The people of Ecuador are rising up to refound their country as a pluri-national homeland for all. This inspiring movement, with Ecuador's indigenous peoples at its heart, is part of the revolution spreading across the Americas, laying the groundwork for a new, fairer, world. Ecuador Rising aims to bring news and analysis of events unfolding in Ecuador to english speakers.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Noboa, Correa Head To Runoff In Ecuador

16 October, 2006

Quito, Ecuador — A banana magnate who portrays himself as a friend of the poor and a young economist close to Venezuela's mercurial president, Hugo Chavez, were statistically tied after voters in this chronically unstable country cast ballots Sunday, according to exit polls. The presidential candidates now appear headed to a runoff on Nov. 26.

Exit polls after voting ended showed that Alvaro Noboa, 55, one of the wealthiest men in Latin America, had finished slightly ahead of Rafael Correa, 43, a charismatic former finance minister who has sharply criticized the Bush administration. The difference between the candidates in two exit polls, however, was fewer than 2 percentage points — a virtual dead heat.

The surveys showed that no candidate in the field of 13 came close to obtaining the 40 percent necessary to avoid a second round.

The election in this tiny, mountainous country of 13 million has attracted widespread attention beyond its borders because of the rapid rise of Correa, an economist who promises to overturn Ecuador's old economic order and calls for a constitutional assembly that could dissolve Congress.

Calling himself a friend of Chavez, who has become Washington's leading antagonist in Latin America, Correa says his government would shutter a U.S. military base in Ecuador, crack down on foreign multinationals and possibly declare a moratorium on payment of the country's $10 billion foreign debt. If he wins next month, he would join a growing list of left-leaning leaders elected since 2002.

“He's prepared, and we need someone who knows how to run things,” said Fanny Ceron, 38, a nurse, moments after casting her ballot for Correa. “We need someone who comes from the people. The others are just moneyed people. They want power. They have the money, but no ideas.”

Correa, though, would face a furious challenge from Noboa, who has spent $2.5 million on his campaign to cast himself as a populist, far more than any other candidate. At campaign rallies, Noboa gives away T-shirts, wheelchairs and even cash. He pays for mobile medical clinics run by his wife, Anabella Azin, a physician who also has political aspirations.

And his campaign ads have attacked Correa as a dangerous extremist who would align Ecuador with Venezuela and Fidel Castro's Cuba, bringing more instability to a country that has had seven presidents in a decade.

“Correa is selling hope,” said Blasco Penaherrera, a businessman and president of the Quito Chamber of Commerce who does not support Correa. “I'm sure his opponents are going to sell panic.”

Noboa surged in the past three weeks. He was a distant fourth as recently as Sept. 20, according to the Cedatos-Gallup polling firm in Quito. But Noboa, who falls to his knees before supporters invoking the word of God, quickly gained and in recent days surpassed Leon Roldos, a former vice president who had led but began a fast slide last month.

Sunday afternoon, after the televised release of exit polls, Noboa charged that Ecuador would become another Cuba under Correa. “Rafael Correa's posture is communist, dictatorial,” he said on Ecuadoran television.

The campaign has resonated with people such as Jorge Teran, 46, a technician who is fed up with how backward Ecuador is. He said he likes Noboa's plans to increase the state oil company's production and his promise to build affordable housing and create jobs. Teran also said he feels Noboa might benefit from divine intervention.

“I think he brings up God so often that he must have sensibilities in his soul,” Teran said.

Correa has appealed to Ecuadorans who are tired of a chaotic and corruption-riddled political system. Three presidents have been toppled since 1997, the last one, Lucio Gutierrez, just last year after a bloc of Congress voted him out. Fistfights are not uncommon in Congress, nor is scandal.

And even though Ecuador is the continent's second-largest exporter of oil to the United States, after Venezuela, most of its people are poor and underemployed.

“We've had lots of populists here,” said Vladimir Pena, 33, an accountant. “And what happens is they last six months, and that's it.”

He invalidated his ballot.

From The Day.

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