Thursday, November 30, 2006

Elections in Ecuador

Analysis prepared by COHA Director Dr. Larry Birns

Council on Hemispheric Affairs November 27, 2006

The astonishing comeback of Rafael Correa from what
appeared to be a definitive first round defeat marks
one of the most extraordinary reversals of the
political fate of a South American leader within
memory. Correa's victory also represents a significant
triumph for the average Ecuadorean who refused to be
beguiled by Alvaro Noboa's well-fueled, so-called
populist, but splash-dash campaign. In a poor country
like Ecuador, Noboa's unparalleled expenditure of money
- some of it handed out personally by him - was a
hardly-concealed effort to buy an election. Meanwhile,
Correa ran an issue-oriented campaign centered on
alleviating the dead-end plight of the nation's poor.

As important as any other aspect of the presidential
race was that its outcome represented a stinging defeat
for Washington's Latin American policy, which already
had hit rock bottom throughout the Bush presidency. Key
U.S. policies like free trade, privatization and market
integration, anti-drug trafficking, increased regional
military presence, and the pursuit of isolating Cuba
and Venezuela, were being challenged and dismissed as
being irrelevant.

The White House has touted recent elections in Mexico
and Peru as a sharp defeat for the "Pink Tide" movement
of left-leaning governments in the Americas (Brazil,
Venezuela, Bolivia, Uruguay, Argentina and, to an
extent, Chile). But the more recent victories of
leftist candidates Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua (after a
blatant intervention scheme led by U.S. Ambassador in
Managua Paul Trivelli), and now Rafael Correa in
Ecuador, represent a humiliating rebuke for
Washington's chief goals.

Another major winner in yesterday's vote was
Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. Although Chavez was somewhat
restrained in getting involved in the Ecuadorian race,
the same was certainly not true about Correa, who made
repeated complimentary references to the Venezuelan
president throughout his campaign.

In Mexico and Peru, Chavez had played the role of
poison pill, fatal in his ability to inadvertently
strike dead his electoral allies in other countries
through guilt by association. In Ecuador, to the
contrary, he proved to be an imposing plus factor in
Correa's victory, a fact that cannot make the State
Department's Nicholas Burns, a key administration
functioning when it comes to Chavez bashing, other than
completely frustrated.

The Correa victory is much more meaningful because his
campaign was pegged in favor of an autonomous path of
development, including a more muscular Latin American
definition of its sovereignty than was the case with
Daniel Ortega's win in Nicaragua. Ortega's victory was
much more muddied by his two-tier policy of presenting
himself as both a friend of business, the Church, and
Washington's free trade policies, while at other times
projecting himself as a prospective candidate of Pink
Tide dissent, and that his victory should be seen as a
challenge to U.S. hegemony.

But there was nothing ambiguous about Correa's victory,
which must be seen as yet another piece of evidence
that the U.S. continues to pay a heavy price for the
near fatal damage done to its good name throughout the
hemisphere by Otto Reich and Roger Noriega, during
their archly controversial reigns as State Department's
assistant Secretaries for Western Hemispheric affairs.
The arrogance that the two displayed to Latin America's
opposition to the Iraq war and an insistence that their
brand of raw ideological extremism be disseminated
throughout the continent alienated many of Washington's
closest allies.

During his tenure, Secretary of State Powell yielded to
hard core White House partisans in reluctantly
accepting Reich and Noriega to serve under him. The
fact that they at all times had an independent and
politicized access to the top tiers of the
administration through their Miami connections, allowed
them to advance a rightwing agenda outside of the State
Department's formal chain of command. This process
continued with Secretary Rice's ascension to the State
Department, but with even more gusto, since her
congruency with the spirit of Reich's and Noriega's
view of the region, if not their antagonistic style,
was not in doubt. Particularly, policy regarding
Venezuela and Cuba has continued almost unmodified
under Thomas Shannon, who is the first career foreign
service officer in the Bush administration to head up
the Western Hemispheric Bureau. Shannon, unfortunately,
mainly followed the substance if not the style featured
in the Bush administration's first term.

As an extension of the Bush administration's Opera
Bouffe approach to Cuban policy, one can only point to
the shameless antics of head of the U.S. Interest
Section in Havana, Michael Parmly, whose talents seem
to lie in the direction of low theater and whose
juvenile pranks emanating from his base in the Cuban
capital cannot possibly be confused with professional
diplomacy. In addition, the conduct of U.S. Ambassador
to Nicaragua Paul Trivelli, who repeatedly has
intervened in the internal affairs of Nicaragua, acting
as the major domo in efforts to unify the conservative
opposition to the eventually victorious, Daniel Ortega,
reflected Washington's traditional scorn for Latin
America's self-dignity.

The importance of the Correa triumph can be found both
within and outside of Ecuador and deserves being dealt
with in each arena. Opposing Washington's free trade
model as well as not renewing the lease of the Manta
air base were among his specific pledges. By not
fulfilling his platform, he will risk being ousted by
the indigenous population as was the case with the
country's last democratically-elected president, Lucio

What the Correa victory will mean for the future of
Latin America's ties to Washington and what role the
Pink Tide movement will have for the hemisphere is of
the utmost importance. Initially, the Correa victory
will provide renewed momentum to the moderate leftist,
New Deal-style leadership, which characterizes most of
South America. After setbacks in Colombia, Mexico and
Peru, the Pink Tide grouping seemed to have lost its
spirit, not counting the more radical initiatives being
put forth by Venezuela and Bolivia. Because of
Washington's preoccupation with Iraq and the mid-term
elections, Latin American countries were able to
pluralize their relationship with other parts of the
world and think globally, not just hemispherically. As
a result, we may be witnessing a decline in the
centrality of a hemispheric orientation as represented
by the OAS and an increase in importance of outward
looking associations like the Ibero-America Summit and
the budding Brazil-South Africa-India and China ties.
Because of timing and the immense achievement of
overcoming his enormous first round deficit, Correa's
electoral victory may be one of the most important
hemispheric political events witnessed in the past
several years.

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