Why Ecuador’s Rafael Correa Is One of Latin America’s Most Popular Leaders
June 4, 2015
Rafael Correa is often wrongly paired with Hugo Chávez, the late Venezuelan president, as an outspoken Latin American populist. In fact, the differences between the two men are significant. Chávez was a career army colonel; Correa is an accomplished economics professor, with a PhD from the University of Illinois. Chávez first won attention with a failed coup attempt in 1992; Correa stepped into Ecuador’s spotlight in 2005 as a bold finance minister who stood up to international banks. Even Chávez’s partisans admit that his presidency was marred by economic mismanagement; even Correa’s opponents can find little to criticize about Ecuador’s stable and growing economy. These differences partly explain why Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro, is stumbling badly in Venezuela, while Correa continues to enjoy nationwide approval ratings of more than 60 percent.
Correa, 52, was raised in modest circumstances in the tropical port city of Guayaquil. Strongly influenced by the Catholic Church’s Liberation Theology, Correa interrupted his studies to volunteer for a year in a poor indigenous community in the Andean highlands, where he taught school and promoted micro-enterprises. In our recent interview in Quito, he told me simply, “I think all Christians should do this.” There he learned how to speak some Kichwa, the language of as many as 35 percent of Ecuadoreans, who include many of the poorest.