Ecuador's new president, former banker Guillermo Lasso
Ecuador's new president, former banker Guillermo Lasso. Photo: Samurai Juan/Creative Commons 2.0

With Peru and Ecuador elections, the political map of Latin America is changing (again)

In Ecuador, the new president is former banker Guillermo Lasso. In Peru, a union leader stands out in a dispute with multiple candidates for a second round

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This weekend, journalists and correspondents covering Latin America discussed the presidential elections in Peru and Ecuador, two countries miles away from each other but essential for the region’s economic and political balance.

With almost all the ballot boxes cleared, former banker Guillermo Lasso is Ecuador’s new president. In Peru, the union leader and “underdog” Pedro Castilho stands out in a dispute with multiple candidates and is likely to face Keiko Fujimori, Alberto Fujimori‘s daughter, in the second round.

Conservative victory in Ecuador

Lasso’s election is a defeat for ex-president Rafael Correa (who is now in Belgium, prevented from returning to the country due to corruption charges). In the previous polls, he managed to elect Lenin Moreno, but the two became political enemies.

Correa is an atrocious opponent of the country’s dollarization. He did not approve of Moreno’s approach to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), nor did he welcome Moreno’s government to face the demonstrations of thousands of native Ecuadorians, which are symbols of historical inequalities that have never been overcome in the country.

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This year, Correa bet on Andrés Arauz, who, it seems, will lose by five points – which can cause a crusade for null votes to be counted. With almost 98% of the ballots counted, Lasso won 52.5% of the votes and Arauz, 47.5%.

Lasso inherits a country that was the protagonist of the first horror scene of the COVID-19 pandemic in Latin America, the first country to collapse into a funerary crisis in April last year, with bodies spending days on the corners of Guayaquil. A tragedy only surpassed now by Brazil and its absurd number of daily deaths due to the disease.

Lasso was elected with the support from businessmen and conservatives, but he must face parliament with a minority in the House, and who knows what agreements he will have to make to govern. In the Assembly, he has only 12 lawmakers against 49 of the correismo (as Correa’s political model is called). Looking at the political background, Lasso will have to seek a coalition, for better or for worse, or a clash, also a pendulum with its ethical limitations.

Even before the official announcement, former Argentine President Mauricio Macri celebrated Lasso’s victory on his social networks. Certainly, a pinprick in the government of Alberto Fernández and Cristina Kirchner, a friend of Correa – some time ago, there were rumors about a supposed romance between them. In 2010, Correa was present during the funeral of Néstor Kirchner. But they may be just rumors, such as those about a possible romantic connection between her and former economy minister Axel Kicillof, now governor of Buenos Aires, or the Spanish judge Baltazar Garzón.

The fact is that Ecuador will no longer be an obvious ally of Argentina. Today, even with the country’s internal problems, it tends to pull regional blocks, but it does not have the same partners that it once counted.

Lasso’s inauguration will be held on May 24.

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In Peru, the underdog who arrived on horseback

The underdog who arrived on horseback. Pedro Castilho went from 8th place to first in a poll with almost two dozen candidates. The scene of Castilho making his way on a horse at the place where he would vote could have come out of a novel by Gabriel García Márquez. It could have happened in the writer’s mystical city of Macondo. But not. The union leader, driven by a vote that probably did not come from Lima, results from a polarized election.

With just under 60% of the ballot boxes counted until the end of this column, it is not yet known who will go to the second round with Castilho. Many bet on a duel between him and the daughter of former Peruvian dictator Alberto Fujimori, Keiko Fujimori, who is in third place. Many analysts think that the other candidates’ votes would go to her, in opposition to the left cowboy. On the other hand, the rejection of it is also great.

The Peruvian system has been used as a kind of dismal presidential drive-thru. From 2006 to the present, the list of those who survived a mandate in power is not exactly encouraging.

In 2018, pressured by Congress, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned. Martín Vizcarra, his successor, was impeached last year. The current president, Francisco Sagasti, has been in office on an interim basis ever since. Before that, in 2019, Allan Garcia, who served a second term between 2006 and 2011, committed suicide when he was about to be arrested for allegedly participating in corruption schemes with Odebrecht.

In the midst of all this is Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori, elected in 1990 democratically, but who gave a self-coup in 1992, closing the Congress, among other authoritarian attitudes.

In 2000, he was in Brunei when reports of corruption and crimes against humanity began to weigh on him. In an act of “courage,” he resigned via fax and went to Japan (where he obtained citizenship). Six years later, when he thought he could run for president again, he traveled to Chile to connect back to Peru. He ended up in prison and extradited because he had a warrant for his arrest.

There were dozens of comings and goings, inducements and condemnations. In 2019, Fujimori returned to serving time in a prison after being sentenced to 25 years in prison for corruption and crimes against humanity. Under Keiko, his daughter, prosecutions for corruption also weigh.

Another possible opponent for Castilho is the economist Hernando de Soto. We will only know who will participate in the second round on June 6 at the end of the vote count.

The fact is that, again, after recent years of boiling in South America, with Ecuador, Chile, Peru and Colombia going through dozens of popular protests and uprisings, the year 2021 may not be a quiet year politically. Once again, and in the midst of an unprecedented health crisis, the geopolitics of the region is being redesigned. Observing closely what happens in the neighbor’s grass is essential for anyone who wants to understand what can happen in Brazil and in the region.

Translated by Fabiane Ziolla Menezes