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LATIN AMERICA | 24-05-2021 22:21

Lasso inaugurated as first right-wing Ecuador president in 14 years

Conservative Guillermo Lasso assumed the presidency of Ecuador on Monday, becoming the country's first right-wing leader in 14 years.

Conservative Guillermo Lasso assumed the presidency of Ecuador on Monday, becoming the country's first right-wing leader in 14 years.

The 65-year-old former banker beat left-wing economist Andrés Arauz in a second-round run-off last month and succeeds the hugely unpopular Lenin Moreno.

Dressed in a dark suit with a light blue tie, Lasso was sworn into office by Guadalupe Llori, the president of the National Assembly.

"Today Ecuador declares it is opening its doors to world trade," said Lasso.

He inherits an oil-producing country battling economic and health crises, with the coronavirus pandemic having infected almost 420,000 people and killed more than 20,000, according to an AFP count.

"Today we have received a country with record unemployment levels, a country that has been blinded by its inability to face a brutal pandemic," he said.

Between December 2019 and March this year, unemployment rose from 4.6 percent to 5.5 percent, while poverty increased to 32 percent in December 2020 compared to 25 percent in the same month of the previous year.

Among the foreign dignitaries to attend his inauguration were Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Haiti's Jovenel Moise and Luis Abinader of the Dominican Republic, as well as Spain's King Felipe VI.

It was a cherished moment for Lasso, who previously lost election campaigns to socialists Rafael Correa – Arauz's political mentor – in 2013 and Moreno four years later. 

His first challenge will be to rejuvenate an economy that contracted by 7.8 percent in 2020 and where overall debt stands at 63 percent of GDP.

Political polarisation

Lasso is a believer in the free-market economy and has named Simón Cueva, a former employee of the International Monetary Fund, as his economy and finance minister.

The new president said he would look to join the Pacific Alliance trade bloc alongside Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru "as soon as possible."

"We will open Ecuador to free trade agreements with our biggest allies," said Lasso.

He at least begins with an approval rating of 60 percent, according to pollsters Cedatos, and a lesson from his predecessor whose popularity plummeted from 53 percent to just nine percent during his four-year reign.

His victory by almost five percentage points over Arauz was seen as a rejection of the politics of Correa, who currently lives in Belgium avoiding an eight-year sentence for corruption.

Correa, though, came to power in 2007 after a decade of instability that saw Ecuador swear in seven presidents, three of whom were removed by social protests.

Correa was credited with modernising Ecuador, thanks in no small part to high oil prices – something Lasso doesn't currently benefit from.

The socialist leader's legacy, however, was one of falling out with almost everyone due to his authoritarian style.

Traditional political parties, environmentalists, the media, even his former vice-president Moreno became enemies.

Without mentioning Correa personally, Lasso hit out at past governments that "in the midst of so many arguments and internal struggles yielded to the worst political weakness: the authoritarian temptation."

"We're beginning the fight to recover the democratic spirit of our country," he said, adding that "there will be no more political persecution in Ecuador."

Lasso has vowed to govern for all Ecuadoreans in a country suffering from political polarisation.

"I have not come to satisfy the hatred of a few, I have come to satisfy the hunger of many," he said.

He is a practicing Catholic and member of the conservative Opus Dei faction within the Church.

Following his election victory, he pledged to give official papers to the thousands of Venezuelan refugees in Ecuador and hit out at the "totalitarianism" of the Nicolas Maduro regime they had fled.

According to authorities, 350,000 Venezuelans live among Ecuador's 17.5 million population, mostly in the Pichincha province where the capital Quito is found.

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by Santiago Piedra Silva, AFP

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