What It Means To Expats In Ecuador If Rafael Correa Runs Again

President Correa, Again?

The possibility that Ecuador’s Rafael Correa may seek another presidential term is getting strong reaction not only from politicians and the media, but from Ecuador’s growing community of English-speaking foreign residents as well.

Although Correa, who is serving his second full term as president, has not committed to running again, he supports a constitutional amendment that would remove term limits and give him the option. The amendment, along with several others, was submitted to the country’s constitutional court last week by the president of the National Assembly. If the court finds no problems with the wording, the amendments will be voted on by the assembly where they are almost certain to pass. Correa’s Alianza País party has the super majority necessary to change the constitution.

Most political commentators take Correa at his word that he would prefer to leave office at the end of the current term, in 2017, no matter what the constitution says. He has said on a number of occasions that he and his Belgian-born wife plan to move to their home near Brussels, where he plans to join the faculty of a local university. The pundits say that, if a strong presidential contender from Correa’s País party emerges, he will step aside.

On the other hand, Correa is well-known for his over-sized ego and a sense of personal indispensableness. If a suitable replacement capable of winning the general election does not come forward, and if he sees a serious threat to his legacy, observers feel sure he will toss his sombrero into the ring again.

An indication that Correa is serious about finding a credible replacement is the fact that he supports another constitutional amendment that would lower the presidential-eligibility age from 35 to 30. Many believe it is intended to allow assembly president Gabriela Rivadeneira to run for president if Correa does not. Rivadeneira is 30 and is viewed by some as Correa’s heir apparent.

Although he continues to be one of Latin America’s most popular presidents, registering an approval rating in the mid-70% range in opinion polls, he and his supporters were shocked by the results of local elections in February when Alianza País candidates were defeated in key municipal and provincial elections. The mayorships of Quito, Guayaquil, and Cuenca, the country’s three largest cities, are now in the hands of opposition leaders. It was only after those election setbacks that the term limit amendment idea gained traction.

Although opinions among Ecuadorians about whether Correa should seek another term are, understandably, divided along political lines, feelings among the country’s expats are more complicated. Even expats who consider themselves conservative give the left-wing Correa high marks and are ambivalent on the question of another term.

A poll conducted by Ecuador‘s expat link GringoTree asked foreign residents who moved to the country before Correa took office in 2007 if they supported the amendment that would allow him to run again. Of the 19 long-time expats who responded, 14 said yes, although many of those had reservations. When asked if Correa has improved their lives as expats, 18 of 19 said yes.

One respondent who described himself as a libertarian said that things were “definitely” better because of Correa. “Ten years ago, the highways were full of potholes, you had to keep a generator for when the electric service went down, the campesinos were blocking the highways with protests, hospitals were in bad repair, and sometimes you had to bribe government employees to do any official business—basically, it was typical banana republic business as usual. That’s mostly all changed. Today, the main highways are good and there are no protests blocking them, hospitals are a lot better, you can get things done with the government without paying off somebody. Public services in general are better too.”

The respondent, a Cuenca expat, added: “Even though I worry that Correa is making Ecuador a ‘nanny state,’ I understand there are lots of poor, uneducated people who may need a nanny. They’ve been screwed over for years and now things are better and I’ve come to understand that it’s in my best interest if the poor folks are happy.”

One expat from Quito admitted that she has serious reservations about “life-time presidents, a la Venezuela and Nicaragua. On the other hand, I worry about someone from the ‘old guard’ being elected again and the country going back to the way it was before. There have been so many improvements and I would hate to see those stop.”

Others reported that they benefit directly from new programs introduced during the Correa administration. “My husband and I joined the new social security health plan and pay about $80 a month,” said one respondent. “We had to use the services of our local clinic two times and the services were very good. Before Correa, we always worried about what we’d do if one of us had a serious health problem. Now we don’t.”

The main complaint about Correa from several of those answering the survey was the rapid growth of government and what they considered “overreach” in some cases. “I don’t like all the government authority going to Quito and I don’t like all the socialist jargon,” said an expat from Loja who has lived in the country for 22 years. “But I also know that I need to focus on the things that are important to me personally, like property rights, taxes, personal liberties, and infrastructure. Those things are all good in Ecuador.”

He added: “I have to ask myself the question you hear in the U.S. elections, ‘Are you better off today than you were four years ago?’ Or, in the case of Ecuador, seven years ago. My answer is yes, absolutely.”

David Morrill

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