AND ECUADOR'S 21st CENTURY SOCIALISM
President Rafael Correa began his second term of office May 24, 2013, after winning a landslide victory earlier that year. It was a resounding endorsement of the policies his government had implemented to transform Ecuador.
After decades as one of the poorest countries in South America, his revolutionary government has undertaken a series of deep reforms, which have delivered remarkable changes for Ecuador's long-excluded majority.
In the process, Ecuador has joined Bolivia and Venezuela, among others, in rejecting the extreme free-market policies, which were forced on Latin America by the International Monetary Fund and other bodies.
As President Rafael Correa said in 2014, "People must prevail over capital," adding that politics is about whose interests the government serves: "Elites or the majority? Capital or humankind? The market or society? Policies and programs depend on who holds the balance of power."
Overcoming a society in crisis
Economist and university professor Rafael Correa first took office in 2007. Before his election, Correa had served as the economy minister during the interim government of Alfredo Palacio, who had succeeded ousted president Lucio Gutierrez.
Gutierrez was the seventh president forced out of office in a decade. The country had seen increasing political instability after the economy collapsed in a banking crisis in 1999, leading to the adoption of the U.S. dollar as the national currency in 2000. Unemployment sky-rocketed, and almost one in ten Ecuadoreans fled their country to escape the crisis.
As economy minister, Correa expressed his opposition to Palacio's plans to sign a free trade agreement with the United States, then resigned due to a lack of support from the president.
Refounding the nation
Ahead of the 2006 Presidential elections, Correa and several other Ecuadorean politicians founded the movement Alliance PAIS and proposed the drafting of a new constitution to solve the crisis facing Ecuador.
The year after Correa took office a new constitution was ratified by popular referendum.
Since then, the Citizens' Revolution – a name chosen by Correa's supporters commemorating the mass demonstrations that ousted previous presidents – has made historic gains.
South America's Economic Tiger
After eight years in office, the government has significantly boosted economic growth, to the extent that it is one of the best in the region, growing at an average of 4.2 percent over the past seven years.
This success has been achieved in spite of the fact Correa came to office on the eve of the global financial crisis and with Ecuador hampered by not having its own currency.
Central to stronger growth was the tripling of public investment, which now accounts for 15 percent of the country's GDP, along with safeguards to ensure the wealth is being successfully redistributed to benefit all Ecuadoreans.
SOCIAL ACHIEVEMENTS PUT PEOPLE FIRST
Poverty levels have fallen by one-third, with over 1.1 million lifted out of poverty since 2007.
Ecuador has also seen inequality fall faster than any other country in the region.
The Citizens' Revolution has pushed innovative policies to ensure greater social justice. The monthly minimum wage has been raised to US$354, one of the highest in Latin America. Some economists speculated these changes would result in rising unemployment, but Ecuador now has the lowest unemployment rate in its history at 4.9 percent.
The Citizens' Revolution has also made great strides in education and health. The Correa administration has restored the role of the state in both these sectors, guaranteeing free education up to university level and implementing free health care. Ecuador now has the second highest level of public investment in higher education in the world.
To fund much of this, the Correa government targeted tax evasion from the wealthy, a big problem which had been bleeding public revenues. Ecuador now raises three times more in taxes than it did in 2006.
As a result of this social change, President Correa has been rated as one of the most popular presidents in Latin America throughout his administration.
Political stability has returned to the Andean nation. The president was re-elected in the 2009 – following the adoption of the new constitution – and in 2013.
Popular support has also seen him win referendums, in 2007, 2008 and 2011. All in all, Correa and his supporters have won 10 elections since 2007.
Tackling discrimination has been a priority under Correa. During his first election campaign in 2006, Correa addressed his supporters in Quechua, the country's most widely-spoken Indigenous language.
In 2007, with help of the Venezuelan government, Ecuador inaugurated its first public TV station and, together with the state-owned radio station, promoted programs in Quechua and other indigenous languages. This has boosted the use of formerly endangered native languages. With the new Media Law, approved in 2013, 34 percent of the country's radio and TV frequencies will be reserved for community media in order to increase Indigenous participation. So far, 14 radio frequencies have been assigned to each of the country's Indigenous groups.
Under Correa, Ecuador has also improved gender equality. The country ranks 21st worldwide in the World Economic Forum's 2015 Gender Gap Report and has been among the top five improving countries during Correa's time in office.
Laws to protect minorities have also been implemented, including labor regulations compelling companies to reserve 4 percent of jobs for people with disabilities, and other quotas for minority ethnic groups. The same has been applied in the higher education system, where Indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorean community inclusion has soared.
Forging an Independent Foreign Policy
In order to tackle Western domination, the Correa government shut the U.S. military base in Manta, retook control of the country's oil and other natural resources from multinationals and canceled the country's punishing international debt.
One its most high-profile moves was granting Julian Assange asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London in 2012, fearing that the WikiLeaks founder, who has exposed U.S. war crimes, could be extradited to the Unites States and face similar treatment as Chelsea Manning.
Backlash From the Old Elites
Fierce opposition to this all this change soon emerged from the old political and social elites and their allies in Washington. A 2010 coup attempt proved how concerned the old powers were with Correa's successes. A police strike in September ended in a violent revolt against President Correa, who was held hostage in a hospital for several hours.
The violence resulted in 10 deaths, including a presidential guard. Documents emerged showing massive U.S. funding for police and opposition groups through USAID programs.
justice for human rights abuses
Another major transformation under the Citizens' Revolution has been the restructuring of the judicial system to provide justice to the victims of past human rights abuses.
The National Court of Justice – the country's highest court – has been revamped, and the outdated procedures of the past have been reformed. This reform was key to addressing the human rights abuses committed during Leon Febres Cordero's 1980's presidency. Febres Cordero's, considered a dictator by many, manipulated the judicial system by appointing close allies to key positions.
President Correa's government has established a truth commission to investigate human rights abuses undertaken in the country from 1984 to 2008. So far, nine people have been jailed on charges of crimes against humanity for their involvement in torture and murder during Febres Cordero's rule.
The Citizens' Revolution in Ecuador is "one of the most authentic revolutions in Latin America." — famous Cuban revolutionary and singer Pablo Milanes