January 16, 2007
Rafael Correa took the oath of office as president of Ecuador. Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Bolivia's Evo Morales, and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega were all present for the ceremonies. That makes three inaugurations in Latin America this month alone: it certainly has been a busy travel month for Latin American presidents! Also attending was Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ecuador is a minor oil producer and used to be a member of OPEC, so Iran may be trying to extend its influence in the Third World. The young (age 43) populist leader, who has a Ph.D. in Economics, calls for a "citizens' revolution," saying he wants to hold a referendum on rewriting the constitution, as has been done in Venezuela and Bolivia. He blames the traditional parties, but they problem is not that they are too strong, as he says, but that they are too weak and fragmented. The established parties do enjoy the prerogative to name judicial candidates, which seems odd by North American standards. He has attacked the Congress as a "sewer of corruption," which is a dangerous tactic given that the last three presidents of Ecuador have been removed from power by Congress. He also wants to create districts for congressmen, who are currently elected on a nationwide basis. CNN.com and the BBC.
Actually, some of Correa's criticisms may not be far off the mark, but without a strong political organization behind him, it is hard to see how he can get much done. On one hand, he does offer hope for a fresh start for his crisis-weary people. But there remains the big question of whether he will emulate pragmatism à la Brazil's da Silva, or opt for radicalism, à la Venezuela's Chavez. Like Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, the left-wing populist is straddling a precarious line between the two approaches. In terms of foreign policy, it will be very interesting to see whether Correa condemns the United States as Chavez has done. He says he will not renew the lease on a U.S. air base used for drug traffic monitoring, but he might be persuaded if the offere were sweet enough. Another question is whether he will seek friendly relations with Peru, with which a long border dispute was finally resolved a few years ago. The Ecuador page has been updated, as has the Current situation page.