Lenín Moreno looks to chart his own course in Ecuador

Patricio Navia

Buenos Aires Herald, July 28, 2017


Despite being elected as the hand-picked successor of left-wing president Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s current leader Lenín Moreno is clearly signalling his intention to depart from his predecessor’s confrontational style. Though that is certainly good news for Ecuador, it is not clear if Moreno will also depart from the state interventionist policies that Correa championed during his 10 years in power.


Moreno became president of Ecuador in late May. After having served as Correa’s vice-president from 2007 to 2013, Moreno returned to the frontline of politics in late 2016 when he was tapped by Correa as Alianza País’ presidential candidate. Facing the term limits established by his own 2008 Constitution, Correa had toyed with the idea of reforming the law and run for re-election. Yet, in the end — and perhaps after seeing the electoral defeats suffered by other left-wing leaders in Latin America — Correa opted to accept the constitutional ban and hand-picked Moreno as his successor.


The nomination of Moreno led many to think that new times were ahead for Ecuador. The 64-year paraplegic is a more personable and far less confrontational leader than Correa. His political career has been characterised by reasonable positions and his effort to build coalitions. Unlike Correa, whose rants against the United States, the opposition and anybody who expressed dissenting opinions were polarising and divisive, Moreno is a soft-spoken, consensus-building politician.


Many others were, however, understandably concerned about what type of leader Moreno would be. After all, he was Correa’s candidate. Because Correa wanted to push forward his citizen revolution and deepen his state-centred economic roadmap, there were good reasons to think that Moreno was also committed to those principles. Otherwise, why would Correa appoint him as his successor?


Moreno’s links to the far left, including his family origin — after all, his first name is Lenín — led many observers to claim that although Moreno was more personable than Correa, he espoused the same radical views.


During the presidential election campaign, Moreno confirmed the suspicions of the latter group. His rhetoric became more aggressive and he campaigned on deepening the reforms that Correa put in place. Because the campaign quickly polarised into camps of right-wing opposition candidates and the outgoing president, Moreno took somewhat of a backseat role in the campaign while Correa actively went on the campaign trail. The outgoing leader helped turn the election into a referendum on his 10-year presidency. Moreno bet his fortunes on Ecuadoreans preferring the controversial president to the right-wing business-friendly Guillermo Lasso, the leading opposition candidate. In the end, the election was between supporting Correa — and voting for Moreno — or opposing Correa and voting for Lasso. Moreno won and Lasso cried foul, but international observers ended up legitimising the election. Correa celebrated as if it was his own victory.


Rude awakening

However, those who thought Moreno would be Rafael Correa’s puppet were in for a rude awakening. Right after Moreno was sworn in, the new president signalled that he would be his own man. Fearing treason, Correa took to social media and began threatening Moreno that the people would not stand for a reversal of his government’s policies. Correa still delivered on his promise of leaving the country and has moved, temporarily, to Belgium, his wife’s country of birth and the place where he earned a graduate degree. Yet, Correa has continued to vent his discontent at Moreno in public and has implied that changing course will be bad for Ecuador, for the Alianza País coalition and for Moreno himself.


Despite Correa’s discontent, there is little evidence that Moreno will reverse any of the former president’s policies. So far, Moreno has reached out to the opposition and has tried to establish more civility in the way the government treats opposition leaders and dissent in general. Most notoriously, Moreno visited Guayalquil, the economic powerhouse of Ecuador and a city that heavily supports the opposition. Meeting with Jaime Nebot, the longtime mayor of Guayaquil and a symbolic leader of the opposition, Moreno stroke a conciliatory note. Nabot replied by saying that the opposition would be willing to help the government adopt necessary reforms. Now, the ball is on Moreno’s park.


Given the economic hardships Ecuador has experienced, it would be sensible for Moreno to implement some market-friendly reforms to help jump-start the economy. Some fiscal discipline would be in order and tax breaks would be welcome to attract foreign investment and improve productivity. However, those reforms would surely confirm former president Correa’s suspicions that Moreno is, after all, a traitor. But if Moreno wants to be successful, he needs to implement some reforms to avoid leading the country into a full-blown recession. Correa would certainly be upset, but in the end, if Moreno is successful, Correa himself will see his legacy saved. Overcoming the difficult economic predicament with sensible and pragmatic policies would be the best thing that could happen to Ecuador and the Moreno administration — and it would also be the best that could happen to the former president’s legacy as the longest-serving democratic president in the country.