Meet Rafael Correa…the Ecuadorian come-from-behind candidate who’s got Washington majorly rattled:
Rafael Correa’s surge in the polls from a distant third a month ago to first place caused investors to dump Ecuadorean bonds last week amid fears the former economy minister would move the South American nation into a leftist alliance with Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia.
Both U.S. officials and Chavez — apparently wary of tilting the race with ill-advised comments — have been studiously silent about the rise of the 43-year-old Correa, who last month called President Bush a “tremendously dimwitted” president and vowed to oppose trade talks with Washington.
“There’s no way of denying that a Correa victory in the second round would be a very significant assault against Washington’s Latin American policy,” said Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington. “And it would certainly bring in a new recruit for the Chavez bloc at a time when that bloc very much needs one.”
Correa’s candidacy follows that of other Chavez allies, including President Evo Morales of Bolivia, elected last year on a platform of opposing U.S.-backed anti-drug efforts in the region, and Ollanta Humala, the nationalist who came close to winning Peru’s presidency this year.
Birns said the Bush administration doesn’t want to “slam the door in Correa’s face,” or inadvertently help his candidacy with a response that might fuel already strong anti-U.S. sentiment.
For his part, Chavez could hurt Correa’s campaign by openly backing him. Chavez has been accused of meddling in elections this year in Peru, Mexico and Nicaragua, and “his backing can be the kiss of death to a candidate,” Birns said.
That was the case with Peru’s Humala, who won the most votes earlier this year in the first round, but was handily defeated in the June runoff by center-left President Alan Garcia, who adroitly painted his rival as a radical Chavez pawn.
Correa, who has a Ph.D in economics from the University of Illinois, opposes resuming stalled free-trade talks with Washington and says he would not extend a treaty scheduled to expire in 2009 that lets the U.S. military use the Manta air base for drug surveillance flights.
He also wants to cut ties to international lending institutions, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and has threatened a moratorium on foreign debt payments unless foreign bondholders agree to lower Ecuador’s debt service by half.
University of Illinois economics professor Werner Baer, who was on the committee that approved Correa’s doctorate, told The Associated Press last month that his former pupil’s anti-U.S. spiel was probably a ploy to get votes.
“I doubt that he would be virulently anti-American like Chavez,” Baer said, predicting Correa would likely follow the more moderate lead of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil.
Vote-getting ploy or not, I think it’s an economically sound move to get the World Bank and the IMF off Ecuador’s neck. By now it should be common knowledge that those two institutions poison everything they touch. Every country they’ve offered to “help”, ended up ruined beyond recognition. Only those who’ve sent them packing have managed to thrive. And those who’ve stood up to them have gained respect. Just look at Chavecito; he practically wrote the book on it.
As for Chavecito being “virulently anti-American”, he only seems that way if your idea of “American” equates to Washington ruling the world with an iron fist full of blood-stained dollars. To anyone who’s been paying proper attention, though, he’s shown quite clearly that his animus is not with the people of the United States, but with the undemocratically selected fools in charge. He stands up to them and calls them by their right names. Nothing wrong with that. Hell, even his abrasive way of doing so has actually gained more approval than not, if you ask around outside the corridors of toadying-to-power of Washington…
And if Ecuadorians decide that they’d rather have an intelligent young Chavecito-type who can accurately peg Dubya for what he is, than a truly dictatorial far-right relic like this one, well–who is anyone in Washington to boss them around anymore?