Carlos Alberto Montaner

Eduardo Correa losing popularity in Ecuador

It happened again. The defeat of Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa in the municipal elections of Feb. 23 is not an isolated case. It is possible that 21st-century socialism, its ideological neighbors and the circuit of countries in the “Bolivarian” circle, known by acronym ALBA, are in a downturn.

There is a certain fatigue with the foolish language popularized by the late “Bolivarian“ leader, Hugo Chávez. The pendulum is swinging in the opposite direction. The Venezuelan spectacle, with Maduro’s bloody mistreatment of unarmed students, is too repugnant.

It happened earlier to Cristina Fernández in Argentina, to Manuel Zelaya in Honduras (he sacrificed his wife, Xiomara Castro, in the last round of elections), to José María Villalta in Costa Rica, to populist presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico, and Aníbal Carrillo in Paraguay.

That dusty statist discourse no longer convinces, although it retains its attractiveness in some places that are indifferent to experience.

The populism is typical of societies with self-destructive tendencies. It is very likely, for example, that an extreme variant of Chávez-style politics will triumph in El Salvador, where the communist Salvador Sánchez Cerén, a former hard-line guerrilla, leads in the surveys for next Sunday’s presidential election.

That augurs an era of conflict, turbulence and economic retreat in Latin America’s smallest country.

In any case, Correa — the ruler who has occupied the presidential mansion in Ecuador for the longest continuous time and has increased public spending the most, taking advantage of the oil bonanza — lost nine of the 10 most populous cities and most of the prefectures, as provinces are called there. Among the cities are Quito, the capital; Guayaquil, the economic heart; and Cuenca, the country’s third-largest metropolis. That’s quite an electoral hammer blow.

Why did Correa lose those elections, independent of the current tendency in Latin America to remove Chávez-style populism from government houses?

Almost everyone acknowledges that he has built important infrastructures, that he has made an effort to improve education and has had the courage to face down the teachers’ union, the extreme environmentalists and some indigenous advocates when defending the general interests of Ecuadoreans.

About that, there’s no discussion.

The problem is his authoritarian nature, his inability to accept criticism, his rough treatment of those who contradict him, including his public humiliation of a young female reporter who asked him an uncomfortable question during a press briefing and was called by Correa a “horrible fatty.”

Correa gets up quite happy every morning to behold his own greatness and rages at a cartoon by a caricaturist or an article that, with or without reason, criticizes him.

Instead of behaving like a public servant, selected to obey and enforce the law, as befits a republican system, Correa publicly boasts of disobeying the rules of the Electoral Council and the Parliament because they are, to him, “obsolete.” Why does the ordinary citizen have to submit to the laws while the president is exempt from that obligation?

Correa already explained that, because he was elected president, he was simultaneously the head of the judicial and legislative powers. In other words, he was the enlightened despot, lord of the institutions, the benevolent tyrant of reason and order who imposed his good judgment for the benefit of the people, like those monarchs of the ancient regime who were displaced by the liberal democracy after the revolutions in the 19th Century.

Correa will finish his term in 2017.

If he does not straighten up, he’ll end up being tremendously unpopular. We can already see the wolf’s big ears. What a pity.