Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ecuador and Rafael Correa - a nationalistic President

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Rafael Correa has been president of Ecuador since January 2007 - no mean feat when the previous three occupants of the post were removed from office amid anti-government protests.

Rafael Vicente Correa Delgado (born 6 April 1963)[1] is the President of the Republic of Ecuador and the current President pro tempore of the Union of South American Nations. An economist educated in EcuadorBelgium and the United States, he briefly served as his country's Finance Minister in 2005. He was elected President in late 2006 and took office in January 2007. In December 2008, he declared Ecuador's national debt illegitimate because it was contracted by corrupt/despotic prior regimes, pledging to fight creditors in international courts.[2] He brought Ecuador into the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas in June 2009. Correa has described himself as a "humanist and Christian of the left". He was re-elected to a second term in April 2009, and was sworn in on 10 August 2009. 

Mr Correa, 46, came to power making much of the fact that he was not a traditional politician and while in office he has sought to overhaul Ecuador's political structure and boost social spending. He has also defaulted on foreign loans and clashed with Washington on several issues.

Mr Correa is regarded as the strongest leader in decades to be at Ecuador's helm, but the global economic crisis has brought a series of problems and challenges for the country. Ecuador, an Opec member, is heavily dependent on oil exports and on remittances from the hundreds of thousands of Ecuadoreans who work abroad, mainly in Spain and the US.

Mr Correa briefly served as finance minister in 2005. But in his campaign for the presidency in 2006, he presented himself as a fresh face on Ecuador's political scene.

He promised constitutional reform - promises that were fulfilled in September 2008 when some 65% of Ecuadoreans voted in a referendum to approve a new constitution that set out some sweeping changes.

  •  Tightens controls of vital industries and reduces monopolies

  •  Declared some foreign loans illegitimate

  •  Allows idle farm land to be expropriated for redistribution

  •  Allows the president to stand for a second four-year term in office

  •  Provides free health care for older citizens

  •  Allows civil marriage for gay partners

  • Mr Correa, a US-trained economist, has spent billions of dollars on social projects. He also announced in December 2008 that Ecuador was officially defaulting on billions of dollars of foreign debt that it considered "illegitimate".

    President Correa has also been pushing for new contracts with foreign oil companies operating in Ecuador, although he has indicated there are no plans to nationalise the oil industry.

    Other high-profile decisions Mr Correa has taken include his refusal to renew the lease on airbases used by US forces to mount anti-narcotics missions.

    In February Ecuador expelled two US diplomats, accusing them of meddling in the country's internal affairs - charges Washington rejected.

    'I'm in charge'
    Mr Correa's opponents have accused him of seeking to override Ecuador's democratic institutions and amass too much power for himself, pointing to the provision in the new constitution that allows the president to stand for two consecutive four-year terms.

    They have also sought to portray him as a puppet of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. But Mr Correa has repeatedly insisted he is his own man. "Chavez is my personal friend, but in my house, my friends aren't in charge, I am. And in Ecuador, it will be Ecuadoreans in charge," he said during his campaign for the presidency.

    Mr Correa was born in 1963 in the city of Guayaquil. He studied Economics in that city's Catholic University and then went on to get two Masters' degrees - one in the US and the other in Belgium - and, in 2001, a PhD.

    The father of three speaks fluent English and French and can also speak the indigenous Quechua language, which he learnt while doing voluntary work. Mr Correa describes himself as "left-wing - not from the Marxist left, but rather a Christian left"

    - Sources: BBC News & Wikipedia

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