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Ecuador's leftist win gives Chavez political boost

Rafael Correa's victory in Ecuador's presidential election capped a series of political triumphs for the leftist allies of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Latin America.

india Updated: Nov 28, 2006 06:04 IST

Rafael Correa's victory in Ecuador's presidential election capped a series of political triumphs for the leftist allies of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Latin America and boosted Chavez's own bid to be re-elected on Sunday.

After fellow leftist leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva won re-election in Brazil in October, Chavez's vocal and financial support helped catapult Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega into office this month, and his attacks on Correa's rival aided another socialist's win.

The successes came despite criticism that the intervention of Chavez and his anti-US stance in Mexican and Peruvian elections earlier this year sparked nationalist backlashes and torpedoed his allies' campaigns in those countries.

"Correa's victory is symbolically significant given Chavez's recent diplomatic misadventures with Mexico and Peru, and at the United Nations," said Patrick Esteruelas of the Eurasia Group consultancy, referring to Venezuela's failure to overcome US opposition to its Security Council seat bid.

The Correa win could reinforce the impression among Chavez supporters that the Venezuelan president is a winner and bolster his prestige as a regional leader.

Most independent polls give Chavez a comfortable lead before Venezuela's election on Sunday. He commands huge popular support after spending bumper oil income on the low-income majority in one of the world's leading energy exporters.

Bridging the leftist divide

Chavez has formed a triumvirate of hard-line leaders opposed to Washington with Bolivian President Evo Morales and Cuban President Fidel Castro, and political analysts see the US-educated Correa adding some weight to that axis. But they caution he could straddle the two sides of the Latin left represented by the radical Chavez and the moderate Lula in Brazil.

Moreover, Correa worries foreign investors with vows to limit debt payments and opposition to a US free-trade pact, but Lula also was originally feared by Wall Street, which later embraced him.

"I would be very disappointed if he turns into a new Chavez," said Riordan Roett, director of Latin American studies at Johns Hopkins University. "As with all these guys, like Lula, they realise there is a real world out there and that you have to act responsibly and act conservatively on the fiscal side."

The United States may play up contrasts between Chavez and Lula, but the two most influential Latin American leaders have found ways to symbolically bridge their differences.

Lula's first foreign trip after regaining the presidency was to Venezuela. Chavez, who promises to repay the honour, used Lula's visit to tout a Brazilian-built bridge and to cast himself as a friend of private investment.

After the negative reaction to him in Peru and Mexico, Chavez avoided wading into the Ecuadorean campaign until Correa had finished second in the first round of voting.

Chavez then attacked banana magnate Alvaro Noboa for amassing his fortune on the back of child labour - closely echoing accusations Correa used to mount his comeback win in Sunday's run-off vote.

Initial results on Monday showed Correa leading by a better than 2-to-1 majority.

When Chavez called US President George W Bush the devil in a UN speech in September, Correa said Satan should be insulted by the comparison.

But Correa softened his tone and distanced himself a little from Chavez in recent weeks.

"Correa is saying, 'He's my friend' of Chavez, but 'In my house I am the one who rules,'" said Alberto Ramos, an analyst with Goldman Sachs.

First Published: Nov 28, 2006 06:04 IST