by Andrea L. Tapia-Hoffmann*
Rafael Correa was inaugurated as President of Ecuador in 2007. He joined forces with Chavez to promote the idea of a so-called “Socialism of the 21st Century” in Latin America. After Chavez’s death in 2013, Correa became the self-proclaimed leader of the movement. Because the new socialism has led to severe problems, it has recently lost support. Latin America is moving to the right. If a majority of Ecuadorians vote against Correa’s ruling socialists on April 2 this year, the entire project should be on its way out. The odds are good. The governments’ authoritarian behavior and the slowdown of the economy have eroded the popularity of Correa’s political party.
Ecuador is a country with a vast natural wealth and, at the same time, with high levels of poverty and a history of political instability. Under these circumstances, in 2007, the new president, Rafael Correa, inaugurated a new era that promised a progressive and egalitarian society, through a “Socialism of the 21st century”. The idea of the new socialism was created by Heinz Dieterich in 1996 and applied by Chavez since 1999. It is based on Karl Marx’s vision of social dynamics and class struggle. Correa’s government claimed to create a better society by replacing the existing constitutional order. He told Ecuadorians that installing a new constitution would be the way forward to correct the inequalities of capitalism and to provide welfare to the poorest.
In reality, the new Constitution of 2008 radically changed the structure of the state and increased the scope of power of government. The bureaucracy grew from 16 to 27 ministries. Like Chavez before him, Correa had started to build an authoritarian regime. The government took steps to guarantee majoritarian representation in the legislative branch, the control organs, the central bank and even the administration of justice. And like any “good” authoritarian leader, Correa has been particularly aggressive against opposition to ensure his power:
Proof of this is that, for instance, Guadalupe Llori (mayor of the province of Orellana) spent nine months in jail criminally charged for what really were her opinions against Correa. More proof is the constant attack against freedom of expression and media. Before Correa was in office, the Ecuadorian state ran one radio station. Today the state owns nineteen media channels, including newspapers and TV stations. In the spirit of Chavez, the president has a three-hour long TV program, which is on every Saturday. And it is hard to get around it. Private TV and radio stations also transmit the program to avoid harassment or sanctions. The twitter wars of the president and his trolls against people that disagree with him and his government are part of a grand communication and intimidation strategy of the government. Correa’s thin-skinned behavior makes Trump appear receptive and polite.
In Venezuela, government policies have led to high levels of inflation, shortages and swelling corruption. There is not even enough toilet paper. In Ecuador, political stability and increases in infrastructure spending, at first, seemed to contribute to a more favorable economic development. But after ten years of socialist rule, also in Ecuador the economy is in a terrible state. Public debt is skyrocketing, the GDP growth rate is negative for the second year in a row, and corruption (for instance in managing the public oil company) is omnipresent. The Socialism of the 21st century has proven to be the same kind of authoritarian project that disrespected human rights and reduced to ashes the economy in Cuba, the GDR, or the Soviet Union.
But there is hope. Ecuador’s presidential elections on April 2, 2017 might represent a turning point in Latin American politics. According to the polls on the potential ballotage results, the opposition candidate Guillermo Lasso should have an edge over Correa’s heir Lenin Moreno. A victory of Lasso in Ecuador should give the tumbling “Socialism of the 21st century” a major hit. Let’s hope for the better.
All eyes on Ecuador!
*Andrea L. Tapia-Hoffmann holds a law degree from Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador (PUCE). She is currently a PhD student in Law at Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg, Germany. In spring 2016, she was a visiting fellow at the Classical Liberal Institute, NYU-Law.