Rafael Correa’s government is one of the most popular in Latin America according to polls. What are the main factors behind this popularity?
The main factor in the popularity is associated with credibility. This is because for the first time in a very long time in Ecuador’s history, what Rafael Correa promised during the campaign actually became a reality. Not just in the long term, but in a very short period of time. People take very high regard of the president’s word and his word now has value. That’s the main difference between him and the rest of the politicians.
What have been the main advances for working people in Ecuador in the last nine years?
We started with a country that had been fully immersed in neo-liberal policies and we have transformed a lot of that. In terms of working rights, a lot of the measures that exploited workers like outsourcing of labour was prohibited – that was a radical change. We had re-regulated labour markets profoundly. And, then in terms of the provision of social and public goods, there has been a tremendous transformation there in terms of access to basic education, higher education and health services. All of these are constitutional rights and they are free and fully accessible to the public.
Rafael Correa came to power on the brink of the world financial crisis, and yet up until the recent crash in oil prices Ecuador experienced very strong growth. How was this achieved?
The main element spurring growth in Ecuador has been public investment. In Latin America in general, specifically in Ecuador, public investment had been abandoned for about 30 years. So we have a lot to make up, and that’s why the speed of public investment rates have been going up since Correa came into government, and in terms of building and rebuilding infrastructure, new hydro-electric power plants, and injecting money into the economy via a lot of social and welfare programs. Our growth is associated with the process of guaranteeing these constitutional rights. So public investment has been the main engine of growth, and we definitely intend to continue those policies and the growth of our public sector.
What has been the approach of the government in response to the challenges posed by low oil prices?
The situation is complex now because of the oil price but fortunately there have been ten years of successful transformative policies in our fiscal area, so Ecuador improved its tax collection rates. There was a lot of tax evasion before, now there is much less and that has allowed for us to continue government spending without significantly affecting the rest of the economy or people’s rights. We have definitely prioritised maintaining the standard of living of the majority and while there have been a few adjustments they have been mostly focused on the rich. For example, we have eliminated a few subsidies used by big corporations like cheaper access to fossil fuel energy. Several other measures similar to that have been taken to make adjustments but not allow those adjustments to affect the majority of the working population.
The last 15 years has seen massive social progress in Latin America, but this is now under threat with the resurgence of the right. How do you see Ecuador’s role in defending social progress and democracy in Latin America?
Latin America is facing what we call a Conservative Restoration. We are definitely on alert because the forces of capital, and especially speculative and neoliberal financial capital, are very keen to have the progress that Latin America has shown the world be reversed because it has been an example for the rest of the world. This means that the main element we now have to take care of is maintaining unity within our social movements, organisations and left parties and to try to sustain the broad coalition we have managed within the last ten years as well as retain the connection with citizens. Citizens’ rights and needs are evolving, and we have to make sure that Latin American progressive forces are still connected to society.