Rafael Correa is a controversial figure. The former president of Ecuador divides his country. Many Ecuadorians remain loyal to him. Others hate him abysmally. That was not always so. Like other left-wing populists in Latin America, Correa enjoyed great popularity during his presidency.
When he came to power in 2007, the comparatively small South American oil state was facing an unprecedented boom thanks to rising raw material prices. Correa sparked its “civil revolution”, created stability and prosperity and reduced poverty. Correa was one of the heads of the “Socialism of the 21st Century” led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
Burdened by two witnesses
But at the same time, he was apparently also the head of a corruption network. This is the conclusion of the Ecuadorian judiciary. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court sentenced the former president to eight years in prison and excluded him from public office for a period of 25 years.
In addition to Correa, several entrepreneurs and other former government members have been sentenced, including former Vice President Jorge Glas, who is already serving a prison sentence for corruption in the wake of the scandal surrounding the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. Correa and the other convicts are accused of taking more than $ 7 million in bribes from companies in exchange for government contracts between 2012 and 2016.
The attorney general’s office speaks of damage of more than twenty million dollars. The money is said to have gone into the campaign of Correa and his party Alianza País. The process is based, among other things, on the statements of a former adviser and an assistant to Correas, who have agreed to work with the investigative authorities. The two witnesses provided the judiciary with written records of payments, emails and electronic archives that served as evidence.
Interpol rejected the warrant
Correa has lived in Belgium since the end of his presidency in 2017, where his wife comes from and from where he continues to mark a presence in Ecuadorian and Latin American politics. Belgium can now be seen as Correas’s exile. Because there are various legal proceedings against the former president. In 2018, a court in Ecuador issued an international arrest warrant and requested that Correa be extradited because he was accused of being involved in the kidnapping of a politician in 2012.
There was no evidence, the charges were political. Interpol therefore rejected the arrest warrant and Belgium refused to extradite it. According to the judges, the verdict is now on a firm footing. But Correa describes it as politically motivated. His defense lawyers announced that they would contest the judgment by all means and also approach international bodies. Correa himself spoke on Twitter and spoke of “lawfare”: his opponents manipulated the judiciary to achieve what they could not do in the polls.
Correa was alluding directly to the elections scheduled for the coming year. Already in February, when the trial against him started, he said in the Spanish format of the Russian television station “Russia Today”, where he himself runs a program, that he would exhaust all resources. Time is running in his favor. Correa appears to be contemplating participation in next year’s election. He is not allowed to run as a presidential candidate. However, a candidacy as a vice alongside another candidate or as a deputy would be possible as long as the judgment is not yet final.
His presence in the election campaign alone would have a big impact. Nobody knows this better than incumbent President Lenín Moreno. Chosen as a candidate by Correa, Moreno was elected President in 2017. After the election, Moreno turned away from Correa, who still describes him as a traitor.
Correa’s situation is reminiscent of other left-wing populists in Latin America, most notably the former President and current Vice President of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and the former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Both were targeted by the judiciary after the end of their presidency. Kirchner was able to avoid being convicted of corruption by serving as a senator and later by being elected vice president.
Lula da Silva was a presidential candidate in 2018 while the trial against him was going on, but was then convicted and detained. Both see themselves as politically persecuted and argue that the trials against them were solely to exclude them from politics and prevent them from returning to power. This has politicized the processes and partially welded the Latin American left, which has been ousted from power in recent years. Since the verdict, Correa has also been showered with expressions of solidarity from across the region.