A young left-wing economist, Andres Aruaz, is favourite to win Ecuador’s presidential election later this month, in what would be the latest victory for progressives in Latin America after elections in Mexico, Argentina and Bolivia in recent years.
But with a left victory likely, there are growing concerns that elites in Ecuador and abroad are conspiring to sabotage the electoral process. This has become an all too common response of the Latin American right-wing to progressive victories.
In Bolivia, when socialist Evo Morales was elected in 2019, a military coup ousted him after exploiting trumped-up charges of fraud that were later found to be wholly false.
In Brazil, former left-wing President, Lula Da Silva, was favourite to win the 2018 election before being jailed on fake corruption charges. The full sordid details of the judicial witch-hunt against Lula are now public record and last month a court found Lula innocent.
Ecuador’s left is already being targeted by similar threats. After Andres Arauz comfortably won the first round of the Presidential election in February, the third-placed candidate backed a call to overturn the results and for Ecuador’s military to intervene to prevent a left victory.
But perhaps the most serious attempt to prevent an Arauz victory, or to remove him as president if elected, is one that uses the kind of politicised judiciary seen in Brazil and known as “lawfare”.
Ecuador’s Attorney General is now working hand-in-glove with the Colombian authorities over bizarre claims that Andres Arauz received tens of thousands of dollars from a Combian armed group involved in that country’s decades long civil war.
The fake news first unsurprisingly originated in a right-wing Colombian newspaper. Colombia has long been the region’s main bulwark against progressive forces, and the recipient of vast US military aid over many years despite its widespread human rights violations, including the murder of many trade union leaders.
The evidence against Andres Arauz soon fell apart after being exposed to the most basic of scrutiny. Nonetheless, just as with Lula in Brazil, the actual evidence becomes a secondary matter for the elites. The goal is political and has nothing to do with the pursuing justice.
With just days to go until Ecuador’s election on 11 April, it may be too late for these fabricated allegations to prevent an Aruaz victory, given he has a double digit poll lead. But they could be used to oust him from office later.
A victory in Ecuador for the left would be a huge boost for progressives across the continent. Andrez Araus is standing on a progresive programme of tackling inequality and poverty, big social and public investment and even free internet access similar to that offered by Jeremy Cobyn in Labour’s last manifesto.
Ecuador was one of the countries at the heart of Latin America’s wave of left-wing government that emerged from the turn of this century. It’s then president, Rafael Correa, was one of the region’s most progressive leaders alongside Hugo Chavez, Lula in Brazil and Evo Morales in Bolivia all of whom tackled the continent’s high poverty rates.
Under Rafael Correa, Ecuador significantly reduced inequality, nationalised oil resources to fund huge increases in public investment, cancelled foreign debts that had directed vast sums away from public services, made the wealthy pay their taxes, kicked out the region’s largest US military base and gave asylum to Julian Assange. Andres Arauz, despite still only being 36 years old, served in Correa’s government including as a progressive education minister.
After Correa left office in 2017, his successor carried out a raft of deeply unpopular neo-liberal policies reversing this progressive change. Faced with growing opposition, including a mass uprising in 2019 after the government imposed an IMF-backed austerity package, the Ecuadorian elite has clamped down on democratic freedoms.
Progressive politicians have faced widespread persecution. Many of the key leaders of the decade of successful left-wing government have been jailed on trumped-up charges or forced into exile fearing they would be. Rafael Correa himself was targeted with dozens of phoney criminal charges that prevent him returning to Ecuador. The constitution was also changed to prevent him from running for president again and when he was chosen as Arauz’s vice-presidential candidate, phoney corruption charges were used to exclude him.
This political persecution is just part of a much wider attack on democratic and civil rights. Last month, Ecuador’s Human Rights Ombudsman found that a government clampdown against social movements opposing austerity could amount to crimes against humanity after people were killed, seriously injured, maimed and sexually assaulted by state forces.
So the threats to Ecuador’s coming election and its wider democracy are very real.
A group of left-wing Labour MPs have signed a parliamentary motion calling for the Ecuadorian people to be able to determine their own future through free and fair elections on 11 April and without any external intervention or undermining of the electoral process.