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Rafael Correa

Rafael Correa was elected in the 2009 election and re-eleted in 2013. He was first voted in based on his promise of reforms to benefit the poor. Before becoming president, he was Finance Minister for four months in 2005, and an academic before that. Correa is a hard-liner in many respects, and when he makes up his mind about something, he will push it very hard. Since taking office in 2007, Correa's leadership style has helped him win broad support in the Andean nation. He has fought for indigenous people's rights, halted foreign debt payments and rejected a new lease for a U.S. military air base for anti-drug operations.

Correa was born to a lower-middle class family in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city, in April 1963. He had a difficult upbringing, and the family struggled financially. His father was sentenced to a five-and-a-half year prison term after he was caught smuggling cocaine into the United States. After school, Correa was awarded a scholarship to study at Guayaquil’s university, where he graduated with a degree in economics in 1987. He spent some time teaching indigenous children, trying to improve literacy rates, and subsequently learnt the indigenous language, Quichua. He went on to obtain a masters at Belgium’s Catholic University of Louvain, where he met his future wife. He returned to Ecuador in 1991 and became a director at the Ministry of Education and Culture. A decade later he completed his academic career at the University of Illinois where he received a doctorate in economics in 2001.

His economic background meant he was appointed Ecuador’s Finance Minister in 2005 under then-President Palacio. Yet his tenure only lasted for four months, he resigned in August of that year due to what he cited as a lack of support from the president for his economic policies. Soon after his resignation, he established a new political party, Alianza PAIS, a socialist party aiming to enhance the rights of the working poor and increasing political sovereignty. He first ran for president in the elections of 2006, with one of his main election pledges being to compose a constituent assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution. He won that election in the second run off with 56.67% of the vote.

Catherine Conaghan and Carlos de la Torre noted that "The “permanent campaign” entered the American political lexicon more than a quarter century ago and quickly became a staple in the analysis of presidential politics. Coined by President Jimmy Carter’s pollster Patrick Cadell and popularized by journalist Sidney Blumenthal, the term was embraced as useful shorthand for describing the seamless joining of the techniques of political campaigning with the act of governing.... According to Theodore Lowi, the plebiscitary presidency marked a new approach to governance, one in which presidents sought to mobilize public opinion directly in order to govern "over the heads of congress and the party leaders".

"Latin American presidents are well acquainted with the problems posed by divided government and the mercurial nature of legislative coalitions in undisciplined party systems. Connecting with the mass public in unmediated ways and keeping presidential polling numbers high are recognized as normal tools of the trade in presidential politics."

Andrés Ortiz argued that "By taking advantage of the core discourses of the main social movements, Rafael Correa Delgado was elected president of Ecuador in 2006. Promising a ‘citizen revolution’, the President designed and engaged heavy institutional machinery that disciplined the civil society and other elements of the embryonic Ecuadorian public sphere. Paradoxically, he did so under the pretext of establishing a participatory democracy... His official discourse was built through a confrontation framing against two ambiguous signifiers: the partidocracia (partyarchy), and the noche neoliberal (neoliberal night). The former alludes to the hegemony of the traditional political parties in Ecuador since the return to democracy (namely, the system of ‘elitist democracy’ instituted since the Constitution of 1978), and the latter refers to the ‘neoliberal policy’ supposedly applied by all presidents from Oswaldo Hurtado to Alfredo Palacio, the immediate predecessor of Rafael Correa."

Correa is the antithesis to the weak political leaders of Ecuador's past decade. Much of his popularity can be attributed to the government's public spending, including on roads, bridges, schools and hospitals. Cash transfers have boosted the incomes of the poorest Ecuadoreans, and poverty levels have dropped from some 38% in 2006 to 29%, according to the World Bank. Ecuador, an OPEC member, is heavily dependent on oil exports.

In presidential elections in October 2006, third-time candidate Alvaro Noboa won the first round. However, Rafael Correa, Palacio's former finance minister and leader of the Proud and Sovereign Fatherland (PAIS) movement, running on an anti-establishment reform platform and by successfully presenting himself as the "change" candidate, bested Noboa in the second round presidential runoff in November 2006. Election observers characterized the elections as generally free, fair, and transparent. Noboa's National Institutional Renovation and Action Party won the largest bloc in Congress in 2006 elections, followed by Gutierrez's Patriotic Society Party; Correa's Proud and Sovereign Fatherland (PAIS) movement did not field any congressional candidates. Traditional parties saw their congressional representation cut in half.

The new Congress took office on January 5, 2007, and Correa was sworn in as President on January 15, 2007. In March 2007, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal dismissed 57 members of Congress on the grounds that they violated campaign laws. Following that, the Congress was largely deadlocked and later effectively replaced by a constituent assembly that was voted into power on September 30, 2007. The assembly, which was inaugurated on November 29, 2007, drafted a new constitution that voters approved in a referendum and that went into effect in October 2008. This new constitution is Ecuador's 20th since independence.

On January 20, 2007, only five days after taking office, Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa, a former college teacher, inaugurated a new direct communication style with people. These are the weekly addresses, a televised program that has changed the political and media scene in the Andean country. The characteristic of this program is information, details of the president’s weekly agenda, the president’s interaction with his ministers and officials, some of whom have been asked about the advance or delay of government’s programs and plans.

As required under the new constitution, elections for the president, vice president, members of the National Assembly, and provincial and local offices were held in in April and June 2009, 2 years into Correa's first term. President Correa was re-elected in the first round, taking 52% of the vote, compared to 28% for former president Lucio Gutierrez, his nearest rival. Correa's Proud and Sovereign Fatherland (PAIS) movement also won the largest legislative bloc in the new National Assembly, although not a majority.

Organization of American States and European Union observers concluded that the elections were generally free and fair, with local irregularities, and highlighted areas for further improvement in subsequent elections. Domestic observers also observed elections throughout the country. Although the international and domestic observation teams reported no major fraud, there were some reports of missing or marked ballots, counting and vote calculation irregularities, and incidents of violence.

Correa asserted that his political project, which he calls the "Citizens' Revolution," intends to search for social justice and reassert the supremacy of human labor over capital. His government has increased spending on housing, health care, and other popular social programs.

During his first term he made a number of foreign policy changes, notably the expulsion of American troops from the Eloy Alfaro airbase. He also joined ALBA – the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas – a left-leaning organization set up by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. Correa also held a referendum to decide whether to set up a constituent assembly to examine areas of improvement for the country’s constitution, which was eventually approved by the electorate in 2008. The president also addressed the political gender imbalance by ensuring that forty percent of cabinet posts were occupied by women.

His 2009 re-election contrasts starkly with Ecuador's previous three elected presidents, who were removed from office by popular protests before they concluded their terms. In fact, Correa is the first president to win re-election (subsequent or not) since 1968. In a field of eight candidates, Rafael Correa of the Proud and Sovereign Fatherland (PAIS) movement dominated the presidential race, winning in the first round, as expected. He was re-elected with 52% of the votes, according to the National Electoral Council, with 70% of the votes counted (as of noon on April 27). Voters dissatisfied with Correa were unimpressed with the uninspiring line-up of candidates, several of whom had run before. His closest rival, former president Lucio Gutierrez, did better than expected with 28%, apparently winning the protest vote as well as his usual supporters.

Correa received the Ecuadorian people's vote of confidence on 26 April 2009 in a generally problem-free election, winning the presidency in the first round with 52% of the valid votes. This election, only 27 months into Correa's term, was required under Ecuador's new constitution. Results were not as strong for Correa's PAIS movement in other races, however. Preliminary reports are that PAIS fell short of a majority in the National Assembly and won only nine of 23 prefects (who govern provinces). Correa likely will now have an even freer hand at the central government level to implement his Citizen Revolution.

Two years after taking office, Rafael Correa managed to introduce a new political paradigm of a strong central government carrying out a "Citizens' Revolution," and now had a mandate to continue for four more years. Neither the National Assembly nor any other branch of government is likely to get in the way. This gives Correa the opportunity to implement policy as he sees fit, but also makes him responsible for the results. Speculation abounds that Correa's "true colors" will be evident now that this fourth election since his inauguration is over. Some commentators expected a move to the right (possibly including a national accord), and others predict he will move further to the left.

His second term was notable for the so-called 2010 Ecuador crisis, during which police officers rebelled in an attempted coup d’état after a proposal to end the practice of awarding medals and bonuses with each promotion within the police force. At one point he was taken hostage by the police in a hospital and had to be rescued by an elite army unit. Another hallmark of his second term was the decision to grant asylum to the Australian founder of whistleblowing website Wikileaks. Julian Assange had sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in order to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted on charges of sexual assault. The granting of asylum by Correa has been a major cause of friction between Ecuadorian and British authorities, but has raised Correa’s international standing.

In mid-2010 conflict between Correa and police was sparked by reforms aimed at cutting bonuses and other benefits for police and military personnel. Officials had agreed to raise wages for security forces to balance out the cuts, but now lawmakers say they may revise the austerity measure altogether because of the response from police officers. Correa had sparred with other state employees over similar reform proposals. But the clash with police turned into something bigger. At least a dozen people were killed and over 200 injured during clashes.

On 30 September 2010 Correa was taken to the police hospital after being hit by tear gas during a protest by police officers. He later said dissident officers confined him in his room for several hours, prompting military soldiers to storm the building and free him. Five people were dead following the operation, and scores more were injured. Ecuador's former defense minister, Javier Ponce, said President Rafael Correa was kidnapped during the attempted coup of September 30, 2010, and even radio communications ratify that day in a recording where the order was to "kill him" he said. In an interview published in El Telégrafo, Ponce refers to the book recently published by General Ernesto González with his book "Testimony of a commander", which states that the president was not kidnapped, but retained. However, the former head says González talks about the report of General Luis Castro on the operation in which he "clearly speaks of kidnappers."

Some analysts said questions were growing about whether the events amounted to a coup. Opposition politicians have rejected claims they took part in any plan to remove the president from office. They also point out the military remained loyal to the president, and no political rivals stepped forward to claim his post.

Rafael Correa was the first president since the 1979 return to democracy to enjoy sustained popularity in all regions of the country and among a broad array of class and demographic groups. President Correa has criticized the traditional political parties. As a result of this criticism and their weak showings in recent elections, opposition parties are weakened and seeking ways to revive themselves. As of February 2011, President Correa's Proud and Sovereign Fatherland (PAIS) movement was the predominant political force in Ecuador, though PAIS did not hold an outright majority of seats in the National Assembly.

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, but the government restricted these rights in practice. Verbal and legal attacks against the press by President Correa and his government continued during 2010. The relationship between the press and the government continued to deteriorate, and there were reports of indirect censorship and self-censorship. During the year several well-known television and radio political commentators resigned, publicly attributing their decisions to government pressure on their media outlets. President Correa regularly used his weekly radio and television address and other public appearances to criticize the media, question its competence and professionalism, and accuse it of bias, frequently naming specific reporters and outlets. Several journalists and individuals involved in local press associations reported that Correa's "systematic" verbal attacks against the media created "a hostile environment for journalists."

During President Correa's term in office, the number of state-owned media organizations exploded -- growing from just one government-run news outlet to a media conglomerate that today is made up of more than a dozen outlets. He has pursued criminal charges against columnists and newspaper owners, including legal actions aimed at El Universo, one of Ecuador's most respected newspapers. In the El Universo case, President Correa won a $42 million award, and several journalists were sentenced to 3 years in prison following a hearing before a temporary--and recently appointed--magistrate. Although President Correa later pardoned the journalists, an Ecuadoran court rejected his pardon, and their fates remain unresolved. The fear of being charged and dragged through the expensive legal system also silences many other journalists or compels them to temper criticism of the government.

President Correa and his government were not only targeting journalists. Some 200 activists, many of them indigenous people protesting environmentally destructive mining projects, were criminally charged and detained. The pattern of arresting or threatening to arrest social activists has suppressed the free flow of information in Ecuador , silencing dissenting voices either by legal action or self-censorship.

Perhaps most insidious to the principles of democracy, President Correa's government ushered in new reforms that could make illegal almost all reporting about electoral campaigns. All censorship is bruising to a democracy, but electoral censorship is a fatal blow. With Presidential elections occurring in Ecuador in the next year, there is growing concern that President Correa's actions represent an attempt to influence the democratic process to his own political and personal benefit.

On 10 November 2012 President Rafael Correa accepted becoming the presidential candidate for the National Convention of the Alianza PAIS Movement, and presented Jorge Glass as his running mate for the February 2013 elections. Correa based his proposal of the current minister coordinator of Strategic Sectors on the need for a change in the nation's productive matrix and other projects crucial for the transformation of the country on the path to economic development. All agree that the Ecuadorian people were fed up with the antics of traditional political parties.

Ecuador held presidential and legislative elections on 17 February 2013. Incumbent President Rafael Correa, whose left-center administration was aligned with other leftist governments in Latin America, was expected to once again receive the majority of votes. Since he was first elected in 2006, Correa and his party had won many elections, including a constitutional referendum (2007), the 2007 legislative elections, the 2009 presidential poll and a vote on constitutional amendments (2011).

Correa won 57 percent of the vote compared with 24 percent for his closest challenger, former banker Guillermo Lasso, with just over one-third of the ballots counted. The electoral authority said it did not expect the results to change significantly. Lasso conceded defeat shortly after the results were announced. Former President Lucio Gutierrez won 5.9 percent. The rest of the vote was divided among five other candidates.

In 2013 Correa was elected for a third term. His approval ratings continue to be very high, reaching 90% according to one poll carried out in April 2013. Throughout his presidency Correa has been highly critical of the media, an industry which he accuses of at best ridiculing his policies and at worst trying to overthrow the Ecuadorian government. He often uses his weekly radio and TV shows as a platform to attack them. He also uses a law that requires the media to carry government messages as a way of directly confronting his critics.

President Correa is married to Belgian Anne Malherbe Gosselin, whom he met when studying in that country. She moved to Ecuador upon their marriage, and together they have three children: daughters Sofia and Anne Dominique and son Rafael Miguel. He speaks fluent English and French and can also speak the indigenous Quechua language, which he learned while doing voluntary work. Correa describes himself as "left-wing - not from the Marxist left, but rather a Christian left".

Correa was first elected in 2006, and raised living standards for the lower classes and widened their social safety net with region-leading social spending. But the socialist leader he has been criticized as a bully who is intolerant of dissent.

The Organization of American States (OAS), Inter-American Union of Electoral Organisms, and Union of South American Nations – in addition to domestic observers – judged the elections open, free, and well-organized, despite some recurring and limited local irregularities. Although the international and domestic observation teams reported no major fraud, there were some reports of missing or marked ballots, and counting and vote-calculation irregularities that resulted in challenges to the National Electoral Council (CNE) and Electoral Contentious Court (TCE), the appeals body for electoral matters.

Opposition candidates claimed that the CNE and TCE did not address irregularities transparently. The OAS reported that the pre-campaign period featured “differential access and exposure of the contenders in the media.” Furthermore, during the campaign period there was unequal coverage of parties and candidates in news reports, depending on the ownership of the media.

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets across Ecuador in June 2015. People were angry about new tax legislation tabled by the government of President Rafael Correa. Bills had been introduced to raise taxes on inheritance and capital gains. This hit hard in Ecuador, where 95 percent of businesses are family-owned. After eight years in power, Rafael Correa said the protests were aimed at destabilising his government. With an economy based on high oil prices, the Ecuadorian government had to introduce a series of measures to counter a 50% decline in revenue.

By mid-August 2015 demonstrators had called a general strike to protest President Rafael Correa's moves to extend his rule. But the leftist leader called out his own supporters and warned of a possible coup attempt. There were signs that a growing anti-Correa movement was gaining traction as disparate groups join forces to oppose legislation that would allow him to run again for president when his term expired in 2017.

The country on 15 January 2016 celebrated the 9th anniversary of the Citizen Revolution – the Ecuadorean president’s popular political project and movement which has reshaped and transformed politics in the country, while ushering in progressive social gains. “Everything was worth it, and if we had to do it all over again we would not change one thing,” President Rafael Correa added, while humbly admitting that there were “sometimes errors, but always with good intentions for our people.”

Human rights abuses were lack of independence in the judicial sector; restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association; and corruption. Government regulatory bodies established under the 2013 communications law issued a series of sanctions, fines, and forced corrections and retractions, primarily against independent media and journalists. President Correa and his administration continued to engage in verbal and legal attacks against the media and civil society. Presidential decrees provided the government discretion to dissolve civil society organizations on broad and ambiguous grounds. Limits on freedom of assembly continued, particularly affecting environmental activists and indigenous groups protesting laws affecting their lands.



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