By Mary Anastasia O’Grady
With all eyes on the Gaza Strip and Israel last week, some good international news out of South America deserves attention: In Ecuador’s runoff presidential election, center-right candidate Daniel Noboa emerged victorious. In a country with weak institutions that has been battered by narco-trafficking, this is a triumph for democracy and U.S. security interests.
Ecuador is desperately trying to contain a spike in violence driven by heavily armed cartels. The U.S. war on drugs is a failure because the American user epidemic is a demand problem; bottling up supply is a lost cause. But a small country like Ecuador, caught in the crossfire, has little choice but to team up with the U.S. against criminal gangs operating with impunity.
During a visit to Washington in September, Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso reportedly agreed to new U.S. military assistance to help patrol land and sea drug-trafficking routes in the country. If Mr. Noboa adopts that agreement, Ecuador is expected to continue calling on U.S. surveillance capabilities.
Mr. Noboa faced off against Luisa González, of the socialist Citizen Revolution Movement, the party of former authoritarian leftist President Rafael Correa. Mr. Correa ruled Ecuador with an iron fist for 10 years (2007-17), and Ms. González, who is a lawyer, worked for his administration. In the race for president, she was widely viewed as a Correa puppet.
This is the second consecutive Ecuadorean presidential contest in which voters rejected the politics of caudillo Correa in favor a more democratically minded candidate. In the runoff campaign, Ms. González narrowed her polling deficit by toning down her relationship with Mr. Correa. But she was unable to catch Mr. Noboa, who won 52% of the vote to her 48%.
The outcome suggests an aversion to dictatorship, even during a wave of criminal mayhem that has made Ecuador one of the region’s most dangerous countries. In 2022 the murder rate was around 26 per 100,000 inhabitants, up from less than 6 per 100,000 in 2018. Violent crime has exploded in Guayaquil. In August, presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was gunned down leaving a political rally in Quito. He hadn’t been a favorite to win the election but had made a name for himself first as an investigative reporter and later as a politician fighting corruption. Mr. Correa was one of his many targets.
The decade of Correa rule was hard on Ecuadorean democrats. Like Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, he rewrote the constitution, consolidated power in the executive branch, heavily indebted the country to China, and used his office to jail media critics or ruin them financially.
Ecuadoreans feared they might never get rid of him. But in 2017, obeying term limits, he stepped aside to let his former vice president, Lenín Moreno, run for office. Mr. Moreno won and many—including yours truly—expected him to do Mr. Correa’s bidding from the presidential palace. Once in office Mr. Moreno surprised supporters and critics by distancing himself from Mr. Correa and the former president’s political apparatus. He moved to the right on fiscal and economic policies. He also threw off the anti-Americanism of Mr. Correa, re-engaged with the U.S. on security matters, and took Ecuador out of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas.
Mr. Moreno left office unpopular, but he had broken the correista stranglehold on power. In 2021 Mr. Lasso defeated Correa candidate Andrés Arauz in a runoff.
Mr. Lasso’s pro-market credentials raised hopes that the reforms necessary to make the dollarized economy hum might materialize. But that hasn’t happened. He doesn’t control Congress. It dug in its heels against his agenda aimed at fiscal balance and a more open economy. The opposition went beyond blocking his initiatives. It got up a posse inside the chamber to impeach the former Guayaquil banker.
When Mr. Lasso realized that his opponents in Congress had the votes to remove him, he invoked a constitutional tool known as “mutual death.” It allows a president threatened with impeachment to close the legislature and rule by decree—with oversight by the constitutional court—until a new president and Congress are elected and sworn in.
Mr. Lasso chose not to run again, which brings us to Mr. Noboa, who will be inaugurated on Nov. 25 and will serve out Mr. Lasso’s term until 2025. By the middle of next year he’s expected to be in campaign mode again.
Mr. Correa now lives in Belgium. In 2020 an Ecuadorean court sentenced him in absentia to eight years in prison for bribery. But he remains politically active and by all appearances wants to return to power.
He might succeed but first he has to get a proxy back in the presidency who is willing to pardon him and strong enough to influence the courts. His party’s defeat at the polls last week suggests the nation, for now anyway, is pinning its hopes instead on the promise of democratic capitalism and the rule of law with the U.S. as an ally.
Write to O’Grady@wsj.com.
Mary Anastasia O’Grady is an Opinion Columnist, writes “The Americas,” a weekly column on politics, economics and business in Latin America and Canada that appears every Monday in the Journal. Ms. O’Grady joined the paper in August 1995 and became a senior editorial page writer in December 1999. She was appointed an editorial board member in November 2005. She is also a member of the board of directors of the Indianapolis-based Liberty Fund. Energiesnet.com does not necessarily share these views.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally on the WSJ, October 23, 2023, print edition. All comments posted and published on EnergiesNet or Petroleumworld, do not reflect either for or against the opinion expressed in the comment as an endorsement of EnergiesNet or Petroleumworld.
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EnergiesNet.com 10 23 2023