Continuity or Change!

DAYS ahead of Sunday’s keenly-contested April 2 Presidential run-off election in Ecuador, the latest popularity polls – officially the last before the elections — predicted a win for the ruling party’s left-wing candidate Lenin Moreno.

The latest figures (by pollsters Perfiles de Opinion, Diagnostico, CMS, Market and Cedatos), released nine days a head of the poll, predicted that Moreno and his vice presidential running mate, Jorge Glas of the governing Alianza Pais party, will defeat former banker and finance minister Guillermo Lasso and his running mate, Andres Paez, representing the conservative Creo-Suma alliance.

The independent polls each gave Moreno a small victory margin, leading his party to go all out for votes in the final week.

On March 16, 22 indigenous, Afro-Ecuadorean and social movement organizations publicly endorsed Moreno, who led Lasso by over 10% in the first round vote.

According to El Telegrafo newspaper, Romelio Gualán (of the national peasant organization Coordinadora Campesina Eloy Alfaro) said at the endorsement that Moreno’s platform is “closest to the proposals of the country’s neediest.”

Gisella Chalá Reinoso, coordinator for the national Afro-Ecuadorean commission, said her organization endorsed Moreno because his campaign had the “wisdom and awareness to follow advice” about how to best develop the country.

Alarming Proposal
A proposal by Lasso to privatize the small South American nation’s security forces is under heavy fire — and being likened to an earlier one that led to a major surge in paramilitary violence in Colombia.

Lasso says, “Security must be strengthened to coordinate actions between the National Police and private security companies (to) let them act with more freedom and more professionalism.”

But Daniela Pacheco, a Colombian specialist on development projects, argues that “shifting issues of security into private hands ultimately undermines public safety.”

“We are evidently facing a proposal that seeks to establish a social control mechanism, through a false idea of strengthening of democracy,” she said in an interview with the Venezuela-based Latin American news agency, teleSUR.

“Security in the hands of private entities has worked as an instrument of coercion and repression in Latin America, with the only objective of maintaining the status quo of economic and political domination of the elites,” she added.

For Pacheco, Lasso’s proposal “would ultimately legitimize violence as a tool of social control.”

“Facing such a threat,” she says, “his neoliberal platform should be cause for alarm among Ecuadorean voters.”

External Interference
Ahead of the election, Ecuador denied entry on March 5 to Venezuelan opposition figure Lilian Tintori, who had landed from Miami to campaign with Lasso, but without a valid visa.

“They are not letting me enter because they know that ‘change is coming’ to Ecuador,” she said in a video posted on her Facebook and Twitter accounts, quoting the Lasso campaign’s slogan.

Tintori’s husband Leopoldo Lopez was jailed for 14 years in 2013, for his role in violent protests that claimed the lives of 43 Venezuelans.

Shortly before her Ecuador trip, Tintori met Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Florida Senator Marco Rubio in the White House, after which she thanked the US President for “standing with the Venezuelan people”.

Since his inauguration, Trump has put Venezuela’s Vice President Tareck El Aissami on a sanctions list, while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has hinted at U.S. support for regime change in Venezuela

Vice President Lenin Moreno is confined to a wheelchair after having been shot during a robbery attempt in 1998, but his popularity always remained high. He has published ten books on issues ranging from philosophy to humor.

Now he is campaigning on Ecuador’s achievements in education during the Citizens Revolution (2006-2016) he led alongside outgoing President Rafael Correa, whose “21st Century Socialism” saw a vast improvement in the social conditions of the poor and a return to economic stability and progress.

During the past 10 years, levels of access to education and quality of schooling have soared higher than in leading European countries such as Finland.

According to the National Education University, during the ten-year Citizens Revolution, access to education increased by 30% at high school level and 59% in higher education institutions across the country.

The study details a growth of up to 97.54% in enrollment, compared to 96.78% in Finland, which is considered the world’s most successful education model.

Competitively, over the same period, Ecuador has climbed in ranked above Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Finland, Peru, Spain and the U.S. (Indeed, Ecuador rose 27 places in this ranking while all others nose-dived.

Increased investment in education saw children receive three million free books, almost two million breakfasts, plus one-and-a-half million uniforms in 2016.

Former banker Guillermo Lasso, the right wing candidate, is to the opposite of the political spectrum, promising to cut social spending and implement neoliberal policies more in line with what Correa steered it out of.

Countering the Allianza’s expanding education proposals, Lasso has proposed an education voucher system and “greater independence for educational institutions, to give parents a greater ability to choose between sending their children to public or private schools.”

Critics argue though, that his voucher proposal will privatize education and result in making quality schooling accessible only to those who can afford.

But Lasso’s problems are not about education.

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa announced March 17 that he is under legal investigation by the country’s Internal Revenue Service, SRI, for illegal activities involving his offshore companies.

The day before, Argentine investigative news agency Pagina 12 had released an in-depth report revealing Lasso’s connection to 49 companies in offshore tax havens.

The report also revealed the companies, based in Panama, the Cayman Islands and Delaware, have diverse names that conceal his identity.

Pagina 12 also revealed that between 1999 and 2000, Lasso’s fortune went up from US$1 million to US$31 million dollars — the same year former Ecuadorean President Jamil Mahuad, a close ally, dollarized the country’s economy.

The right-wing banker candidate suspectedly boosted his fortune 30-fold by speculating on government bonds ahead of the dollarization, which dumped the local Sucre and replaced the US dollar as the national currency.

The investigation presented a serious challenge to Lasso’s campaign.

Last month, Ecuador became the world’s first country to pass a law banning public officials from having assets or capital in offshore tax havens.

Public servants and elected officials now have one year to bring any offshore investments in to Ecuador, or be removed from office for violating the policy aimed at combating tax havens and increasing accountability of public officials.

Moreno is promising to continue taking Ecuador through the 21st Century Socialism of the past decade, while Lasso promises heavy doses of modern capitalism as a passport to national prosperity.

On April 2, Ecuadoreans will therefore make a choice between continuity and change.

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