KEN LIVINGSTONE pays tribute to the radical policies and achievements of former president Rafael Correa.
RAFAEL CORREA recently ended his time as president of Ecuador; his 10 years as leader have been marked by some outstanding achievements, which should be noted internationally by all progressives.
In a break from the neoliberal policies of the past, in the last decade Ecuador invested massively in free healthcare and free university education.
Programmes were developed to reduce poverty and measures were taken to combat tax evasion, reduce capital flight and protect the environment from plundering by multinational corporations.
The media was democratised, with new TV and radio stations giving a voice to previously oppressed groups and minorities.
Bold steps were taken to remove US military bases and build solidarity with the rest of the region.
The political stability of Correa’s era contrasts sharply with the previous 10 years, during which Ecuador had eight different presidents, and shows that the left cannot only win and be popular but transform society through investing in our future.
Vitally, Correa rejected IMF and World Bank policies, renouncing illegitimate debts and investing the savings in public services.
He increased taxes for the rich and taxed capital flight, massively increasing government revenues.
By renegotiating agreements with foreign oil companies he ensured that the people could benefit from a greater share of Ecuador’s oil wealth.
Between 2006 and 2016 average GDP per capita growth doubled and these reforms allowed Ecuador to survive the 2009 recession relatively unscathed.
These economic achievements have enabled Ecuador to provide public services for the many not the few.
Between 2006 and 2016 government spending on healthcare doubled as a percentage of GDP. The emphasis was on providing free services and improving access for all.
Around 34,000 medical professionals were added to the workforce and 13 new hospitals were built, with another 18 under construction.
These aren’t just impressive numbers on a bit of paper, they have literally saved and transformed people’s lives. The same is true in terms of education.
Ecuador’s government believed that good quality free education was essential for a real democracy and that a skilled and well-educated population would be the key to a more diversified economy.
Over $20 billion has been invested in educational projects, including a programme of new schools focused on preserving ancestral languages.
Not only is education free up to university level, but books, uniforms and meals are provided free of charge, to reduce barriers for low-income students.
And perhaps the finest achievement of what has been termed the “citizens’ revolution” in Ecuador in recent years is how it has improved people’s living standards, tackling previously high levels of poverty and inequality.
During Correa’s presidency Ecuador’s minimum wage has doubled and is now sufficient to cover the cost of basic goods.
The living wage policy requires all employers to pay the minimum wage before any dividends can be paid to shareholders.
The contribution of homemakers is also legally recognised. They and their families can now receive social security, including disability compensation and pensions.
The Bono de Desarollo programme gives $50 a month to poor families with children, reducing child labour and contributing to a 10-fold increase in attendance at pre-school. Extreme poverty has been reduced to 5.7 per cent, from 13 per cent in 2006.
But the change in Ecuador goes much deeper than just economic change; it represents a democratisation of a whole society which had previously — at the US’s behest — put the interests of a small rich elite ahead of that of millions of people.
Human rights have been greatly improved, including laws to protect LGBT citizens from discrimination at work and allowing same-sex unions.
Affirmative action laws require employers to reserve 4 per cent of jobs for people with disabilities and adhere to other quotas for indigenous people and other black and ethnic minority groups.
Increased access to the media and language projects at schools have also boosted the identity and culture of indigenous communities, in contrast to the oppression we have seen in so many Latin American countries over the decades.
Alongside this, of particular importance is the media law, passed by national referendum, which prevents banks from owning the media.
When Correa became president the five TV channels were owned by four large banks. The new law redistributes the broadcast media into three parts, private-owned, state-owned and community grassroots-owned, ensuring some degree of diversity.
This is something all progressive governments around the world should take heed of.
And Correa — now succeeded by the brilliant equalities advocate and man of the people Lenin Moreno — can be proud as he leaves office that Ecuador is one of only eight countries recognised by the UN as meeting the criteria for sustainable development.
The country has managed to make progress in human development while keeping its ecological footprint low. Over 85 per cent of Ecuador’s energy use is now from renewable sources, rates of deforestation have been cut dramatically and reforestation projects have been prioritised.
On the world stage, Ecuador has played an important part in building regional co-operation and resisting US interference. In 2009 it joined the anti-imperialist regional alliance Alba (Alianza Bolivariana de los Pueblos de America), along with Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and several Caribbean countries.
In 2009 Correa also shut down the US base at Manta and expelled front organisations for US interference, such as USAid and various NGOs.
These actions were risky and, perhaps unsurprisingly, there was a US-backed coup in 2010, ostensibly starting as a strike about pay by dissident police officers.
However, with support from thousands of citizens who turned up to protest, Correa was rescued from detention by armed forces and police loyal to the government.
He then got on with the job of building a better society and world. As he leaves office we both need to defend Ecuador’s new socialist president against attack and learn from the remarkable achievements the country made under Correa.
First published in the Morning Star