Leftist president takes office in Ecuador | VailDaily.com
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Leftist president takes office in Ecuador

QUITO, Ecuador – Rafael Correa vowed to put Ecuador’s poor ahead of foreign debt payments as he was sworn in as president on Monday, raising a sword given to him by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez in a ceremony attended by members of the growing club of leftist Latin American leaders.Correa, a charismatic political outsider who won a November runoff election, said he would work for an “economic revolution” in Ecuador that would emphasize the renegotiating of foreign debt, “paying only what we can after attending to the needs of the poor.”His remarks drew applause from several U.S. antagonists who attended the ceremony – Chavez, Bolivian President Evo Morales and Iran’s hardline leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – as well as from Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and more moderate left-leaning leaders from Brazil, Chile, Peru.Correa, who has a doctorate in economics from the University of Illinois, said the free-market policies promoted by Washington since the 1980s have failed to help Ecuador develop. He said some of the loans arranged by previous governments had been lost to corruption, and an international tribunal should be set up to decide what debt should be repaid.During the campaign last fall, Correa threatened to cut ties with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and said he would not rule out a moratorium on foreign debt payments unless foreign bondholders agree to lower Ecuador’s debt service by half.He said in September that Ecuador cannot afford its current $2 billion debt service, representing 7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. “Ecuador cannot pay more than 3 percent,” he said at the time.He did not mention the possibility of a debt moratorium in his speech Monday.A debt renegotiation wouldn’t harm Ecuador’s economy, but a moratorium would, said Michael Shifter, a Latin America analyst at the Inter-American Dialogue research group in Washington. “If he goes ahead with it (a moratorium), I don’t think it’s going to help Ecuador’s economy. I think it’s certainly going to give the jitters to Wall Street and the financial community,” Shifter said.Following Correa’s election in the fall, Ecuador’s bonds were hammered on Wall Street because of concerns over his policies.Correa has also rejected a free trade pact with the U.S., saying it would hurt Ecuador’s farmers. And he has said he will not extend the U.S. military’s use of the Manta air base on the Pacific coast for drug surveillance flights when a treaty expires in 2009.U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who represented the U.S. at the inauguration, said Washington respected Correa’s decision to reject the free trade agreement, but hoped to continue “collaboration on matters of mutual interest in the future.”Keeping his campaign promise, Correa issued a decree Monday calling for Ecuadoreans to vote March 18 in a national referendum on the need for a special assembly to rewrite the constitution. He says the measure is necessary to limit the power of Ecuador’s traditional parties, which he blames for the country’s problems.His plans for a constitutional assembly could put him on a collision course with Congress, which is dominated by Ecuador’s traditional parties. Lawmakers have dismissed the last three elected presidents after huge street protests demanding their ousters.Strapping on the red, yellow and blue presidential sash and smiling broadly as he waved to cheering supporters in the galleries of Congress, Correa complained Monday that Ecuador has “a perverse system that has destroyed our democracy, our economy and our society.”Accepting Chavez’s gift of a replica of liberation hero Simon Bolivar’s sword, Correa addressed the gathered leaders and said they all now share a new responsibility: “The people won’t forgive us if we don’t advance the integration of our America,” he said.Correa, 43, becomes the eighth president in the last decade in a nation marked by chronic political instability since it returned to democracy in 1979.He said a new constitution is vital to limiting the power of the traditional parties, which he accuses of defending their own interests rather than the interests of the people.”We seek a profound transformation. Our leadership has failed. We want a democracy where our voice is heard, where our representatives understand that they are there to serve us,” said Correa, who wore a dark suit with no tie over a white shirt embroidered with Indian motifs.Referring to Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of a United States free of racial discrimination, Correa said, “My dream … is to see a country without extreme poverty, without children begging in the streets, a nation without opulence but dignified and happy.”Correa’s view that Ecuador’s democratic system benefits parties, not people, attracted voters disgusted with the corruption and greed of the political elite. More than 60 percent of Ecuadoreans live in poverty.But some Ecuadoreans worry that Correa’s real goal is to consolidate political power in the presidency as Chavez and Morales have done. They say he has shown early signs of not respecting the opinions of his political opponents, even moderate ones.”He is leaving no room to negotiate, to reach an understanding,” said Benjamin Ortiz, head of a Quito think tank. “He wants to steamroll over everyone.”


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