In the wake of center-right President Guillermo Lasso’s move to dissolve a National Assembly to prevent impeachment proceedings, Ecuador will head to a snap presidential election on August 20. This election will have a notable impact on U.S. relations in Latin America, as China and Russia continue to gain allies and leverage in the region. Ecuador could once again become an anti-American force.
Luisa González, a former member of the National Assembly from the socialist Citizen Revolution party, has quickly become the frontrunner in the election, leading with 41 percent in recent polls. She promises to continue the vision of former President Rafael Correa, who implemented hard-left reforms as president and made himself a staunch opponent of social and economic liberalism.
That would be horrendous for U.S. relations with Ecuador. If González wins, the United States will lose influence in a country with which it has had an extensive security and commercial relationship since the late 1990s. That would be replaced with an adversarial relationship motivated by the decidedly anti-American stance of Correísmo.
Correa was part of the Pink Tide—a movement of populist left-wing Latin American governments in the mid-2000s. He, along with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, and Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, implemented a number of anti-American and, in some cases, anti-democratic measures. In Ecuador specifically, Correa changed the Ecuadorian constitution to extend his rule and power. He kicked out the American defense staff from Ecuador, expelled American diplomats, halted the United States’ counter-narcotic program, and provided asylum for Julian Assange—the infamous journalist who published leaked U.S. defense secrets. These measures impeded U.S. security objectives against organized crime and espionage in the region.
Correa’s post-presidential career has not exactly been clean; he has been sentenced to eight years in prison in Ecuador on corruption charges. He is currently evading justice from Belgium.
Yet despite evidence of his corruption and anti-democratic posturing—which she characterizes as a witch hunt—González and her party expressed they would prefer Correa to become president again. After all, she served in Correa’s administration for ten years and has said she would have Correa as her “principal advisor” while in government. In turn, Correa has endorsed González.
Who is Luisa González?
González’s party, Citizen Revolution, espouses a Marxist message, calling its members “comrades” and “revolutionaries” and repeatedly using Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara’s famous quote, “¡Hasta la victoria siempre!” (“Until Victory Always”). Correa himself used the quote in his endorsement of González.
In foreign policy, González has firmly opposed the American position on the democratic future of Venezuela. She argues that President Nicolás Maduro was democratically elected and that she would engage diplomatically with Maduro as an equal partner. “The Venezuelan people have their president, they have chosen him,” argued González the same day the Biden administration called for free and fair elections in that country. Simultaneously,
González has also aligned herself with Presidents Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) of Mexico and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina. Both are veterans from the Pink Tide era who have made standing up to “American neoliberalism” a key tenet of their governing ideology. AMLO forcibly kicked out U.S. military and intelligence personnel from Mexico, and Kirchner signed various security and economic cooperation agreements with Russia and China while criticizing US foreign policy in the region. During a visit to Mexico City, González shared that she would model her government after theirs.
When asked about relations with Washington, González only said she would respect the UN charter and treat the United States “the same” as other countries. She insisted that America should respect Ecuador’s “self-determination.” These comments belie the level of U.S. involvement in the South American country, as Washington continues to provide security Ecuador even dollarized its economy to escape an inflationary trap.
Yet the latter development shouldn’t come as a surprise. Both González and Correa have demonstrated poor judgment in economic and financial matters, and have been critical of the U.S. international financial institutions while embracing China’s debt-trap diplomacy.
As president, Correa reportedly refused to deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to finance Ecuador’s debt. It didn’t matter that the IMF offered lower interest rates; he took a deal with China instead. As a result, Beijing now holds the majority of Ecuador’s foreign debt, granting it significant power in Quito. There is no indication that González would deviate from this course as president.
In short, González wins this election, it will be a blow to U.S. economic power and leverage in the region.
The Other Candidate
There are other contenders for the presidency on the ballot. One particularly interesting candidate is Yaku Pérez, an eco-socialist from the indigenous-environmental alliance of parties. He currently presents González’s main opponent from her left flank.
Yaku, meaning “water” in Kichwa, has been fighting extractive projects for more than a decade on the basis that they threaten water access and quality. He has promised to halt all oil and mining extraction.
Despite this, there is some ground for progress and cooperation between the United States with Yaku, as his intentions are sincere and his background is impressive. Yaku has expressed the desire to sign a free trade agreement with the United States, and looks to maintain energy subsidies and boost international investment, particularly from the rest of the Americas. Unlike Lasso, Correa, and González, Yaku has extensive credentials signaling his attachment to democracy and constitutional rule, promoting citizens’ assemblies and peaceful protest, for which he and his wife—an American-educated political activist that has promoted cooperation with the United States on trade, democracy, and human rights—were persecuted by Correa. Yaku has also openly criticized China and Venezuela for authoritarianism and human rights abuses and proposed to create a global anti-corruption organization with support from the United States, the Organization of American States, and the UN.
Yet, at present, González is projected to win in Quito next month.
In a region that continues to be plagued by instability and leaders with contempt for democracy and liberal values, González would add to the long list of leaders exacerbating the problem. She would damage the U.S. position in the country and the region at large, instead favoring America’s adversaries. Washington ought to take note.
Joseph Bouchard is a freelance journalist covering geopolitics in Latin America. His articles have appeared in The Diplomat, Mongabay, and Global Americans. He is an MIA candidate at Carleton University in Ottawa.
The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The National Interest or its editors.