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.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Abrasive style opens new front for Ecuador's Correa

* Confrontational style eroding Correa's popularity

* Former allies now criticizing his policies

By Javier Mozzo

QUITO, Oct 23 (Reuters) - Leftist Rafael Correa was elected president on promises of curtailing the power of Ecuador's rich elites. He was not counting on having to do political battle with his poor indigenous base as well.

But the confrontational leader is coming under fire from Indian leaders and other one-time allies as he uses his regular Saturday television program to blast the growing list of those who criticize his policies and his pugnacious style.

International investors, local bankers and what he calls "corrupt and dishonest" media companies have always been among Correa's adversaries. Indigenous leaders in Ecuador's Amazon region, who have helped throw presidents out of office before, are now lining up to oppose some of his policies as well.

They say his mining reforms will allow big companies to encroach on and pollute their lands. They also say his water policies will rob local communities of control over natural resources and concentrate control in the hands of the state.

Teachers unions have taken to the streets against his performance education reform agenda.

The multi-front political battle has taken a toll on Correa's popularity, which has fallen to below 60 percent from 84 percent in the early days of his government in 2007, analysts say.

Correa needs to tone down his rhetoric or risk losing more support, said Santiago Nieto of Quito-based polling firm Informe Confidencial.

"The president has quite a confrontational style," Nieto said. "This approach is losing its efficiency in the current political environment."

On his most recent Saturday broadcast, Correa defended his style, saying he was within his right to speak directly to indigenous leaders and university professors.


Low global oil demand has hurt Ecuador's finances while many international investors shun the OPEC-member country due to the tough stance Correa has taken with the private sector and his 2008 default on $3.2 billion in foreign debt.

Growing opposition to Correa is important given Ecuador's history of toppling presidents in times of economic trouble -- its leaders have lasted less than two years in office on average over the last decade.

Correa remains one of the country's most popular presidents after two years in office. In the early stages of his presidency, many Ecuadoreans thanked him for taking on lawmakers many blamed for years of corruption and instability.

But going on the counterattack against opposition groups could prove costly for the U.S.-educated former economy minister, who is distrusted by many international oil companies for his push to renegotiate production contracts in a bid to increase government clout in the sector.

"Ecuadoreans are tired of hearing his regular Saturday attacks against the indigenous, journalists and everyone else who criticizes the regime," said Indian leader Monica Chuji in a televised interview this month.

"His attitude is arbitrary and anti-democratic," said Chuji, a former spokeswoman for Correa's government who fell out with him after an argument over indigenous rights.

He won re-election this year after pushing for a new constitution allowing more than one presidential term.

Since then the president, who is given to wearing ornate indigenous shirts beneath his suit jacket, has vowed to deepen his socialist reforms, which include setting up Cuban-style "Committees for the Defense of the Revolution".

El Comercio, a local newspaper and regular target of Correa's tirades, earlier this month said the country is at its "saturation point" with the tough-talking leader.

Newspaper columnist Julio Cesar Navas wrote last week: "Frankly, it's not very nice to have a neighbor who wants to fight every weekend." (Writing by Hugh Bronstein; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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