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Local elections in Ecuador over the weekend show that President Lenin Moreno has condemned his own party to irrelevance, while former President Rafael Correa’s new party makes a strong showing

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GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network, and I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore.

Conservative governments of Latin America gathered in Santiago, Chile last Friday. Presidents and representatives from Chile, Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Paraguay, and Guyana signed a joint declaration in favor of creating “a regional space of cooperation and coordination without exclusion of ideologies.” Actually, the government of Ecuador claims to be center left, but President Lenin Moreno has been steadily moving his government to the neoliberal right since his election in mid-2017. Back then he ran as the successor to former President Rafael Correa, who once was part of Latin America’s so-called Pink Tide governments, and allied himself closely with other leftists in the region, such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Brazil’s Lula da Silva, and Bolivia’s Evo Morales. This past weekend, though, President Moreno’s rightward drift was put to the test when the country voted in local elections. The vote, however, seems to have been marred with suspicions of fraud when a power outage delayed the vote counted.

Joining me now to discuss the most recent developments in Ecuador is Timm Schutzhofer. Timm is a political scientist who recently completed a doctoral thesis at Kassel University studying Ecuador’s economic development. Also, he recently wrote an article for the publication NACLA, ‘Elected Left, Governing Right.’ Thanks for joining us today, Timm.

TIMM SCHUTZHOFER: Yeah, nice to be here.

GREG WILPERT: So let’s start with Lenin Moreno’s rightward shift. As I mentioned, he originally got elected by a fairly narrow margin as the successor to Rafael Correa, and promised to continue Correa’s legacy and move it forward. However, once he got into office he immediately turned against Correa, claiming that Correa had left behind an economic disaster. He also allowed his vice president Jorge Glas, who is one of Correa’s best friends, to be arrested, and reversed various other policies. Tell us some more. What kinds of policies has Moreno pursued since then that show this rightward shift?

TIMM SCHUTZHOFER: Yes, I think that he has pursued several policies which show this right wing shift. First of all, he has done great effort in order to dismantle all the institutions that have been built during the Correa administration, during the so-called Citizen’s Revolution. He has basically used the same faming as the right wing parties, which is to claim that the public sector does not work, that the public sector is obese, that there’s too much public debt, which is, of course, a framing meant to justify right wing neoliberal policies like giving, like privatizations which have not been done so far, but which are on the way. Tax breaks for the wealthy. And of course also shift in the main positions of power. For example, the new vice president is Otto Sonnenholzer, who is also related to elite sectors of the country. And of course, the Minister of Finance and the Economy is now the former representative of, the former president of the employers’s association. So there’s, I think, clear indications of a shift to the right.

GREG WILPERT: Now, another thing that happened recently, I think last week, is that Moreno also signed an agreement with the–well, actually it was a little bit further back than last week, but earlier this month, an agreement with the IMF for something like $10 billion. Can you tell us a little bit about this, and why they did that, and what this means for the economic policy?

TIMM SCHUTZHOFER: Yes. It’s of course, as usual in the Moreno administration, are not very transparent. The Moreno administration has celebrated this agreement with the IMF as a sign for sound and good economic policies. But in fact, it means that many of the public employees are already now losing their workplace, their job. Also in crucial sectors, like the health sector. And it will probably mean other neoliberal kind of reforms in the future. Four billion seems to be a lot, but it’s over several years. And it’s not by now really clear what the the implications of that, was the Moreno government had to agree in order to be able to sign this agreement. And there are still discussions going on about whether or not–it would say, of course, it has to be ratified by the Ecuadorian parliament.

GREG WILPERT: So now, as I mentioned in the introduction, last Sunday there were local elections in Ecuador, and a few results have been announced. What do you think? Do the preliminary results suggest about how Moreno’s policy direction is being received among Ecuadorians?

TIMM SCHUTZHOFER: Yeah. I think one thing that has become clear is that Alianza Pais, the party of Moreno and formerly the party of Rafael Correa, does not play any important role anymore as an electoral force. So while during the 10 years of the Correa presidency Alianza Pais was the most important and strongest political party, now it’s not very important anymore. And so the political capital of Moreno is very low at this moment. However, this doesn’t mean that there’s a clear shift to the left; rather, we can see that there are good results for the traditional right wing party, the Christian Social Party, but also good results for the supporters of Correa. For example, a candidate of Correa won the regional elections in Pichincha. [Paula Pavon]. And [Leonardo Orlando], also a candidate of of Correa, won the elections in Manabi, which is, of course, the province where the earthquake happened in 2016, and a stronghold of Correa supporters.

GREG WILPERT: Now, foreign policy-wise, there also seems to be a rightward shift. As I mentioned in the introduction, last week Moreno officially declared that Ecuador is leaving UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations, which was created under President Hugo Chavez, and which has its headquarters in Quito. And it was mostly created by progressive governments, but several conservative governments at the time participated, such as Chile and Colombia. Now they are creating [POROSUR], a new alliance that claims to be non-ideological, but excludes Venezuela. And so far it includes only conservative governments, it seems. So Moreno was playing along in all of this. Is there any way he can still claim to be somehow progressive or center left, or is he openly joining Ecuador’s political right? I mean, what is his economic and political base at the moment now that he’s split Correa’s party, Alianza Pais?

TIMM SCHUTZHOFER: I think that he is clearly a right wing politician, and he is doing some things that a right wing politician or a traditional right wing politician would probably not have been able to do in terms of dismantling the institutions that have been created during the Citizen’s Revolution. Yet some support, I would even say important support, of social movements in the beginning, and he capitalized also some of the conflicts that Correa has had with its social movements in order to get their support in the beginning, but in order to actually then move to the right. So I think there’s not anything left of a left wing government now.

GREG WILPERT: We’re going to have to leave it there for now, though. Hopefully we come back to you again as as the situation changes and develops in Ecuador. I was speaking to Timm Schutzhofer, a political scientist and Ecuador specialist based in Kassel, Germany. Thanks again, Timm, for having joined us today.


And thank you for joining The Real News Network.

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Gregory Wilpert is Managing Editor at TRNN. He is a German-American sociologist who earned a Ph.D. in sociology from Brandeis University in 1994. Between 2000 and 2008 he lived in Venezuela, where he first taught sociology at the Central University of Venezuela and then worked as a freelance journalist, writing on Venezuelan politics for a wide range of publications and also founded, an English-langugage website about Venezuela. In 2007 he published the book, Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and Policies of the Chavez Government (Verso Books). In 2014 he moved to Quito, Ecuador, to help launch teleSUR English. In early 2016 he began working for The Real News Network as host, researcher, and producer. Since September 2018 he has been working as Managing Editor at The Real News. Gregory's wife worked as a Venezuelan diplomat since 2008 and from January 2015 until October 2018 she was Venezuela's Ambassador to Ecuador.