Ecuador: Notes on the first round of the elections

Ecuador: Notes on the first  round of the elections

The analysis of the first round of the presidential elections in Ecuador exposes the social forces actually struggling in the Andean country. It presents some of the elements needed to understand how the political conflict is organized. These same facts corroborate that certain dynamics seem to have been established at the regional level: political volatility, instability, lack of consolidated leaderships and the tendency towards balance at the critical point of political resolution, as a struggle between adversaries merged in two polarized social forces. On April 11, the fate of the Ecuadorian presidency will be decided in the second round. It is still an open stage.

The possible victory of Andres Arauz, from Correism, could be added to the recent triumphs of Fernandez in Argentina, MAS in Bolivia, the resistance of Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba, and Brazil, which awaits Lula in the 2022 presidential elections. Thereby, the conditions for the growth and consolidation of autonomous projects, anti-imperialist tendencies in the region, and the drive towards regional articulation could be strengthened. Imperialism is contemplating this variable, so we must assume that it will do everything within reach to prevent it from happening. Let’s take a look at some of the options that it has available.

First round

Andres Arauz leads a complex and heterogeneous political bloc, integrated by progressive sectors, new left and liberal groups, supported by broad fractions of the middle and popular classes, workers, indigenous citizens, small, middle and also some big businessmen. It combines sectors and ideologies that do not identify with “Correísmo” but neither with neoliberalism nor the right-wing. It is inscribed in the populist experience, the Patria Grande project, the legacy of Chavismo. However, it is a force in tension and dispute.

Arauz’s Union for Hope alliance (Unión por la Esperanza – UNES) obtained 32.7% of the votes, not enough to avoid a second round. If this result is compared with the elections of 2017 when Lenin Moreno obtained almost 40% of the votes in the first round (who at that time was the correista candidate), the image of the weakening of Ecuador’s main political force emerges. Besides, the analyses that assumed that the social, economic and health crisis of the Moreno government would drag many votes in the direction of Correism were wrong. In any case, Arauz’s victory is the victory of the popular experience over a convergence of powers and interests that has no precedent in the 41 years of “democracy” in Ecuador, where the mass media and the elites of institutional, economic and political power were articulated to act against a single candidate.

Only two weeks after the first ballot (February 21), the National Electoral Council (CNE) of Ecuador could announce that the banker Guillermo Lasso would move on to the second round (with 19.74%), beating the reformist indigenous movement’s candidate Yaku Pérez who got 19.39%. As soon as the polls closed on February 7, both candidates began to publicly stage the negotiations that had been going on between them. Everyone knew it was a technical draw. The difference between them was only 32,600 votes. Before a large media presence, they reached a political agreement in a like-summit meeting, where they solemnly committed to seek the reopening of the polls in several provinces and to conduct a recount of the votes. Lasso broke the agreement and the CNE supported the new situation –the same CNE that collaborated in the banning of Rafael Correa as a candidate and the attempt to challenge Arauz’s candidacy. Tensions increased. Politics resolved the next steps. Lasso was then backed by the establishment. Perez began to act in the streets, displaying his strength and supporters, showing the capacity to generate conflict, battling until the last minute presenting himself as the candidate who can defeat Arauz and thus destroy Correism (that seems to be the final objective).  With this, he once again shows what his political capital is and what his role could be during the next government, whoever wins the elections.

He is still requesting the recount, saying fraud was committed to keep him out of the runoff. That’s why he openly said he will not support Lasso in the second round. But, in the face of a victory for Arauz, Pérez will certainly become part of the same block with Lasso. Therefore, Pérez’ attitudes, discourses and actions between February 8 and April 11 must be understood in relation to a negotiation of power before the possible creation of a Lasso government, or the place that each one will occupy in the opposition during the Arauz government if he manages to win.

The right wing seems to have weakened. Lasso and his party (CREO), allied to forces such as Jaime Nebot’s Socialcristians (the mayor of Guayaquil for 19 years), lost support. These same parties in the first presidential round of 2017 separately obtained 45% of the votes while in February 2021, now in alliance, they obtained less than 20%. Lenin Moreno’s candidate, Juan Fernando Velasco Torres (his Minister of Culture) obtained less than 1% of the votes. Presenting a candidate for Moreno seems to have been more of a compromise maneuver, if we assume that the interests that once aligned behind him now came to line up with Pérez and Lasso.

It is important to highlight the performance of the Democratic Left, which in addition to achieving the successful irruption of a new figure (Xavier Hervas), obtained a very high volume of votes: it was projected at 4% and obtained 16%. Certainly, they will be part of every negotiation and will dialogue with all the parties.

UNES vs. Imperialism

Guillermo Lasso is a man shaped by decades of militancy in Opus Dei. He is a politician who has enormous financial, media, political and judicial power. He collaborated in all state policies during the 4 years of Lenin Moreno’s government. He represents the interests that seek to give continuity to the neoliberal model that was settled at the end of the 20th century, and lead the country into total crisis. However, even with the support of the banks, the mass media and millions of dollars for his campaign, this is the third election he has lost. Nonetheless, the establishment will go after his candidacy and will do everything possible to join forces in the second round.

We would like to highlight the consolidation of Yaku Perez, Pachakutik´s candidate, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador’s (CONAIE) electoral arm. Perez sustained a campaign of ecological-progressive aesthetics, respecting all the canons of the liberal electoral struggle. He proposed progressive measures such as the defense of water and the environment, the need to overcome the extractivist model or the construction of a women’s ministry. It supports an eco-community economy approach, of popular production, with indigenous communitarianism and the exaltation of the Pachamama (mother earth) in the central axis. CONAIE has been colonized by radical ethnicism, close to neoliberal and postmodern theses. Perez had the support of the anti-correístas leftists, the leaders of various social movements and well-known union leaders. But at the same time, he proposes state reduction, and like Lasso, he favors the elimination of taxes on foreign currency outflows. While severely criticizing China, he proposes to establish a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States. Among his followers are the indigenous sectors that supported Moreno and the establishment in their attempt to eliminate Correa and “correismo” in their lawfare and media war. Regarding Latin American politics, Perez has carried out numerous public attacks against Evo Morales, Dilma Rouseff and Cristina Fernandez, whom he accused of corruption, hence aligning himself with the continental imperial doctrine objectively. He argued that the governments of Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua are “dictatorial and fraudulent.” In an interview with NTN24, he said that Rafael Correa intends to hand over power to Andrés Arauz as Chávez did to Maduro in Venezuela. “Arauz is the Maduro of Ecuador.” His style and alignment with Washington’s directives is clearly exposed in his own words and actions.

Vectors for Imperial deployment

The case of Yaku Pérez and Pachakutik, as a consolidated and determining force in the country’s political dynamics, exposes an “ideal type” of imperialist interference in Latin America in full deployment. NGOs in the region have been operating on social movements for more than four decades. Local business elites have allied with indigenous groups and with these NGOs. Pachakutik is closely linked to NGOs funded by Washington and some European countries. Some of their leaders have been trained by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), a subsidiary of the CIA, which operates under the auspices of the NED, including Pérez.

Pérez’s original name was Carlos Pérez Guartambel. He came to Yaku in 2018 and took the iindigenous name as part of a political strategy. In the 2019 regional elections he was elected as governor of the Azuay province. Since then he has positioned himself as an outsider. The Americas Society and the Council of Americas (AS/COA), in its Americas Quarterly website, published an article praising him. AS/COA it´s a powerful right-wing lobby group that has played an important role in supporting coups against progressive governments in Latin America and in supporting neoliberal regimes. Despite Pérez’s environmental footprint, among the corporate members of AS / COA are those who benefit from environmental destruction and war, such as Amazon, Apple, BlackRock, Boeing, Caterpillar, Chevron, Chiquita, ExxonMobil, Ford, GE, Goldman Sachs, Google, JP Morgan, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Walmart.

The activists for regime change are aligned in this force. Pérez openly supported the coups sponsored by the United States against Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela and Nicaragua, encouraged lawfare against popular leaders in the region such as Cristina Fernandez in Argentina, and called for the overthrow of Nicolas Maduro. CONAIE was part of the protests that preceded the coup attempt against Correa in 2010, incarnating an alliance with the oligarchic right wing.

To this we must add the staging that Perez himself carried out in recent years seeking to make his international political relations visible. In June 2019, he advertised his meeting with the US ambassador in Cuenca. A month later, he attended the celebration to commemorate US Independence Day in the Ecuadorian capital, welcoming the new ambassador while letting himself be photographed smiling in front of the Star-Spangled Banner.  During his campaign, Perez had public meetings with the French and German ambassadors. Last but not least, after the elections, as part of the complaint of alleged fraud, Pérez shared the OAS statements through his Twitter account. Quite a sign.

Another feature revealed in these elections, related to the imperialism interference process, is the development of political regionalism. Arauz won in all the provinces of the Coast, Lasso in Pichincha (a region with a great presence of anti-indigenous racism), Pérez won in most of the provinces of the Sierra and the Amazon, with the exception of Sucumbíos. This can become fertile ground for the development of national divisions, open to the generation of chaotization and misgovernment. This is a dimension where imperialism moves boldly and effectively, as established by its experience in balkanization maneuvers in different parts of the planet, including Latin America (e.g. Bolivia 2008).

Towards the run-off

A few days before the February elections, Lasso declared that if Yaku Perez made it to the second round he would support him in order to defeat “populist totalitarianism”, that is, Arauz and UNES. Pérez backed Lasso in 2017’s presidential runoff against Moreno, saying: “a banker is preferable to a dictatorship”. Lasso and Perez are predestined to the conformation of the “anti-correista front”, whether they want it or not. Both made it clear that they are capable or willing to work together. Their figures and their different approaches express the strategy of establishing a containment dam for populism, so that “Ecuador does not become Venezuela”, as they like to say.  For the economic and political right wing, the main enemy continues to be national populism, and in Ecuador this is expressed in “Correism”.

The political project expressed by Perez has been devised from Washington, and is supported by representatives of US intelligence agencies in the country. However, as a project of power and national government, it is a model that encounters difficulties when offering guarantees to the center-right and right-wing sectors. Some affluent groups must have feared the possibility of the indigenous party coming to power. And as long as they see Lasso as a catalyst of the next social crisis, they may turn resignedly to Aráuz, where they could also see a space to maintain their interests within the framework of the disputed front.

For his part, Lasso may find allies in the most conservative wing of Pachakutik, in a fraction of the Democratic Left and in minority referents such as Lucio Gutiérrez, Guillermo Celi and César Montúfar. Lasso seems to be the best adversary for Arauz as he indicates a clearer polarization. Although it seems quite difficult, it may be possible for Lasso to consolidate a strategic alliance with Perez (covert or overt, depending on the circumstances) to reach 50% of the votes.

The next president will have to face the heritage left by Lenin Moreno: a health crisis caused by the Coronavirus pandemic and the inefficiency of his government to deal with it, an historical economic collapse that the country has not experienced in four decades (particularly with regard to unemployment and poverty) and the crisis of the state, whose credibility, legitimacy and organization were purposely collapsed by the Moreno government. If Lasso wins in April, Ecuador will be facing the deepening of this crisis and the growth of the conflict. A priori, most likely, Arauz will win over Lasso.

These are the pieces on the board. Imperialism has several options for different scenarios, configured around the anti-correista identity. Under the protection of the US embassy, this front contains neoliberalism, the oligarchy and reactionary indigenism, the liberal left, small progressive and pseudo-left groups, included liberal environmentalism and liberal feminism.

If Arauz becomes president, there will be a chance that Latin American popular progressivism will be strengthened and that a second governmental cycle for the reconstruction of the Patria Grande will be affirmed. In any case, conflict is on the horizon. The option should be the deepening of popular tendencies within the UNES front, the strengthening of the national perspective and anti-imperialism to regroup forces, face the reactionary offensive, rebuild Ecuadorian society in crisis and return to the path of a post-capitalist regional integration project.

Facundo Escobar

Facundo Escobar is an argentinian anthropologist, journalist, researcher and  International Relations and Political History Professor at National University of La Plata (UNLP), Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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May 2024