October 16, 2006
Two separate exit polls in Ecuador show that Alvaro Noboa, a wealthy populist, has a lead of about two percent over leftist Rafael Correa, but neither man has even 30 percent of the total vote in a crowded field of candidates. (Unlike other countries where an outright majority is required, in Ecudador, only forty percent is needed to be elected in the first round.) There will be a second round election on November 26. Correa, who has a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Illinois, had a brief (three-month) and stormy tenure as finance minister under the provisional government of Alfredo Palacios. In a distrubing sign that he intends to follow in the footsteps of Mexico's Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Correa demanded the removal of the head of the Organization of American States' election observer team on the grounds that alleged irregularities were ignored. He also accused the United States of trying to block his election. Correa wants to lead "citizens' revolution" to replace the political establishment, a common goal expressed by many outsiders in Latin America. Noboa has surged in the polls in recent weeks, thanks apparently to his frequent unabashed invokation of God. He has been handing out much-needed items such as personal computers at his rallies, an old tradition in Latin American politics, where the votes of poor people are easily bought. Noboa also "says he will use his business skills to bring Ecuador's poor into the middle class." See Washington Post or CNN.com.
For the United States, the most pressing issue is maintaining the lease on the air base that was established for anti-narcotics surveillance a few years ago. Correa says he would not renew the lease when it expires in 2009, but the United States would no doubt be willing to pay a higher "rent" to keep it going. In Spanish, the word "correa" means "belt," and Correa used a belt as a prop in his campaign appearances, threatening to lash corrupt politicians. ¡Qué gracioso! Some people compare him to Hugo Chavez, but the young, well-educated firebrand reminds me much more of Alan Garcia when he was president of Peru from 1985 to 1990. On the plus side, the elections were conducted in an atmosphere of relative tranquility, a marked improvement from the deep turmoil of last year and earlier this year.