In Ecuador’s presidential election held on February 7, Andrés Arauz won the largest number of votes but could not prevail in the first round against 15 other candidates.
Arauz won 32.7% of the vote, short of the 40% needed to win the election outright (a winner also requires a 10% lead over the second-place candidate, which Arauz did achieve).
More than a week after that first round, it remains unclear which of the two candidates who most closely trailed Arauz will go head-to-head against him in the second round on April 11. Both candidates — Guillermo Lasso and Yaku Pérez — each won around 19% of the vote and await a recount to verify who will face Arauz.
[Editor’s note: The National Electoral Council of Ecuador ruled on February 20 that Arauz would face off against Lasso in the second round. Despite this, efforts to overturn the first round results continue. The Prosecutor’s office called for the seizure of “all digital content from the database that administers the electoral system” on February 21, sparking fears of an attempt to overturn the result.]
A Lasso-Pérez pact sought to remove Arauz from the runoff election’s ballot; this is of great concern for Ecuador’s democracy, although Lasso now says he has backed away from the agreement.
Against all odds, Arauz won the first round conclusively. Till the very end, the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) — the national election body — tried to postpone the elections, sowing doubts about voting during the COVID-19 pandemic and about the transfer of public funds to the candidates to make the process more equitable.
Defence minister Oswaldo Jarrín said in late January that the ballots would not be printed, even though his ministry had made an agreement with the CNE. Right through 2020, the CNE and other branches of the government attempted to suffocate democracy by preventing the candidacy of both former president Rafael Correa and Arauz.
Hollowing out the state
When Lenín Moreno took office in 2017, he began a process that led to the weakening of democratic institutions in Ecuador. The main office-bearers in several state institutions — such as the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, the attorney general’s office, the comptroller’s office, and the CNE — were elected during Correa’s tenure in office. These people would not toe the line drawn by Moreno, who was eager to drive a policy of privatisation, of revenge against Correa, and of the destruction of public institutions.
Moreno began to consolidate his authority by aligning his political forces with those of the right wing, such as Lasso’s Creating Opportunities (CREO) party and the Social Christian Party (PSC). Having produced his right-wing majority, Moreno went to the people with a dubious referendum that had seven confusing questions.
The most garbled ones were about constitutional reform, namely, to set term limits for elected officials (targeting Correa) and to replace the heads of the state institutions. The other questions — on corruption, children’s rights, and ecology — had broad support across the country. The majority voted yes, essentially voting for the good parts of the referendum while the ugly parts slipped by.
To enact the reconstruction of the state institutions to suit his aims, Moreno appointed Julio César Trujillo to drive out the elected officials and put in place Moreno’s favoured people; a fragile republic was slowly gutted. Trujillo used all kinds of anti-constitutional fictions — such as the “constitutional vacancy” — to put Moreno fundamentally in charge.
Using the new powers, Moreno appointed his people and those of his allies — such as CREO and the PSC — to control the CNE; the presidency of the CNE was given to Diana Atamaint, a member of the Pachakutik Plurinational Unity Movement, the party of Pérez.
Colombian magazine Semana published a story on January 30 that accused Arauz of receiving US$80,000 from the ELN (National Liberation Army), a left-wing guerrilla group in Colombia; the story was also later published in the Argentinian paper Clarín. The report was purportedly based on information from computers seized from ELN commander Andrés Felipe Vanegas Londoño (aka “Uriel”), killed in October last year.
The Semana article was published three days after Moreno visited Washington, DC, where he met officials of the United States government, the International Monetary Fund and the Organization of American States (OAS).
The Semana report said that after a Progressive International virtual summit in September, the ELN made contact with Arauz; both Arauz and the Progressive International denied the story (Disclaimer: Vijay Prashad sits on the Council of the Progressive International.) The ELN released a statement saying that the Semana story was false.
It took an ornithologist to point out that a video purportedly of armed ELN guerrillas in the “Colombian jungle” that was widely circulating on social media following the report by Semana is not credible. The birdsong in the video got the attention of Manuel Sánchez-Nivicela, who heard the sound of a pale-browed tinamou, which can be seen in Ecuador and Peru, but not in Colombia.
It’s not the first time the right wing has tried to delegitimise politicians on the left and other targets by alleging the latter are associated with Colombian guerrilla groups.
In 2008, the Colombian periodical El Tiempo published a photo caption that seemingly linked Gustavo Larrea, a minister in Correa’s government, to the FARC, a Colombian guerrilla group.
A London-based research organisation — the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) — claimed in a report that Correa’s campaign in 2006 was funded by the FARC (which Correa said was untrue). All of this was later retracted (the IISS no longer has the report on its website).
In 2017, the Argentinian magazine Perfil published a report that tried to link the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia with an organisation called the Resistencia Ancestral Mapuche, whose existence and connection to the Indigenous Mapuche community have been called into doubt; Argentina’s then-Security Minister Patricia Bullrich used this to push her government’s attack on the Mapuche community in Patagonia.
The Ecuadorian media generally took the story of Arauz and the ELN as gospel truth. It certainly made an impact on the election.
Right after the first round of elections, Lasso and Pérez began to collaborate to undermine the results. They petitioned the CNE to conduct a recount; their objections and their demands were “beyond the law”, said Lasso. The CNE — already controlled by CREO, PSC, and Pachakutik — complied, eroding faith in the institutions. Rumours spread that Lasso and Pérez were eager to get the CNE to suspend Arauz from the process so that it would be the two of them who would compete in the second round.
There is no mystery that Lasso is a candidate of the right. Pérez, however, masquerades as an eco-socialist who would be the first Indigenous president of Ecuador.
Curiously, before the election results had fully come in, Pérez announced that the US embassy in Quito had called him to tell him he would be the second-place candidate. He is on record saying that if elected president, he would be open to conducting a trade deal with the US.
The country’s main Indigenous organisation — the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) — seems to have distanced itself from Pérez’s deal with Lasso because, as Leonidas Iza, president of the Cotopaxi Indigenous and Peasant Movement (MICC), said on Twitter, its base is “against the neoliberal right wing that looted the country”; to make an alliance with this wing is “illegitimate and inconsistent” with CONAIE’s politics.
Colombian attorney general Francisco Barbosa Delgado arrived in Quito on February 12 to meet with Ecuadorean attorney general Diana Salazar Méndez to discuss information that the Colombian government claimed to have received from Londoño’s computers. Ecuador had requested this meeting based on the Semana story. Pérez came out in favour of an investigation.
The OAS, as it did during the November 2019 coup in Bolivia, began to sniff around. OAS representative, Isabel de Saint Malo — a former vice president of Panama who played a role through the Lima Group in trying to overthrow the government of President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela — said she was in discussions with Lasso and Pérez about the political situation.
A day after he made a deal with Pérez, Lasso wrote to the CNE’s president on February 13, saying the agreement was illegal. He said that the CNE needs to first certify the results of the first-round vote and only then can there be a complaint filed by the candidates. The deal seems to be floundering as Lasso, who is less than half a point (0.36%) ahead of Pérez, probably calculates he can defeat Arauz in a runoff election without a recount.
Will Ecuador have a second round on April 11 with Arauz on the ballot, or will the US, the OAS, the various right-wing parties and Moreno’s state apparatus ensure that he will be off the ballot? If that happens, it will be hard to call the event of April 11 an election.
[This article was produced by Globetrotter. Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. Pilar Troya is a researcher at TISR, an Ecuadorian anthropologist, served on the board of Ecuador’s former Women’s National Council and was deputy minister in Ecuador’s Ministry of Higher Education, Science, and Technology. Updated on February 25.]