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RECENT gains by the Latin American right are marked by two important features: a shift back to the old neoliberal economic model and an authoritarian turn.
In Brazil, President Michel Temer has pursued free-market policies after coming to power following a parliamentary coup which forced out leftist Dilma Rousseff.
There are now blatant attempts to undermine the democratic process further by preventing the ever-popular ex-president Lula da Silva from standing again.
In Argentina, President Mauricio Macri’s austerity policies, including price increases on basic services, have provoked widespread protest, with human rights groups warning that state repression is at the worst levels since the fall of the military dictatorship.
There are fears that Ecuador could join this trend. The South American nation was until last year led by president Rafael Correa and his movement known as the Citizens’ Revolution.
This came to power on the back of unprecedented political instability and a Greece-style economic collapse.
Deep social unrest saw seven presidents come and go in 10 years. None finished their first term.
But under Correa strong state-led economic growth, the greatest regional reduction in inequality, huge healthcare and education investment, and poverty reduction programmes forged a new era.
Correa and his allies won over a dozen elections in the subsequent decade.
He did not contest last year’s presidential election, though polls indicate he would have won.
Instead his former vice-president Lenin Moreno stood on a platform of continuing Correa’s economic and social achievements.
Though never confirmed, there was an expectation that Correa would return to be a presidential candidate in 2021.
After Moreno secured the narrowest of victories, winning just 51 per cent in the second round of the presidential election against one of the country’s main bankers, things turned sour.
Perhaps due to his tiny victory margin, the new president opened a dialogue that first dragged him away from his own base and then into the opposition’s arms.
Moreno’s abandonment of his political base came to a head this month with a nationwide referendum.
This had three key aims: to prevent Correa’s return to Ecuadorian political life by changing the constitution to retrospectively ban re-election; to close the citizens’ participation branch of the state (through which social movements choose judges, the attorney general, electoral authorities and many other posts); and to overturn a law implemented by Correa to make land speculators pay higher taxes on super-profits made on the back of public investment.
These changes reflect long-held demands of the Ecuadorian elites. As a result, Moreno’s referendum provoked splits in the Alianza Pais party that Correa had founded and that Moreno now heads.
Correa and many of its other historical leading figures resigned from the party and began campaigning to defeat Moreno in the referendum.
As former foreign minister Guillaume Long said in his letter resigning as a UN ambassador, the aim of the referendum on limiting the number of presidential terms was for the “historical example of the Citizens’ Revolution to be erased from the memory of the people.
“The Citizens’ Revolution must be destroyed, so that the ideological fatalism encompassed in Thatcher’s phrase that ‘there is no alternative’ to the neoliberal dogma of austerity, inequality and individualism can be imposed once again.”
A superficial view of the referendum results — 63 to 37 per cent in Moreno’s favour — would suggest that the new left movement around Correa was heavily defeated.
However, this fails to convey the seismic political shifts that have taken place in recent weeks.
The 37 per cent national No vote was almost exactly the same vote as Moreno secured last year in the first round of the presidential election.
It represents the core base of the Citizens’ Revolution and that base has broken decisively with Moreno.
This 37 per cent would make the new alliance around Correa the largest force in Ecuadorian politics based on last year’s presidential results.
It has been a significant enough base to win repeated elections over the past decade. With the right in Ecuador fragmented between various oligarchs and their interests, be it banking or agriculture, alliances among them are uncommon and very difficult.
This 37 per cent for the left has a disproportionate social weight.
These results are especially impressive given no mainstream media backed the No position — including the state media, which has been deliberately emasculated in a bid to win support for the government from the corporate media.
Likewise, the No campaign received hardly any state funds with just a tiny handful of small social organisations backing it, in contrast with dozens supporting Moreno’s position.
The hostility whipped up against anyone daring to oppose the referendum was demonstrated when thugs attacked Correa’s car, with him inside, with bricks.
The Organisation of American States raised concerns over this violence and its election observers, as well as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, expressed worries about with the wider referendum process.
This included Moreno’s bypassing of the Constitutional Court when it became clear that it would question the legality of some of his referendum questions.
So, despite his victory, Moreno, having abandoned the movement that elected him, now rests on support from the old oligarchic right.
Moreno is their political prisoner and they will extract a price. Post-referendum, Moreno’s trade minister announced that Ecuador will try to join the Pacific Alliance, a body that promotes free trade and neoliberal policies in the region.
An Ecuadorian trade delegation travelled to the US in what many are interpreting as a first step towards a free trade deal.
Ecuador’s decade of social and economic gains enraged the nation’s oligarchy and the United States — especially after Correa shut the largest US military base in Latin America.
Corporate control over Ecuador’s oil resources was ended, illegitimate debts with international creditors renegotiated and radical tax reforms made the rich pay what they owed.
Ecuador’s oligarchy and its global allies want to turn back the clock. But they now face a strong united left that has come through a huge challenge with its vote intact, greater political consciousness and a determination to stop the oligarchy overturning their hard-won rights.
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