After months of feuding, Ecuador’s president is ousted by his party

After executing a stunning break with his left-wing predecessor, Ecuador’s new president, Lenin Moreno, has been ousted from his party. Reuters/Henry Romero

After months of internal dissent and public feuding, Ecuador’s president, Lenin Moreno, has been removed as president of his party, the Alianza Pais. He will remain in office, though, and the decision – technically justified by Moreno’s absence from several meetings – is being hotly contested within the party.

Moreno served as vice president for six years under Rafael Correa, the popular and charismatic founder of the left-wing Alianza Pais party. In April 2017, he was narrowly elected as the successor to Correa’s administration, which oversaw the most stable political period of Ecuador’s democratic history.

During his presidential campaign against the conservative banker Guillermo Lasso, there were already signs that Moreno was distancing himself from Correa. But at the time, these subtle political shifts seemed necessary to win an extremely tight race on a continent where the once-powerful Left is now ailing.

Now, after executing a shocking breakaway from both the Alianza Pais platform and its supreme leader, Correa, the party is taking action against him. This political turnaround is complicating Ecuador’s democratic transition and unraveling the powerful Alianza Pais.

The outstretched hand

Elected by just 2.3 points over Lasso, Moreno knew his administration would face serious challenges – among them, governing a highly polarized nation.

To tackle them, candidate Moreno seemed to think that demonstrating autonomy from Correa was a must-do. On the campaign trail, Moreno promised voters “national reconciliation,” “an outstretched hand” and “continuity with change.” Commentators took to calling this stratagem the “de-Correafication” of Ecuador.

Once in office, that process expanded. The president has now engaged every social and political force that Correa’s administration had considered “the opposition,” from the indigenous movement to the financial sector and media conglomerates.

Moreno has also held talks with opposition parties and the Ecuadorian Business Committee, a lobby that had urged the Correa government, which spent heavily on social welfare, to curb public expenditures.

Pivot time

Conversation led to action. Moreno acceded to financial sector demands that private banks be allowed to work with digital cash. In Ecuador, all electronic payments had previously been controlled by the central bank.

He also agreed to introduce reforms to the Communications Act that will protect freedom of expression, acquiescing to calls from media companies that for years did battle with Correa.

To govern a polarized nation, Moreno tried to win support from conservatives who protested his narrow election. That alienated his base. Reuters//Mariana Bazo

Finally, in a nod to austerity, the new president cut civil servant salaries, even though Ecuador ranks among the Latin American nations with the lowest public debt.

Such moves worry the Alianza Pais’s base, who fear that the president is subverting Correa’s self-declared “citizen’s revolution.” If so, he’s doing it without any clear political or economic vision. Moreno’s policies are so incongruous that the right-wing Lasso recently offered to “lend” the president his economic plan.

A public fued

It didn’t take long for Moreno and his powerful predecessor to begin publicly clashing.

In June, Correa began to “editorialize” the Moreno administration in opinion pieces in El Telégrafo newspaper. On Twitter, he implicitly criticized the president as having either a “short memory” or acting “in bad faith.”

Moreno responded in kind. In a public meeting in June, he said, “Now we can breath freely, slowly we will all shed our sheep-like behavior.” He added that “the table is not set…he [Correa] could have been a bit more reasonable about leaving things in better condition.”

The former president quickly took to the internet to condemn the president’s intractability, saying that Moreno’s actions would undo El Correismo – Correa’s self-titled political movement – bow to corporate interests and kill Ecuador’s citizen revolution.

Adding to the chorus was Moreno’s own vice president, Jorge Glas, a Correa insider. In an Aug. 2 public letter, he protested President Moreno’s rapprochement with conservative forces.

All this fueled the new president’s move to break away from El Correismo, even though just months ago Ecuadorian voters opted in favor of Correa’s legacy.

Irreconcilable differences

The resignation, in August, of several senior officials from El Correismo’s progressive wing showed that the government and the political movement were drifting farther apart.

On Oct. 30, Moreno criticized his predecessor’s media policies, which some journalists felt limited freedom of the press. “The media cannot be converted into propaganda tools for the government nor, much less still, a party or political movement,” he said.

Amigos no more. Reuters/Mariana Bazo

He also promised to move forward with a referendum that seems aimed at overturning some of Correa’s reforms and boosting Moreno’s political capital among the conservative base he’ll now depend upon.

On Oct. 31, the growing schism within Ecuador’s Left seemed to have become an irreparable separation. What happens next – to Alianza Pais and this president’s administration – is anyone’s guess.

This article has been corrected. Moreno was removed as president of the Alianza Pais on Oct. 31 but allowed to maintain party affiliation. A version of this article was originally published on Oct. 16, 2017.