-OpEd-

SANTIAGO — A hike in fuel prices proved to be the straw that broke the camel's back in Ecuador. But the root of the problem is President Lenín Moreno's 180-degree shift to the right.

Rather than follow through with his promised policy agenda, Moreno, who was vice-president under leftist leader Rafael Correa (2007-2017), opted to heed the demands of the country's major economic interests.

While pardoning some $4.5 billions' worth of unpaid taxes to big corporate firms, he signed a deal worth $4.2 billion with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to balance the budget. And as tends to happen with IMF deals, it was clearly anti-popular, and unpopular, involving higher sales taxes, privatization of strategic sectors, loosening of labor laws and downsizing the state with dismissals of civil servants. It also meant an end to fuel subsidies.

President Moreno's decisions are clearly designed to protect the interests of the business world, while requiring ordinary folk to help the state along the way.

The state of emergency and curfew have done little to curb this revolt.

The protests that swept the country starting Oct. 3 were thus unrelated to any subversive movement supposedly orchestrated by ex-president Correa, Moreno's predecessor. They were the response to the paquetazo — the "raw deal" that attacked the weak to help the rich.

Moreno seemed to have ignored the lesson of Argentina, where Mauricio Macri is likely to lose the presidency soon because of his austerity push. History repeats itself and, as in Argentina, the vast majority of people reject the IMF deal and especially the irresponsible rise in fuel prices.

The protests forced Moreno to leave the presidential palace and take refuge in the port city of Guayaquil. Workers and indigenous Ecuadorans took to the streets of the capital Quito, though their protests extended well beyond. The state of emergency and curfew did little to curb this revolt.

President Lenin Moreno in Quito — Photo: Agencia de Noticias ANDES

One should recall that Moreno barely won the last presidential elections against a right-wing contender, the banker Guillermo Lasso. Yet the Alianza País, the party that allowed him to win, obtained a comfortable majority in parliament that assured Moreno the ability to rule. There seemed to be no doubts about the continuation of the Citizens Revolution begun in 2007 by Correa.

Yet Moreno chose betrayal. Counseled by bankers, media bosses, the Social Christian politician Jaime Nebot and former president Abdalá Bucaram (whom parliament declared insane in 1997), Moreno turned his back on policies that had assured stability and growth under Correa.

He has also renounced a decade of policies of international sovereignty that marked the Correa presidency. Recent agreements with the United States include negotiating a free-trade treaty and ignoring Ecuadoran court decisions against the oil company Chevron for polluting the Amazon.

On Venezuela, Ecuador has adopted the U.S. government line and joined the states that recognize the opposition chief Juan Guaidó as 'acting president.' Finally and perhaps worst of all was his decision to hand Julian Assange over to British authorities. This deplorable decision was in response to British interests and above all those of the United States, which is after the WikiLeaks founder for revealing loads of compromising information about U.S. government action.

So after a decade of Ecuador keeping its distance, Moreno has brought the country back into the orbit of U.S. geopolitical, economic and military interests.

On Venezuela, Ecuador has adopted the U.S. government line.

At home, his government has sought to win political points by mixing a campaign against corruption with a bid to remove Correa's allies from positions of power. Zero tolerance for corruption is certainly admirable, but only if not infected with political objectives.

Unfortunately, Moreno has pointed this intolerance straight at Correa and his former officials, ignoring meanwhile the corruption of preceding governments, of districts run by right-wing councilors, businessmen who hide money in tax havens and those who defraud customs.

Lenín Moreno is not to be trusted. He betrayed Correa and his movement as soon as he entered the presidential palace. He has not enacted the program he promised the country, siding instead with big business, corporate media and the United States. He has turned Correa into his principal enemy, accusing him of serious (and highly disputable) acts of corruption. And finally, he has forged a domestic alliance with the Right, and in particular with Lasso, the man he defeated at the polls, in order to make his IMF deal feasible.


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