elections in ecuador

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By GILBERTO LOPES*

The political transvestism of the new right

“Lasso is a typical politician pro-business”, says Will Freeman, in an article published in Foreign Policy. "Pro-business”, in favor of business, a recipe with which banker Guillermo Lasso will become president of Ecuador, after winning the second round of elections last Sunday, April 11, against the candidate of “correísmo”, economist Andrés Arauz , by a difference of less than 5%: 52,3% against 47,6% of his opponent.

He promises to create two million jobs, raise the minimum wage to $500 a month, lift one million Ecuadorians out of extreme poverty (in a country of 18 million inhabitants). With almost 19 daily cases of Covid-18 and 7,8 deaths, the Ecuadorian economy collapsed last year, falling 3,5%. And although optimistic estimates point to growth of XNUMX% this year, nothing guarantees this recovery.

Last November, the outgoing government announced that there would be no increase in the unified minimum wage: 400 dollars (in a dollarized economy). In addition, another $60 would be given in the first quarter of the year to those earning that minimum wage and $100 to those who lost their jobs during the pandemic and remain unemployed. In Ecuador, 48% of the workforce is in the informal sector, according to data from the Ministry of Labor, and only a third of jobs meet the legal minimum wage. During the pandemic, 3,2 million Ecuadorians were added to those living in poverty.

a complicated country

Banker Lasso claims to know how to create jobs. He displays his success in business, which he offers as a model for the country, attracting foreign investment and promoting oil exploration. “We will receive a complicated country, the national government has no liquidity, just a balance of 400 million dollars in reserves, which represents just 20% of monthly government spending,” he said in an article published by BBC Mundo during the election campaign. “Moreover, it is a government with a debt that reaches 63% of the Gross Domestic Product, to which must be added arrears to municipalities, governors, social security systems and the Central Bank. All in all, I can say, on a hunch, that the debt reaches 80 billion”, he added.

The recipe for facing the situation will be austerity. "We are not going to ignore the agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which Lenin Moreno's government negotiated, in the amount of 7,4 billion dollars", said Lasso. “But we are going to increase VAT, to deal with the deficit and the debt”. A policy that Arauz opposed, due to the conditions that the IMF imposes on the country and that he considers onerous.

Already in August of last year, Arauz had denounced the conditions of this agreement, in statements given to the Argentine newspaper page 12: “The content of the agreement with the IMF is perverse. It includes the deregulation of the financial system; the release of the interest rate; the incentive to exit capital. They also want to change the law so that the Central Bank has officials appointed by this president and cannot be replaced by the next one. They are dynamiting the instruments that a progressive government could use”, said Arauz at the time.

Once the electoral result and Lasso's victory were known, the Colombian portal Chronicon it said: “The program of government of the banker Guillermo Lasso is very similar to that of the catastrophic mandate of Mauricio Macri in Argentina, which left this nation in ruins after his disastrous passage through the Casa Rosada”. With the legal reform envisaged by Lasso, the Central Bank of Ecuador “will take control of the speculative banking sector in the country”, “while other reforms are proposed to make working conditions more flexible and privatize health, education and sell hydroelectric plants and refineries” , adds the note. In international politics, Lasso will align himself with the White House, in particular with the economic and financial siege imposed on the government of Nicolás Maduro and with the initiatives that, from Colombia, seek his overthrow.

models in crisis

The electoral triumph of such a project "pro-business”, whose results are well known after 40 years of implementation, can only be achieved if its objectives are hidden, if the electoral debate emphasizes other aspects.

In a notable article on England's recent political past, columnist The Guardian John Harris asks his compatriots not to relive the false illusions of the years of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who governed the country during the 80s. Those were the golden years of neoliberalism when, with Reagan in the US government, they sold to the world the idea that there were no alternatives to these policies. The end of the Cold War and socialism in Eastern Europe and the break-up of the Soviet Union were approaching. The scenario seemed to lend credence to the assertion of the conservative leaders.

Today Harris warns: the UK of 2021 faces many of the same key issues as 40 years ago. After ten years of austerity, the environment in which millions of people live has become increasingly precarious and empty. And he adds: “40 years ago it was about the end of a model of state planning, strong union power and large-scale economic interventionism. “Now it is possible that we have reached the end of what replaced it: that of a small state, with a free market vision, although weakened by the 2008 crisis and probably made obsolete by the level of state intervention that the coronavirus has made evident”.

The truth is that what was then hopeful is now impossible. And so the debate has to move towards other causes, in which the neoliberal offer can be hidden.

a third pole

Just three days before the election, another columnist for the The Guardian, Dan Colliyns – in an article financed by a project of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as noted in the newspaper – opined that “women and young people could be decisive in the election result in Ecuador”. Two male candidates, the note said, "are doing what they can to attract sectors of the electorate that are often marginalized."

With voters weary of a polarized debate over Correismo's decade-long rule and its controversial legacy, candidates are looking to broaden their support base by looking at the LGBTI agenda, and issues of race and gender. Lasso, for example, a member of the conservative Catholic organization Opus Dei, met with LGBTI rights activists and offered policies aimed at combating gender-based violence by creating an advocate for women's rights.

The results of the elections, as Freeman said in his article, showed that a large sector of the population still does not believe in what he defines as 'authoritarian populism', which, for him, characterizes Correa's government. Between the two poles – he says – a third has emerged, more recently, formed by young people, a “socially progressive” center-left and the indigenous community that rejects the “illiberal” model of extractive development, on the one hand, but also the proposals Lasso's neoliberals, on the other. The representatives of this pole would be the candidate of the indigenous sectors grouped in Pachakutik, led by Yaku Pérez, and the Democratic Left party, of former social-democratic origin, whose candidate was the businessman Xavier Hervas.

Both Pérez and Hervas left their supporters free to vote in the second round, but emphasized their distance from Correismo. In a video broadcast after the first round, Pérez called for a “third way”, defined as a communitarian, ecological, anti-extractivist and feminist left.

Rashell Erazo, a trans woman who runs the organization Alfil – whose objectives are defined by defending the rights of the LGBTI community – said that the majority of her community leaned towards Pérez, due to his inclusive proposals, but also towards Hervas. As Jaime Vargas, president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), of which Pachakutik is a political arm, had announced his support for Arauz's candidacy, the organization's Governing Council came out to defend the null vote in the second round.

It was an “ideological null vote” which, according to the organization, meant “being consistent with the historic struggle of the indigenous movement in Ecuador”, emphasizing that its demands and political project transcended the electoral scenario”. Hervas, in turn, did not defend the annulment of the vote, but used arguments that invited a vote for Lasso. “Based on the debate and conversations with the volunteers, I am convinced that, under no circumstances, will I vote null or blank. I am also convinced that our country must leave the model of authoritarianism that governed us, ”he said in an interview with the channel ecuavisa last March 23rd.

On his Twitter account, Hervas highlighted that, for his party, Esquerda Demcrática, the priority issues include reducing the rate of chronic child malnutrition, violence against women and teenage pregnancy due to rape, protection of the rights of nature , an end to the mismanagement of health system funds and the lack of connectivity that leaves children without an education. Platforms with which Pérez and Hervas intend to form a “center-left” coalition that would oppose the privatization of state-owned companies, the reform of the Central Bank and new extractive projects.

"Biggest Winner"

But the vision of this new “center-left”, which Pérez and Hervas would seek to organize, is not shared by all analysts. In the same article already mentioned, from the Colombian portal Chronicon, it is noted that Yaku Pérez was a candidate “supported by the US embassy and European social democracy” and Xavier Hervas, a conservative businessman “who disguised himself as a leftist”.

Both were fundamental for Lasso to reverse the electoral result of the first round. The indigenous movement's appeal for an “ideological null vote” had – in the opinion of the article's author – “a notable influence, as the number of citizens who opted for the null vote reached 1.739.870 votes out of a total of 10.675.362 voters. “Pérez’s rise is part of a broader generational shift in leftist movements in Latin America,” predicted José María León Cabrera (writing from Tarqui, Ecuador) and Anatoly Kurmanaev (writing from Moscow) in an article published by The New York Times on the day of the Ecuadorian elections.

For both, the biggest winner of the election in Ecuador – Yaku Pérez – was left out of the second round. “Driven in part by social media and political protests in the United States, where most Latin American countries have large diasporas, younger politicians on the left are prioritizing environmental, gender, and minority issues over doctrine. Marxist from his mentors,” says the article.

Prison as a political instrument

In the Ecuadorian elections, as in the 2018 elections in Brazil, Arauz's candidacy was the product of the instrumentalization of justice to remove progressive sectors from the political scene. Something that the media often prefer to hide. Ishaan Tharoor refers to former president Rafael Correa, in an article published on April 13 in The Washington Post, as a populist who polarizes Ecuadorian politics and who went into exile in Belgium over accusations of corruption in Ecuador.

The truth is that, as in Brazil, the judicialization of politics served to exclude Correa's party from the elections, to prevent him from being a candidate or not even participating in the campaign, while his former vice-president, Jorge Glas (who he was also vice-president of Lenín Moreno), remains in prison, convicted in corruption trials, whose political interest is undeniable at this time. It is clear that corruption must be fought, former Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim said last week, in statements to a Brazilian channel. But in some cases this is part of what has been called "hybrid warfare", a way of "removing troublesome regimes and favoring practices that improve the competitive conditions of US companies". The United States, he added, has made the war on corruption a sort of substitute for the "war on terror" that President Bush declared shortly after the attacks on the twin towers in New York in September 2001.

*Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR). author of Political crisis of the modern world (Uruk).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

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