The president and his 'unlikely political project'



More than 13.4 million Ecuadorians out of the country’s 18.5 million residents voted last Sunday for a new president who will complete the term of office of Guillermo Lasso, who left early. The candidate of the center-right National Democratic Action alliance Daniel Noboa, received 52% of the vote and became president. His rival Luisa Gonzalez of the left-wing Citizen Resolution coalition received 48% of the vote.

Noboa’s victory, according to Western media, defies the «pink tide» — the rise to power of the left in other countries in the region such as Venezuela, Colombia, Chile, Brazil and Bolivia — and adds to the army of the right in Uruguay, Paraguay and Peru. In fact, things are much more interesting.

Ecuador has identified a new trend: a growing demand for figures not engaged with traditional, professional politics.

Having reached the minimum age of 35 to run for president, Noboa served two years as a legislator in the National Assembly, which was dissolved this May by President Guillermo Lasso to avoid his own impeachment. In other words, Noboa has virtually no political or governmental experience.

Analysts assure that with little experience in public office and a fractured National Assembly, it won’t be easy. It will take time for Noboa to form a governing coalition, and «it is likely to be ideologically inconsistent and unpredictable», according to Will Freeman, an expert at the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations.

Noboa, a Harvard graduate, is heir to one of Latin America’s wealthiest families, a banana empire that boasts its world-famous fruit brand, Bonita Banana. The Noboa family’s vast assets are diverse and include fertilizer, plastics, cardboard and the country’s largest container storage complex. Incidentally, his father Alvaro Noboa tried unsuccessfully five times to become president.

Upon learning of his victory in the election, Daniel Noboa said in a short public statement that «we begin to work for this new Ecuador» to rebuild a country that has suffered greatly «from violence, corruption and hatred. From tomorrow, hope begins to work». However, no one really knows how he will do it.

It’s hard to say which is better: congratulate or feel sorry for a young businessman who will have to face one of the biggest challenges in Ecuador’s recent history: dealing with the rampant violence associated with drug trafficking.

First, he takes on a country where violence has soared in recent years. Outgoing President Guillermo Lasso lost control of the situation and failed to fix it. It is not at all easy to curb the drug cartels when they have already infiltrated the system, the very foundations of the state.

Ecuador is dominated by a powerful drug trafficking network that includes Colombian and Mexican cartels as well as Albanian gangs. The country has become an important transshipment point for cocaine smuggled into Europe through Pacific Coast ports.

Analysts do not expect Noboa to deal a decisive blow to drug traffickers and organized crime. Rather, the latter are more likely to cultivate coca on his father’s banana plantations.

Beheadings, car bombings, police killings, hanging young men from bridges and shooting children in front of their homes or schools are regularly in the news.

Among Noboa’s proposals during the election campaign is a “tough fight against organized crime.” To that end, he proposed militarizing Ecuador’s ports, airports and main highways and restoring control over the country’s prisons. He called his proposals the Phoenix Plan, which includes the creation of a centralized intelligence and crime prevention system, modernization of law enforcement forces with the introduction of ballistic-resistant uniforms, new weapons and equipment, including drones and facial recognition cameras. He did not specify what resources he would use to implement the plan.

The year 2022 ended with the highest rate of violent crime in Ecuador’s history at 4,600 cases, double that of 2021. Since the beginning of this year, there have already been 5,320. At this rate, the crime rate could reach 40 murders per 100,000 residents by the end of 2023, putting Ecuador among the «most violent countries in the world», according to Spanish newspaper El Pais. Violent rallies against drug traffickers and criminals have already cost the lives of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio days before the first round and five other politicians.

Secondly, Noboa will face economic problems. By the end of the year, according to Bloomberg, the budget deficit will reach $5 billion, which is almost 4% of GDP. In turn, the Central Bank predicts that Ecuador’s economy will grow by only 0.8% in 2024. The current government has an agreement with the International Monetary Fund for $6.5 billion dollars from 2020 to 2022. There have been no further negotiations with the IMF for new loans, and it will be difficult for the new government to get new loans in 16 months.

Third, voters expect the new authorities to improve the quality of life. Today, one in four Ecuadorians lives in poverty (about 4.5 million), with almost two million living in extreme poverty. This in turn provokes increased migration of the population. In 2022, according to official figures, 114,000 people emigrated, but there are no updates.

Panama’s migration bureau confirmed that as of July 31 this year, 34,357 Ecuadorians had crossed the border through the Darien jungle, more than in all of 2022 (29,356).

Fourth, Noboa will have to change the population’s attitude toward government. According to a May poll conducted by Click Reseach, 95% of Ecuadorians have a negative view of parliament and 87% have a negative view of the judiciary. Nine out of 10 Ecuadorians are pessimistic about the future, and only two out of 10 trust the state.

Finally, in the National Assembly itself, the new president will also face a tough time. His alliance has 13 seats in parliament, none of the four forces represented has a majority and, as of now, there is no foreseeable candidate to form a governing coalition with. The National Assembly, dissolved by Lasso, was «famous» for pointless confrontations with the government and between the deputies themselves.

The 2023 elections, according to analysts, were the most violent in Ecuador’s history, with 88 cases of political violence recorded. That’s why on October 15, all officials and candidates wore flak jackets and were under armed guard. For one day, the country became one big heavily guarded garrison.

Noboa, in his first speech as president-elect, thanked voters for supporting his «unlikely political project». He knows better. Time will tell how much patience Ecuadorians have. And time is very short.