You know you’re visiting a different presidential office when the tour guide goes to some length to emphasise that the portraits only include presidents who were elected constitutionally. But other than that, and the apparently revolutionary idea that gifts to the Office of the President should be displayed for public view rather than squirreled away by that particular office holder, the Presidential Palace in Quito’s main square seemed mostly like a standard head of state office.
We quietly declined the suggestion that we bow to the Ecuadorian flag as a mark of respect. By and large, I’m not wild about flags*, and even if I were Ecuador’s isn’t a great specimen. It looks like Colombia’s, mostly.
The run on Correa
Rafael Correa, the current President of Ecuador. When we dropped by he was meeting in the Cabinet room so couldn’t say hello. Hes a very interesting guy and one of few economists who actually get to practice what they preach. His PhD argued that marketisation isn’t effective in Latin America where there’s an entrenched wealthy class. Fine to sell a state owned enterprise in Britain, but do it in Ecuador and the only people who can afford to buy shares are those who are wealthy already. He rose to prominence in Ecuador by arguing it was too subservient to the IMF.
Correa has gained international notoriety for his support of Hugo Chavez and his draconian approach to the Ecuadorian media. He also flagged a free trade deal with the US, arguing that the US can’t make the case for free trade when it still protects its own industry, especially agriculture. On this, at least, he has a point. He’s also carved more oil profits out of companies operating in Ecuador, and come up with an innovative way to profit from protecting the environment.
For all his firebrand socialist language, there’s also a sense that Correa is actually quite pragmatic, certainly more so than Chavez ever was. “The market is a wonderful servant” he says, “but a terrible master”. He purports to use capitalism and socialism as tools to get the outcomes which he wants. On outcomes you can’t really fault him. Since his election in 2007, 1.13 million Ecuadorians have been lifted out of poverty, Ecuador now has the lowest unemployment, and some of the highest growth in the region.
And, ultimately, in a country that has ditched three of its recent Presidents in coups, you’d have to say his seven year tenure means he’s doing pretty well.
*A significant upside of being out of New Zealand at the moment is not having to stomach the ‘debate’ about changing the flag. Though one bright addition is this suggestion from a philosophy professor, which I tentatively endorse, that we shouldn’t have a flag at all. And, if we are going to worry about getting a new flag, we should probably also worry about having ridiculously dressed guards for our politicians.