President of Ecuador
B orn Rafael Correa Delgado, April 6, 1963, in Guayaquil, Ecuador; married Anne Malherbe. Education: Economics degree, Catholic University of Santiago de Guayaquil, 1987; master of arts in economics, Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium), 1991; master of science in economics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1999; doctorate in economics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2001.
Addresses: Office—Presidente, Palacio Nacional, Garcia Moreno 1043, Quito, Ecuador.
I ndustrial specialist for the Center of Industrial Development of Ecuador, 1984-87; volunteer for a rural development mission in Sumbahua, Ecuador, 1987-88; financial director and associate professor of economics at the Catholic University of Santiago de Guayaquil, 1988-89; administrative director of finance for educational projects in Ecuador, Inter-American Development Bank, 1992-93; associate professor of economics at the Catholic University of Santiago de Guayaquil, 1992-93; economics professor, University of San Francisco in Quito, 1993-97, 2001-05; Ecuadorian finance minister, 2005; elected president of Ecuador, 2006; sworn in as president, 2007.
R afael Correa, who was sworn in as president of Ecuador in January of 2007, is one of many South American leaders elected in the 2000s on a
platform of left-wing, populist politics. Though he is an economist who earned his doctorate in the United States, he opposes the U.S.led “Washington consensus,” which advocates free markets, international free trade, and strict repayment schedules for developing countries’ international debt. When Cor-rea took office, Ecuador, a small, mountainous country of 13 million people, had gone ten years without a president serving a full term. Correa promised a change in the country’s troubled politics, and 80 percent of the country voted in favor of his proposal to have the constitution rewritten. But the referendum sparked a power struggle between Correa, the National Congress, and two courts. As the country prepared to rewrite its constitution, observers were watching whether Correa would use the process to amass more power, as other populist South American leaders have.
Correa was born in Guayaquil, on the coast of Ecuador. He grew up in a modest home; his mother worked as a manager for a supermarket chain. His father spent three years in prison for smuggling drugs (a fact that was not publicly revealed until Correa was president). Correa attended Catholic schools, including the Catholic university in his hometown, which helped shape his sympathy for the poor. After college, he volunteered on a rural development mission. After a year working as a fi- nancial manager and instructor at his alma mater, he moved to Belgium to study economics at a Catholic university there. While in Belgium, he met his future wife, Anne Malherbe. After earning a master’s degree, he returned to Ecuador, worked briefly for the Inter-American Development Bank, and taught economics at a university in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito. He spent four years in the United States, earning a doctorate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he often challenged the economic doctrine of free trade and free markets. His thesis studied globalization’s effects on development and poverty. He returned to Ecuador in 2001 and resumed teaching economics there.
In April of 2005, Correa was named Ecuador’s finance minister. He declared that instead of using an oil fund to make payments on Ecuador’s international debt, he would use it on an anti-poverty program. He also established ties with the radical Venezuelan government and denounced the World Bank. That put him in conflict with Ecuador’s President, Alfredo Palacio. Less than four months after joining the government, Correa was forced to resign.
Correa ran for president of Ecuador in 2006, a bold decision, since the troubled, tumultuous country had gone through eight presidents in ten years, none of them remaining in office for a full term. Correa vowed to oppose multinational corporations that he said had left Ecuador in poverty. He also attacked Ecuador’s ruling political class as corrupt, promising to convene a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution and possibly dissolve the National Congress. At rallies, playing off the fact that “correa” means “belt” in Spanish, he would take a belt, beat it on a car, and say he would administer a beating to those companies and politicians. “The belt is coming for all those political classes,” he declared, according to Juan Forero of the Washington Post.
Though Correa said he wanted good relations with the United States, he vowed to end stalled trade talks with that country, arguing that a free trade agreement would be bad for Ecuador. He also said he would not renew a lease on a U.S. military base in Ecuador when it expired in 2009. He promised to cut Ecuador’s ties to international lending organizations such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and he said that if international lenders did not cut the payments on Ecuador’s $10 billion debt in half, he would stop paying.
Correa pledged to forge closer diplomatic ties with the radical president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, a dedicated foe of United States foreign policy. After Chavez gave a fiery speech at the United Nations, calling U.S. President George W. Bush the devil, Correa went further. Calling Bush the devil would offend the devil, Correa said, because Bush was dimwitted and had damaged his own country. “Hugo Chavez is a friend of mine,” Correa told reporters, according the Washington Post’s Forero. “We are part of the trend that is cutting throughout Latin America,” he added. “We are looking for a united Latin America that can confront a globalization that is inhumane and cruel.”
Ecuadorians, disappointed that market reforms and conventional politicians had not cured their country’s economic ills, rallied around Correa. In about a month in the fall of 2006, he rose from third place to first in the polls. Observers debated whether, if elected, he would follow a radical nationalist and socialist path similar to Chavez, or whether, despite his rhetoric, he would pursue a center-left mix of free-market economic strategies and government anti-poverty programs similar to those of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Correa took second place in the first round of voting in October of 2006, with 23 percent of the vote, behind banana company owner Alvaro Noboa, the richest man in Ecuador. On election night, Noboa argued that Correa wanted to turn Ecuador into another Cuba. “Rafael Correa’s posture is communist, dictatorial,” he charged, according to the Washington Post’s Forero. Perhaps to allay such fears, Correa toned down his rhetoric during the runoff campaign and focused more on promising housing programs and small grant programs for the poor. He won the November runoff easily.
At his inauguration in January of 2007, Correa held up a sword that Chavez gave him and promised to work for an “economic revolution,” according to the Chicago Tribune. He said he would try to renego-tiate Ecuador’s international debt. Ecuador would put the needs of its poor first, he said, and only make whatever debt payments it could after that.
Immediately after taking office, Correa issued a declaration calling for a referendum to approve forming a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution. Correa argued it was a way to fight corruption in the political system, but critics accused him of trying to bypass the National Congress and acquire more power. The Congress voted to approve the referendum, but Correa later rewrote the referendum language, triggering an intense political crisis. On one side were Correa and a major ity of the judges on the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which approved the referendum’s new language. On the other side were a majority of the National Congress and the Supreme Court. Congress voted to impeach the tribunal judges, arguing that the rewrite of the referendum language was unconstitutional, and the tribunal responded by firing the 57 lawmakers that had voted for impeachment. Correa sided with the judges, police surrounded the National Congress to keep the opposition lawmakers out, and new lawmakers were appointed. The Supreme Court ordered the fired lawmakers reinstated, but the Congress, which included the fired congresspeople’s replacements, fired the Supreme Court judges. In April, Ecuadorians approved the referendum by more than 80 percent of the vote.
Meanwhile, Correa quickly doubled cash payments to the poor to $30 a month, increased housing subsidies for the poor, and gave out $350 “microcredit” grants. He also increased education and health spending. Despite his ambivalence about paying Ecuador’s debt, he issued a $135 million payment in February of 2007. But in April, he asked the local representative of the World Bank to leave Ecuador, as retaliation for the bank’s denial of a $100 million loan to the country while Correa was finance minister. Correa also said that Ecuador had paid off its debt to the International Monetary Fund and would sever its ties to the fund.
In May, Correa announced he would form a truth commission to look into allegations that government forces had committed human rights abuses in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, especially during the term of right-wing president Leon Febres Cordero in the 1980s. In July, Correa and the National Congress clashed again. The Congress voted down his bill that would have given the government more control over banks. Correa accused several lawmak-ers of corruption, saying that some had accepted bribes to oppose his bill and that others had asked members of his government for jobs in exchange for their votes.
In August, he reiterated that he would not renew the United States’ lease on an air base in Ecuador when it expires in 2009. The United States uses the base for surveillance planes that search for drug smuggling activity across South America. Correa suggested that the surveillance planes should move to Colombia.
As fall 2007 arrived, Correa’s conflicts with other political factions in Ecuador were headed toward a climax. Elections to choose the constituent assembly were scheduled for September 30. “Ecuador needs a second independence,” Correa said in August, according to the Angus Reid Global Monitor. “We need to separate ourselves from the corruption.” Once elected, the assembly was to have until spring of 2008 to write a new constitution, which would have to be approved by the voters. Meanwhile, the truth commission report was also due in the first half of 2008.
La Vulnerabilidad de la Economia Ecuatoriana (The Vulnerability of the Ecuadorian Economy), United Nations Development Program, 2004.
Chicago Tribune, September 28, 2006, sec. News, p. 16; October 13, 2006, sec. Business, p. 3; January 16, 2007, sec. News, p. 7; May 5, 2007, sec. News, p. 12; August 12, 2007, sec. News, p. 24.
Economist, April 19, 2007.
New York Times, November 28, 2006, p. A3; January 16, 2007, p. A4.
Washington Post, October 15, 2006, p. A15; October 16, 2006, p. A15; November 26, 2006, p. A15; March 9, 2007, p. A15; April 16, 2007, p. A14; April 24, 2007, p. A18; April 27, 2007, p. D5; July 8, 2007, p. A16.
“Ecuador calls for honest constituent assembly,” Angus Reid Global Monitor.http://www.angus-reid.com/polls/index.cfm/fuseaction/viewItem/itemID/16872 (August 18, 2007).
“Ecuador’s Congress sacks judges,” BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/6590245.stm (August 18, 2007).
“Ecuador Referendum Row Escalates,” BBC News, news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/6429191.stm (August 18, 2007).
“Presidencia de la Republica: Presidente,” National Government of the Republic of Ecuador, http://www.presidencia.gov.ec/modulos.asp?id=192 (August 18, 2007).
“Profile: Ecuador’s Rafael Correa,” BBC News, news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/6187364.stm (August 18, 2007).