Ecuador leader enjoys high rating 5 years into rule

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 15, 2012 4:44 PM
Ecuador leader enjoys high rating 5 years into rule

By Yury Garcia and Enrique Andres Pretel

CUENCA, Ecuador (Reuters) - Ecuador's Rafael Correa celebrated five years in power on Sunday with a new poll giving him an impressive 55 percent approval that would make him a favorite to win re-election in 2013 if he runs.

Thousands of supporters cheered the 49-year-old socialist during celebrations in the provincial city of Cuenca at the weekend. Some shouted "re-election, re-election" and waved flags hailing his self-proclaimed "citizens' revolution."

The South American OPEC member nation's next presidential vote is expected in January 2013 but Correa has not confirmed if he will stand.

Correa says his family and party must decide if he runs but dropped a strong hint he was willing.

"I will be where you and the fatherland need me," he told supporters. "I don't shirk challenges, compatriots."

Correa, part of a leftist axis in the region led by Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, took power in 2007 vowing to boost state revenue from Ecuador's natural resources and plough the money into poverty alleviation.

His government defaulted on billions of dollars of foreign debt in 2008, re-wrote oil contracts with foreign companies and currently is negotiating with miners to ensure the government maximizes profit from exploration.

Heavy social and infrastructure spending has kept Correa popular.

A survey by the local CEDATOS firm gave him 55 percent approval for last month - well below a past high of 70 percent but a strong recovery from the 41 percent he slipped to during the 2009 economic crisis.

"Nothing, nobody can stop us!" Correa cried to supporters at a stadium in Cuenca.

Ecuador's opposition political parties remain fragmented and without a single figurehead able to challenge Correa, a U.S.-educated economist. He says his worst enemy is a hostile local media with whom he is constantly sparring.

Detractors say Correa is an authoritarian in the tradition of Latin America's strongmen or "caudillo" leaders. But supporters worship the energetic and charismatic president.

"He still has a lot ahead of him. He's the first president who has got rid of the fraudsters, those who took our oil, the corrupt ones," Maria Gomez said at the weekend bash in Cuenca.

(Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Bill Trott)