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.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ecuador's Correa Starts Year Facing Widespread Protests

QUITO (Dow Jones)--President Rafael Correa begins his fourth year in office facing widespread discontent and protests against his policies.

Correa, a left-leaning economist, came to office early in 2007 with plans to shake up Ecuador's economy and political structure.

That has led to steady confrontations, and the president now faces a backlash from various sectors, including from powerful indigenous groups who protested last year over water use and the development of mining projects.

This year, the groups have announced more protests and blockades of highways, in part in protest against the government-ordered closing of Arutam, a local radio station operated by the Shuar native group--showing how much Correa's support has slipped among his former allies.

Teachers, representatives from the transportation sector, students and public sector workers have also announced protests for a variety of reasons, including union demands for an increase in the minimum monthly salary to at least $320 from the current level of $240.

The protests could signal a year of tension and social conflicts and are expected to show how much Correa's support has slipped among his former allies.

Correa started a four-year term in 2007. However, after a constitutional change he was elected again last year and could now stay in office until 2017 if he wins re-election in 2013.

However, Correa's high popularity levels are slipping.

Pollster Cedatos-Gallup International said that Correa's approval level fell to 41% in January, from 73% soon after he took office in 2007.

"The president still has strong support, but there are clear signs of a decrease among his supporters, especially from the middle class," said Simon Pachano, a professor of Political Sciences with the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Quito. "We can also see a loss of control over the legislative majority, which will be a problem in the future."

Recently, Correa said opposition groups are conspiring against his government and attempting to destabilize it, adding that some are financed by foreign foundations and military agents. He has also blamed elements of the Ecuadorian armed forces linked to former President Lucio Gutierrez.

Analysts said that Correa may be able to recover some support by increasing social programs and subsidies. Yet, they also said that more confrontations will hurt his popularity and could spawn a solid opposition movement.

Those groups "see the president as a type of despot who is concentrating power," said political analyst Teodoro Bustamante.

Bustamante added that Correa's political party, Alianza Pais, is showing signs of splintering.

"A leftist opposition has been born. We can see the possible formation of a new political group, with people who left the government or who've been excluded from the political project that they supported in the electoral campaigns," Bustamante said.

The nascent opposition to Correa may also have new allies: ecologists, who disagree with Correa's announcement that in June the government may allow the controversial development of the huge Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini oil block.

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