target of various mass rallies and protests organized by the right-wing opposition against his proposed policies of raising taxes on the ultrarich in 2015.
The former president even survived a coup attempt on September 30, 2010, following a police mutiny that received ample backing and favorable coverage from some of the country’s largest private media corporations and TV channels.
The series of earthquakes in the country during February and March of 2016 proved to be the most serious test for his government. With more than six hundred victims, massive damage sustained to the coastal provinces and their infrastructure, as well as an economic cost of more than $3 billion, the task of rebuilding the country fell on the shoulders of the Citizens’ Revolution during a period of rock-bottom crude oil prices (the country’s main export and a key source of government revenue).
As an alternative to both austerity or borrowing from the IMF, Correa’s government used a $2 billion credit from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank to invest in rebuilding the country’s infrastructure and the social sector, as well as introducing new wealth and income taxes on the rich sections of society.
In contrast, the Moreno regime has been faced with a number of self-inflicted social and economic crises since its turn against the politics of the Citizens’ Revolution. Previously serving as Correa’s vice president during his first two terms in government, Lenín Moreno’s election was meant to mark continuity with the project started by Correa.
Instead, mere months into his presidency, he began making political alliances with the country’s traditional right-wing political forces, as well as manipulating various legal institutions of the Ecuadorian state, gradually dismantling the public sector and the social projects initiated by Correa’s government.
The total level of social spending has also been gradually reduced since 2017, with the education and health care sectors being hit the hardest. The biggest damage on the country’s public sector was inflicted following the signing of a new $4.2 billion debt package with the IMF in March 2019.
Over ten thousand workers were fired in preparation for the financial institution’s reform package, among them between 2,500 and 3,500 personnel working in the health care sector. More importantly, over three hundred personnel working in the control and treatment of pandemics were also made redundant — almost exactly a year before the start of COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, the structures of the state have been hollowed out with the elimination of thirteen out of forty institutions by April 2019, as well as $2 billion of cuts and austerity through the elimination, privatization, and fusion of a number of state companies and public entities. As a result of these policies, the level of structural poverty has increased from 23.1 percent in June 2017 to 25.5 percent in June 2019.
Some economists have projected that structural poverty will reach 30 percent by the end of the year if the new economic measures are enacted. Extreme poverty also rose from 8.4 percent to 9.5 percent during the same time period.
And while Ecuadorians are becoming poorer, the “INA Papers” scandal revealed that Moreno had hidden bank accounts in Panama and Belize. Correa’s government previously implemented a law that prohibited public officials from holding any financial assets in foreign tax havens like these two countries.
The proposed elimination of fuel subsidies and the planned reduction of public-sector salaries on October 1, 2019 proved to be the spark that ignited the indigenous-led uprising during that month, also known as the Revolución de los zánganos (a reference to Moreno dismissing large swaths of the population as “zánganos”, a word meaning both drones, as in bees, and layabouts).
The ferocity of the repression against the mass protests showed to the world for the first time the extent of Moreno regime’s authoritarianism. After twelve days of protests, with over a thousand injured and at least eight workers killed by police across the country, the Moreno regime backed off from implementing the proposed fuel subsidies.
Despite this victory for the popular movements, the neoliberal economic policies continued well into 2020 and were not halted with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over $324 million was transferred into the hands of foreign debt holders, despite the evident need for urgent investment in COVID-19 containment measures, while a further $1.4 billion was planned to be further eliminated as part of the “optimization and reduction” of the state.
Unsurprisingly, the management of the pandemic by Moreno’s government has been considered amongst the worst in the world. Investigations in April 2020 alleged that the numbers of the infected and dead far surpassed the official figures, while the overall number of infected reached 122,000 by mid-September.
The difference between the governments of Rafael Correa and Lenín Moreno could not demonstrate more clearly where the paths of socialism and neoliberalism eventually lead to. It also shows that the lawfare campaign against Rafael Correa is nothing more than a last-ditch attempt by the country’s economic and political elite to prevent the return of the Citizens’ Revolution.
Despite being unable to participate in February’s election, there is no doubt that Correa and the other historic leaders of the revolution will continue to play an enormous role in the campaign. But the Citizens’ Revolution will also be spearheaded by a new generation — represented by young leaders like Andrés Arauz.