Why does the US care about Ecuador? How have Ecuadorian elites clawed back so much control in recent years? And what does the left need to do now to fight back?
Following the victory of a neoliberal banker in the country’s recent presidential election, Phoenix Media Co-op spoke to independent journalist and Ecuador expert Joe Emersberger to answer these questions.
US interests safe for now
Emersberger first insisted that Ecuador’s outgoing president, Lenín Moreno, was “pro-US, pro-banker, pro-local elites”. But the 2021 election threatened to end this project.
With the election of some centre-left governments elsewhere in Latin America in recent years, there seemed to be a sort of comeback against growing gains for the right. This situation, Emersberger stressed, was “a big deal for Washington”, which has long fought to weaken the region’s left. So if the left managed to return to power in Ecuador in 2021, he said:
It would’ve been another sign of momentum. It would’ve given a boost to the entire left regionally.
That’s why a win for the right in Ecuador was important for the US.
“Right-wing fanatic” Guillermo Lasso’s electoral victory, however, meant Washington could breathe a sigh of relief. As Emersberger insisted:
He’ll follow through with austerity. And he’ll follow through with privatising as much as he can.
He added, referring to Lasso’s team:
But they’re so confident in their media dominance that I think they’ll just assume that’ll allow them to pull all these things off.
Where the left could improve
Some commentators have suggested that the Indigenous vote was a key player in 2021’s election. And Emersberger touched on the tensions between some Indigenous Ecuadorians and the left-leaning government of Rafael Correa between 2007 and 2017. But regarding Indigenous support for Correa ally Andrés Arauz in 2021, Emersberger stressed:
Correa had his supporters within the movement; I don’t think there’s been that much change there.
For Emersberger, the outcome of the 2021 election had more to do with the persecution of the left since 2017.
Emersberger did mention, however, that “Arauz wasn’t wrong to try to repair relations… with some Indigenous leaders”. And he used the example of Bolivia to highlight one weakness of the mainstream left in Ecuador, saying:
One of the reasons [the ruling left-wing party] MAS in Bolivia was able to survive the coup was they had this very democratic structure, very grassroots-based/organised party. Correa never had anything like that. It was very much top-down… Correa was the key leader.
This dynamic meant that, “when you take the leader out in some way, then that movement struggles much more”.
Emersberger also touched on how Correa had “built… a lot of public media outlets” while in power. These, he said, really helped the left to resist elite attacks. But in 2021, this environment no longer existed. And that left Arauz struggling to get across the messages he wanted to focus on in 2021.
While there are a number of ways Ecuador’s left could improve going forwards, Emersberger stressed the importance of messaging. For him:
They have to find a way to push back against the vilification and the… discrediting of their movement over the last four years
Main article image via Yamil Salinas Martínez