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.

Friday, October 03, 2008

PREVIEW-Ecuador's Correa seems set for referendum win

By Alonso Soto

ZUMBAHUA, Ecuador, Sept 24 (Reuters) - Popular with Ecuador's majority poor, President Rafael Correa is expected to win a referendum vote this weekend to accelerate left-wing reforms and expand his control of the oil-exporting country's economy.

Millions of Ecuadoreans will vote on Sunday on a new constitution that, if approved, will tighten Correa's grip over Congress and top courts in the volatile Andean nation.

A former finance minister, Correa took office in 2007 and is joining other Latin American leftist presidents, led by Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, in rewriting their countries' constitutions to bolster their powers.

Although more moderate than Chavez, U.S.-trained economist Correa shares his ally's determination to wrest power away from an old political class and increase spending on the poor as well as Ecuador's large Indian minority.

If he wins Sunday's vote, foreign companies will face more state scrutiny and harsher terms to extract natural resources from the mineral-rich South American country of around 13 million people.

A survey by the respected Informe Confidencial polling firm released on Wednesday showed support for the new constitution at 57 percent. Other polls show 60 percent support, above the simple 50 percent majority needed to pass the 444-article document.

The new rules would give Correa, 45, control over monetary policy and allow him to run for re-election next year and again in 2013.

They would also give him more legal backing to carry through on threats to stop paying debt the state deems "illegitimate," and to overhaul oil and mining deals.

He ejected a Brazilian construction firm from the country on Tuesday, sending troops to seize its projects, in a move popular among Ecuadoreans who blame foreign companies and elites for widespread poverty.

"Things have to change and now I'm seeing that things are changing," said Gerardo Pallo, a repairman at a brand-new government bank in the Indian village of Zumbahua where he requested a $10,000 loan to start a grain business.

In this village nestled in the Andes mountains, where Correa spent a year during his youth as a Catholic missionary, the government is showcasing social programs and refurbishing schools with computers and well-stocked cafeterias.

Even slow economic growth and high inflation have not dented the devout Catholic's popularity. His cash handouts and cheap loans are welcomed in a country used to economic turmoil where six out of 10 people are poor.


The new constitution is the center piece of the young president's promise of bringing change to a country that has lurched from one crisis to another and sent millions leaving for jobs in the United States and Europe.

The opposition, weakened by public disenchantment and Correa's popularity, says the president exploits the poor to build up dictatorial powers and wants to turn the country into a Cuban-styled socialist state.

Pollsters say Correa could fall victim of his promises to lift millions from poverty by generating too many expectations among voters known for toppling presidents.

"There is a real risk if the president doesn't fulfill the people's demands for change," said Polibio Cordova, head pollster with Cedatos-Gallup. "The public wants more jobs and lower inflation ... he has created too many expectations."

But a weak showing could hobble him and ensnare the oil-producing nation in an institutional crisis. That would force him to negotiate with the opposition and slow his reforms.

Back in the chilly village of Zumbahua, many of Correa's supporters believe a referendum win is the only way to bring change.

"He never talked about being president ... he always talked about change," said Carlos Riofrio, who befriended Correa during his stay here many years ago. "No previous government even acknowledged we were on the map before."

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