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Ecuador Chooses Conservative Banker As Its Next President

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In a surprising win, Ecuador has elected a conservative banker as its next president. His name is Guillermo Lasso, and he won in a runoff election against the left-wing candidate. That was economist Andres Arauz, who was widely expected to win. Well, here to tell us why and why it matters is Thea Riofrancos She teaches Latin American politics at Providence College.

Welcome.

THEA RIOFRANCOS: Thank you so much for having me.

KELLY: Tell us more about the man who won. I said he is a banker. What else do we need to know?

RIOFRANCOS: He's a banker. He's a millionaire. He served for many years as the president of Banco Guayaquil, one of Ecuador's largest private banks. He also has been found to have hidden a lot of his wealth in offshore tax havens and thus evaded domestic taxation. It's also worth noting that this is his third time running for president. I guess, third time is the charm. The other two times didn't work - and that his platform and past are a promise to return to the pro-free market and private investment policies that had prevailed in Ecuador for decades.

KELLY: And do we know what the key factor was? Was there a key factor? You said he's run three times before, and the other guy was expected to win.

RIOFRANCOS: Ecuador had one of the first and most severe COVID outbreaks in Latin America and has suffered from that and from the economic crisis related to that. And so this is a moment of social and economic and political upheaval, and I think that can make politics less predictable. The other two things that I would mention is that oftentimes, second rounds of elections in runoff electoral systems produce surprising results because the voters of candidates two, three and four might all dislike candidate one for various reasons, right? And Arauz, who was the left-wing candidate, was the one that won the most votes in the first round. But voters of both right and of the Indigenous party candidate, you know, may have disliked him for various reasons, right? So oftentimes, second rounds produce surprising coalitions. And sometimes, the second-place person comes out on top. And I think the third thing that I would mention, which I alluded to, is that there's been a deep and now almost decade-long split among leftists and progressives that resulted in it being challenging for left-wing government to come to power.

KELLY: I know it's hard to speak for what a whole nation might be watching for, but are people in Ecuador hopeful that their lives may get better in the coming year and under this president?

RIOFRANCOS: You know, I don't think I would describe the main feeling or vibe in Ecuador as hope. I think there's tremendous discontent. There's a lot of division, including among people with, in some senses, some similar political viewpoints, like I mentioned, among progressives and the left. So I would say that Ecuadorians are discontent, are scared about the economic situation, the continued health situation, the possibilities for getting equitable access to a vaccine and the mounting debt that puts a lot of pressure on the fiscal resources of the government.

KELLY: That is the Thea Riofrancos, professor at Providence College, talking about the election results over the weekend in Ecuador.

Thank you.

RIOFRANCOS: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILOUS' "DUSK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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