Ecuador: A new political cycle
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Nature is cyclical – there is a constant and ongoing exchange of elements between air, earth, water, plants and animals.
Economists are also inclined to think in terms of cycles: they believe there are cyclical fluctuations in economic activity. The economist Joseph Schumpeter regarded cycles as the marker of economic progress in a capitalist society, with their fluctuations inherent in the economic process of industrial production. Similarly, historian Arthur J. Schelinger identified political cycles of about 15 to 20 years in American politics. These political also cycles exist in other countries.
It seems this cyclical pattern has come to pass in Ecuador’s recent presidential run-off. In 2006, Alvaro Noboa was beaten by Rafael Correa. Seventeen years on, another Noboa, Alvaro’s son Daniel, was on the ballot with Luisa González, Correa’s handpicked candidate. This time, Daniel Noboa was elected president, defeating the “21st century socialism” candidate with 51.83% of the vote, versus Gonzalez’s 48.17%. This means Ecuador has turned the page.
Why, then, has history appeared to repeat itself, but with different results? During these 17 years, Ecuador has changed. Back in 2006, Ecuadorians’ biggest concern was economic: having and maintaining a job, receiving a decent salary in a solid currency, and creating appropriate conditions for the generation of new jobs.
Today, the concern of the majority in Ecuador is to get to their workplace without being assaulted on the way, killed by mistake, or finding their business’ doors closed due to a “vaccine” – a euphemism for extorsion by crime groups – which for many is impossible to pay. Drug trafficking and organised crime is taking over the country.
So, what happened? A series of unfortunate events. United States troops were asked to withdraw from the forward operating location (FOL) in Manta, Ecuador in 2009 following a decade of presence. The withdrawal was celebrated by the government who claimed sovereignty, by Ecuadorian activists who had protested against the FOL since it was established in 1999, and by other Latin American governments such as Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua. Ecuador also introduced the concept of universal citizenship, granting citizens’ rights independently of national affiliation.
These events had regrettable, unintended consequences, from which Ecuadorians continue to suffer every day. Doors opened to infamous drug cartels, with foreign narcotics producers arriving, with little control on their expansion, and successfully exporting their illegal product – all in a fully-dollarised and easy-to-launder market.
Resultantly, Ecuador is today enduring a vicious escalation in violent crime. Homicides have risen at a shocking rate. Police attribute 80% of these murders to clashes among criminal groups competing to control the distribution and drug exports, primarily cocaine. As gang warfare has worsened, Ecuador has morphed into the backdrop to a horror movie: car bombs, decapitations, and hanging of corpses from bridges.
Reversing this slide is not an easy task. Seventeen years ago, Ecuadorians could take peace for granted. Economic concerns were never accompanied by threats to their physical integrity. Their country used to be a peaceful place to live.
This explains why Ecuadorians’ expectations of a new president are high: their security is at stake. Drastic and efficient measures are needed in order to return Ecuador to peace. President Noboa’s actions, therefore, are urgent, and must be accomplished effectively in his 18-month term in power. This is the only path to the re-election Noboa is seeking: to get the work done. Gradualism is not an option, since the enemy Ecuador faces is violent, organised, and incredibly wealthy.
A new cycle is beginning – the only thing Ecuadorians ask for is a non-violent one.
Paola is Master in Science in Politics and Communication from the London School of Economics (LSE) and Economist and Political Scientist from Universidad Espíritu Santo (UEES). She is currently an Associate Professor of Political Science, Ecuadorian History and Ethics at UEES, where she joined in April 2016. She is a regular columnist at El Universo of Ecuador and a radio panelist.