Ecuador’s Stolen Election

Rafeal Correa served as president of Ecuador from 2007-2017, bringing in the socialist Citizen’s Revolution for the people of Ecuador. In 2017, Correa’s vice president, Lenín Moreno, was elected president. The people elected him on the promise that he would continue his predecessor’s policies. However, with US backing, Moreno underwent a sudden conversion to the right, engaging in a policy of privatization and the elimination of social programs. His popularity plummeted to 8%.

On February 7, the people of Ecuador finally got their much anticipated election. They got their desired election, but not their desired candidate. Rafael Correa, who would have won the election if he had run, was barred from running. He was subsequently barred from running for vice president. Broader attempts were also made to prevent his party from running. So, his movement tried to form a new party. Guillaume Long, the former Ecuadorean foreign minister, told me in a personal correspondence that the attempt to compete as a new party was barred six times before another party allowed Correa’s movement to join them.

With the leadership of the biggest political movement in Ecuador all jailed, in exile or barred from running, the unknown Andrés Arauz carried the movement into the election. He won the first round easily, defeating his nearest competitor, Guillermo Lasso, by 32.71% to 19.74%. Arauz won despite being allowed to find a party three months after the other tickets were approved and only weeks before the election. Arauz won despite being banned from using Correa’s image or voice in his campaign.

According to Long, the Trump administration was completely supportive of the Moreno administration that set lose the undemocratic suppression of Correa’s movement. He told me that by continuing to support Moreno, Trump indirectly supported his suppression and persecution of the opposition.

Under Trump, the US was continuing its history of coups in Latin America. The Ecuadorean election came at the dawn of the Biden administration. The situation in Ecuador dropped from their radar: Ecuador was not the administration’s priority, and they had no time to develop a consistent policy before the first round.

The elite in Ecuador did have time. The polls predicted an Arauz victory, and the attempt to delay or cancel the second round went into overdrive. Three strategies were unleashed. The attempt to delay the election because of the pandemic died. So, as in Bolivia, they claimed fraud and demanded recounts. The goal was to replace the second place Lasso, whom they were sure would lose to Arauz, with the third place Yanku Pérez. The third was the dissemination of fabricated stories that link Arauz to the National Liberation Army (ELN), a left wing guerrilla group, including claims that his campaign was financed by its leader. There is no evidence of fraud, and the ELN claims have been proven to be frauds.

Between the two rounds, Long told me that he and Arauz traveled to Washington and met with people close to the Biden administration. Together with a preliminary Organisation of American States (OAS) report that rejected the charges of fraud, they seem to have persuaded the administration that a coup was underway in Ecuador. The U.S. then issued what Long called "a firm rejection of Ecuador’s attorney general’s unwarranted interference with the election." US ambassador to Ecuador, Michael Fitzpatrick then issued a statement. The coup was over.

Before the Biden administration settled on a policy, though, there were paroxysms of continuity with the Trump administration. The illegal demand for a recount at first seemed to have the backing of the Stated Department. Acting assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Julie Chung, announced that the “US government applauds” the recount decision.

The broader attempt to get Pérez into the second round may also have initially received State Department support: Pérez has claimed that the US embassy assured him that he would be in the run-off, which is illegal because he failed to cross the required vote threshold.

Furthermore, when Secretary of State Anthony Blinken launched the International Anticorruption Champions Award, one of the first recipients was Ecuador’s Attorney General Diana Salazar, despite being what Long called "the architect of the coup." Long told me that Salazar is very closely associated with the US.

Eventually, Biden would do better than Trump, and the OAS would do better than they did in Bolivia. After the OAS disgrace in the elections in Bolivia, they did much better in Ecuador. As Long put it, the OAS lied about fraud in Bolivia, but they behaved well in Ecuador. Latin American expert Mark Weisbrot, of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, told me in a personal correspondence that, though the OAS could have acted more aggressively against the government for their dirty play in the first round, including banning Aruz’ use of Correa’s image or voice, their performance after was okay.

Because of the National Election Council (CNE) of Ecuador and the improved performance of the US and the OAS, both Weisbrot and Long told me that the surprise second round victory of Lasso was legitimate.

So how did Aruz go from a convincing first round victory to a second round defeat? The best explanation seems to be that more of the large undecided vote from the first round went to Lasso in the second round. But why? Long says it was largely because of a fear campaign run by the anti-Correa movement. They ignited and fanned fears of socialism and how Aruz would turn Ecuador into Venezuela. They fabricated the claim that Aruz would "dedollarize" the Ecuadorean economy, an accusation Long called ridiculous, since Aruz strengthened dollarization as minister and director of the Central Bank in the Correa administration. And they amplified the echo chamber of the discredited claims of ELN financing.

In the end, the coup in Ecuador had been planted before the elections began. Though there is no evidence of fraud in the run off round of the election, "You can’t say it was a fair election," Weisbrot told me. "The most popular politician in the country, Rafael Correa, was illegally excluded from the race. It was a repeat of what was done to Lula in Brazil in 2018. And Andrés Arauz was unknown before he ran. The government also tried numerous illegal maneuvers to prevent Arauz – as well as the most popular political movement in the country – from competing in the election, as well as other dirty tricks.”

And all of this, Long told me, "was done with tacit US support. The US never did anything to stop this." Instead, Trump "applauded President Moreno’s stewardship of Ecuador to achieve a peaceful and democratic transition away from ‘21st century socialism,’ to a democratic society focused on the defense of basic rights and a free market economy…."

And, in a final signal that nothing has changed in the overarching US foreign policy for Latin America, when the US got their desired result in the defeat of the Correa movement, Secretary of State Blinken placed it in the broader context of US foreign policy: "Good to speak with President Elect Lasso Guillermo about how we can work together to strengthen our economies, restore democracy in Venezuela, and create a more secure region for the benefit of all."

Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.