Indigenous candidate upsets Ecuador elections
Ecuador is heading to a run-off presidential race in April after leftist candidate Andrés Arauz of the Union of Hope (UNES) coalition won a first-round victory Feb. 7, following years of economic austerity made more painful by the pandemic. However, in a surprise development, his rival leftist Yaku Pérez Guartambel of the indigenous-based Pachakutik party emerged neck-to-neck with conservative banker Guillermo Lasso of the right-wing Creating Opportunities (CREO) party. The vote is still too close to call which challenger Arauz will face in the April run-off. (The Guardian, Al Jazeera, CNN, El Comercio, LexLatin)
There is a sense of deja vu here. Arauz is considered the protege of the exiled ex-president Rafael Correa, who has maintained some left-populist credibility despite his embroilment in the Odebrecht scandal. When the incumbent Lenín Moreno came to power four years ago, he was similarly perceived as Correa's chosen successor, having served as his vice preisdent. UNES split from Correa's former vehicle, the Alianza PAIS, as it tilted right under Moreno's leadership.
The governments of both Correa and Moreno have been challenged by Ecuador's powerful indigenous movement, of which Yaku Pérez has been a prominent leader. Recently elected as prefect of Azuay province, he was longtime leader of the Kichwa Confederation of Ecuador (ECUARUNARI). He recently changed his given name from Carlos to Yaku, which means "water" in the Kichwa language, to honor the indigenous struggle to protect Ecuador's water resources from extractivism.
The indigenous movement had also been an early supporter of Correa, but broke with him over his embrace of an economic model based on resource extraction—if this time offering favorable terms to China rather than the US, but still enforced through repression. In the 2017 election, Pérez actually supported Lasso over Moreno, saying, "We prefer a banker rather than a dictatorship that has stripped us of our territories, declared a state of emergency and locked us up in jail."
Reflecting the current division on Ecuador's left, People's Dispatch, supporting Arauz, writes that Pérez's "political views fuse ultra-leftist, anarchistic critiques of existing left-wing states with an objectively right-wing political agenda." Pérez is called out for saying he "would not think twice" about signing a trade deal with the United States. However, in the original source—an interview last month with Guayaquil's El Universo—he actually said "would not think twice" about a trade deal with the US "if [it] favored the majority" in Ecuador. "It is not a bad idea per se, it depends on the clauses," he added. Now, there's a good case that Pérez should be called out for this statement, but it should be done honestly.
In an interview with Ecuador's anarchist-oriented Revista Crisis, Pérez portrays CREO, UNES and PAIS alike as parties of the right: "Neoliberalism is advancing, the right has not lost currency. The right has been [in power] since Correa, despite the fact that he disguised himself as a leftist. There is also a resurgence of the left; Pachakutik is configured within this line, but not within an orthodox fundamentalist line, but open... The hope...is truly placed on Pachakutik, because there is no other political movement or party of the left with social and political force at this moment... Socialism is practically non-existent."