In November 2019, Evo Morales, Bolivia’s longtime president, resigned from office after an audit uncovered inconsistencies in the recent presidential election. Morales, Bolivia’s president for nearly 14 years, was only allowed to run for a third consecutive term because of a 2017 court ruling which critics claim was slated in his favor. Despite this controversy, Morales remains highly popular within Bolivia; a leftist populist, he was the first Indigenous president in the history of the majority-Indigenous country. Morales’ popularity was validated in the 2020 presidential election, as his hand-picked candidate, Luis Arce, won the presidency in a landslide. Arce’s victory prompted many to predict a leftist resurgence in nearby Ecuador, which had been governed from 2007 to 2017 by Rafael Correa, an authoritarian populist whose socialist policies were beloved by the working class.
Despite various controversies, including an in absentia conviction on corruption charges, Correa remains beloved by many Ecuadorians. During the preliminary round of the 2021 presidential elections, Correa’s previously unknown protege Andres Arauz won over 30% of the vote, over 10 points higher than the second place candidate, Guillermo Lasso, who subsequently defeated Yaku Pérez, an Indigenous environmentalist, by less than half a percentage point. Lasso, a conservative banker, supported neoliberal policies which directly opposed those espoused by Correa, who was seen by many as the dominant force in Ecuadorian politics after his presidency ended in 2017. Despite all odds, however, Lasso was victorious in the April runoff elections against Arauz. Lasso’s victory in the presidential election serves as a repudiation of “Correismo,” but it is unclear if his neoliberal policies will resonate in a country where the left remains a potent political force.
Ecuador has had a complex relationship with neoliberalism as a whole; the constitution declares that nature, or “pachamama,” possesses inalienable rights, which is in inherent defiance of neoliberal capitalists who want to exploit the country’s natural resources. In addition, recent neoliberal policies have been poorly received by the Ecuadorian populace. In 2019, in concordance with the International Monetary Fund, President Lenin Moreno decided to revoke subsidies for petroleum, doubling gas prices overnight. Violent protests broke out across the nation in response to these policies, as thousands of Ecuadorians were arrested or injured, and Moreno was forced to flee the capital city of Quito.
It is therefore surprising that Lasso — whose political ideology is similar to that of Moreno — was elected to office. Lasso differentiated himself from Moreno during the election by promising progress on social issues such as LGBTQ rights and prioritizing environmental conservation. However, Lasso will be hard-pressed to implement fiscally conservative policies that are popular with Ecuadorians, as working-class voters are looking desperately for solutions after the COVID-19 pandemic battered the nation’s economy. Lasso’s willingness to prioritize environmental concerns may be a particular point of contention, as ecological policy is the chief priority for many Indigenous people: a powerful force in the nation’s political ecosystem. Lasso demonstrated political savvy by threading the line between fiscal conservatism and social liberalism during the elections; hopefully, this will allow him to improve Ecuador’s economy and restore faith amongst its voters.