U of I Grad Takes Presidency in Ecuador; What’s Left?

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Rafael Correa, a 43 year-old who took a Ph.D. in economics
at the University of Illinois in Urbana, won big in
Ecuador’s presidential election on November 26. Correa
received 68% of the votes cast. His opponent, Alvaro
Noboa, received 32% of the votes. The conservative
Noboa, is in the banana business and has a fortune that
the New York Times claims is $1.2 billion. This, claims the
Times, makes him the richest man in the country.
So, why did he not win with all that money?
1. Technology. Correa, who is quite familiar with the
United States, posted poor old Boboa’s campaign gaffs on
YouTube, circumventing the traditional media which, concludes
the Times, was “hesitant” to criticize the richest man
in the land. Noboa, after all, controls the bananas. The use
of YouTube reached a lot of voters, especially the young
who tend to get much of their information from the web.
2. The Ecuadorians wanted to poke Bush in the eye.
Correa has good relations with Hugo Chavez and, with the
exactitude required of a Ph.D. in economics, has characterized
Bush as “dimwitted.” He did, however, say that he
had “nothing personal against Bush.” Whether his comment
was meant personally or not, perhaps the people of
Educador were so proud of Dr. Correa’s precision and
courage that they wanted him to say it to Bush face-toface,
one head of state speaking directly to another.
3. The Ecuadorians agree with Correa’s political and economic
positions more than they agree with the conservative
Noboa’s. This is a tough one because they had already elected
a legislature in which the majority was more like Noboa
politically. But maybe they
changed their minds
between the legislative
elections and the November
presidentials. Did the
voters elect Correa
because he was to the left
of Noboa?
We are back to the question in the title, “What’s Left“? Correa
has stated that he wants to strengthen the already
national oil company, to gain control over the country’s
energy, and to provide the poor with affordable housing and
cash subsidies. He also said that he did not want to renew
the agreement, which will expire in 2009, that permits the
U.S. military to have a Pacific coast surveillance base in the
country. Early in the campaign, he had also proposed a “citizen’s
revolution” to convene a constitutional assembly that
would shift some of the power from the very powerful legislature,
which can force presidents from office almost at will,
to the presidency itself. This legislative power has resulted
in Correa becoming Ecuador’s eighth president in ten years.
But perhaps the biggest fear of conservatives is that
Correa would join with Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, and,
they fear, now Nicaragua (despite Ortega’s protestations to
the contrary) in being vehemently opposed to the neo-liberal
vision and practice of free trade and hostile to U.S.
policies. The other option, which the conservatives fear
less, is that he would be closer to Argentina, Brazil, and
Chile where populism is mixed with a greater accommodation
to the neo-liberal free market vision and practice.
So, where indeed does Correa stand? Is he a Leftist?
“No“, says his former adviser at the U of I, Professor Werner
Baer. On a WILL recorded interview of November 28, Baer
says that Correa is religious, believes in the free market, and
respects private property. Baer contended that the portrayal
of Correa as a Leftist is an invention of the U.S. press.
He draws a contrast between Chavez, a military man
who once attempted a coup in Venezuela, a “demagogue”
who tries to get the support of the poorest of the poor in
the hills, with Correa, a civilian who respects constitutional
processes. So Professor Baer says, while Correa will want
ties with both Chavez and the U.S. (and he asks rhetorically,
“why not“?) “my guess is that we will be able to compare
him more with Lula in Brazil, who became very reasonable.
Now he’s [Lula] the darling of Wall Street.“
According to Professor Baer, that’s not Left. Of course,
we don’t know that Professor Baer’s characterization of his
former student is accurate. We will have to watch Correa’s
performance over time to know that. But what is obvious
is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to give any precision
to the word “Left” in the Latin American context.
How can we characterize extra-institutional social movements
in many of the countries, armed revolutionary
groups in Columbia and Mexico, the Cuban regime,
Venezuela, Nicaragua under the ever-so-Catholic Ortega,
Bolivia, Argentina, and Brazil if all we have in our political
vocabulary is “Left” and its opposite “Not Left,” either with
a laudatory or a condemning insinuation? The political
dynamics in Latin America today are demonstrating as
perhaps never before the poverty of our language in

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