Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Ecuador and Correa . . . oh, We Forgot About Him
While Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales have been making a big splash with the protests and elections in their country, and while Chrissy K. has been ramping up the nationalism in Argentina (oooh - there's an original trick), Rafael Correa has been slipping under the radar of most news organizations. This is a guy to watch, and since the only news organizations that seem to be paying attention to him are Bloomberg or Lloyd's List, I'm betting he's going to play a part in South America's next great drama.
His 2007 refusal to renew a US lease in Manta at the Alfaro air base and instead offer it to China was dismissed as bluster at the time, but it appears he's still moving ahead with the deal, according to Dow Jones Newswire coverage by Katerine Erazo. Manta is the closest deep water port in South America to China, and a Hong Kong based company is currently expanding the port at a brisk pace (though not fast enough for Correa who is threatening to boot the company if they don't get it done faster). Meanwhile, China has grown its crude extraction in Latin America (much of it in Ecuador) by 24%.
I'm not sure what keeps the cameras away from Correa. Perhaps as a US trained economist he doesn't have the "Indian Sexy" feel that Evo does, or the "Third World Strongman" feel of Chavez. I'm pretty sure his vocal Catholicism is a major turn off for some on the left, though I'm pretty sure why the murder of an Ecuadorian citizen in New York failed to make much of a splash.
Correa is a mixed bag - probably something that will turn out to be a healthy decision for Ecuador. While Chavez, Morales, and Kirchner are all looking like figures we have seen come and go before, Correa looks like his more pragmatic approach might give him some staying power. Let's see if he can manage to put more of a leash on big oil (including China).
At any rate, I think this could be a guy to watch - and let's hope his low profile with the world public and his high profile with business doesn't earn him a visit from some of the mechanics that worked on Torrijos' plane.