Ecuador - can Lenin deliver his promises?

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Lenin Moreno, newly elected president of Ecuador

We can only guess at the extent of Donald Trump’s knowledge of Latin America, Enlightenment philosophy and Russian revolutionary history. Nonetheless it would be nice to think that the election of the superbly named Lenin Voltaire Moreno Garces as president of Ecuador will have raised a few eyebrows in his administration.

Moreno was elected on 2 April. He was the candidate of the PAIS Alliance, the party of outgoing president Rafael Correa, whose government was seen as one of the several “pink tide” leftist governments in Latin America in the early part of the century. Moreno was Correa’s vice-president from 2007 to 2013.

In the presidential run-off he defeated Guillermo Lasso of CREO (the Creating Opportunities party), an openly neoliberal outfit advocating free market and tax cutting policies. Lasso was not only the bankers’ favourite, but an actual banker as well. The winning margin was just over 2 percentage points, with the result contested by Lasso amid claims of electoral fraud.

Universally known in Ecuador as Lenin, Moreno is the world’s only wheelchair-using head of state. He has an exemplary record of campaigning for the rights of disabled people and boosted the state budget for disabled services 50-fold while vice-president.

Lenin has promised to continue the PAIS programme as begun by his predecessor. Correa came to power demanding a citizens’ revolution and “radical and rapid changes in the existing structure of society”. Correa focused on corruption, debt and a refocusing of national resources on social programmes. The health budget was tripled; mobile hospitals have been introduced and a scheme to produce medicines at low cost. The education budget increased from 2.5 percent of GDP to 6 percent, with free uniforms and school lunches. A new labour law banned subcontracting and effectively raised wages.

Correa pointed out, “In this country, if you proposed raising the minimum wage by a few dollars, you were called a demagogue or a populist, but no one was surprised at banks charging interest rates between 24 and 45 percent.”

Ecuador has joined Cuba and Nicaragua in Latin America as being declared illiteracy free. Lenin has pledged to boost state pensions and to provide 100,000 subsidised houses a year as part of a cradle to grave social programme called Toda Una Vida (A Whole Life).

There is no doubt that the governments of PAIS have introduced a range of reforms which have benefitted the poor, challenged the priorities of the neoliberal model to an extent and reduced inequality. Even the Economist, in a gut-wrenchingly smug piece about the supposed ebbing of the pink tide in recent elections in Latin America, admitted that, “South America is not about to go back to the past. The left put inequality on the region’s agenda and it is there to stay.” However, despite social progress under PAIS, there have been several corruption scandals involving bribery by major companies, a number of splits with previous allies in the popular movement and a ruthless handling of indigenous people fighting to defend their lands and rights from multinational oil projects and of workers in dispute.

PAIS has failed to overcome the clientism which plagues Ecuadorean politics, or the ongoing division between the coast and highlands. There has been a high level of political polarisation in Ecuador in recent years, partly around the persona of Rafael Correa himself. Lenin is regarded as a more conciliatory figure. This would not be too difficult in terms of personal style. The previous president was given to mounting aggressive defence of his government and policies, often with a good dash of unparliamentary language. When denounced by one right wing MP, he responded by saying, “Back in the day in my barrio, we had a way of dealing with your sort of people”, and challenging the offender to a fist fight.

Lenin is less abrasive personally, but may also consider more concessions to other political forces which would water down his policies. Already he is talking about offering conciliation with the opposition.

The Ecuadorean economy is under the same pressure as most in Latin America. Prices have fallen for its main exports, economic growth has faltered and there is a heavy external debt, especially to China. It remains to be seen whether Lenin will deliver on his promises.

Certainly the only chance of assuring this is if Ecuadorean workers, peasants and indigenous people continue their traditions of independent action and mobilisation in their own interests.