Could Rafael Correa be the next Hugo Chavez?
August 2nd, 2012
11:48 AM ET

Could Rafael Correa be the next Hugo Chavez?

By Stephanie Leutert, CFR

Editor’s note: Stephanie Leutert is a research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations. This article originally appeared in Latin America’s Moment here. The views expressed are those of the author.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has been in full campaign mode: speaking, singing, and exhorting the dangers of his opponent, Henrique Capríles Radonski. Despite his visible public activities, rumors and speculation continue to swirl, with attention focused on his health far more than on his policies. The prospect of a Venezuela without Chávez, and more broadly the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, or ALBA, and its regional initiatives, has led many to speculate who would or could fill the void. In the regional arena, Ecuador’s mercurial President Rafael Correa stands as a top contender.

The two leaders’ apparent bonhomie and similar policies have led some to joke that Correa seems already to be auditioning for the job. The left-leaning presidents share a common rhetoric (frequently labeling opponents as oligarchs or imperialists), charismatic personalities, a disdain for (and often exaggeration of) U.S. influence in the region, and a taste for forging relationships with some of the world’s most notorious pariah states (Iran and Belarus). In doing so, they have also whipped up strong domestic approval ratings (at 57 percent, Correa enjoys one of the highest in the hemisphere) and continuously survived elections (aided by uneven electoral playing fields).

Part of their popularity stems from increases in social spending for the poor and marginalized groups. High global commodity prices and significant oil reserves have bankrolled ambitious social programs in both countries. Combined with strong domestic economic growth, these programs have changed the lives of their recipients. Ecuador has more than halved its extreme poverty in the past decade and pulled its national poverty levels from a half to a third the population, while GDP per capita has more than doubled. Venezuela has also seen its poverty headcount drop and GDP per capita rise from $5,000 to over $10,000 in the past ten years.

Both leaders too have consolidated power in the presidency. Both Chávez and Correa have done little to strengthen (and at times actively weakened) already flimsy systems of checks and balances. And recent crackdowns on private media have garnered global attention and condemnation, as well as stories of executive influence on the judiciary. To be fair, Chávez and Correa inherited flawed democracies and arrived in office facing deeply entrenched interest groups. But the two leaders’ policies have nonetheless been geared more toward shifting power to their advantage rather than strengthening democratic institutions.

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Yet despite their similarities, Correa can’t hope to fill Chávez’s regional shoes. The most obvious reason is simply that Ecuador isn’t Venezuela. With double the population, triple the landmass, and five times more annual oil production, Venezuela has been able to back up its initiatives with significant funds. While Correa’s rhetoric is as feisty, his bank account is much less impressive, limiting his ability to guide South America’s affairs.

Washington, too, will deny Correa a starring role on the hemispheric stage. Having learned that provocative responses to Chávez’s taunts just strengthened his hand, U.S. officials are unlikely to do so again. Instead, a cautious approach and benign neglect will make it difficult, if not impossible, for Correa to gain Chávez-style notoriety. Without the resources or the ideological juxtaposition, it’s unlikely that any one person could fill the leadership void. Organizations such as the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) or the Market of the South (Mercosur) may be able to step in and take on some of the initiatives. But despite Correa’s best efforts, there won’t be another Chávez.

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Topics: Venezuela

soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Lee

    If he becomes slave of the USA then He will not be next Hugo Chavez or not then

    August 2, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Reply
    • Peric O'Verde

      So, it is OK to become a slave of the Cubans, Chinese and Russians? Because, that is exactly what Hugo is.

      August 2, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Reply
  2. Marcos Andrade

    Así como no habrá otro Chávez tampoco habrá otro Correa cada uno a su estilo con mentes lucidas y corazones ardientes por la Patria son grandes lideres de la región.

    August 2, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Reply
  3. Joseph McCarthy

    It's too bad that currently in Europe there are no leaders like Hugo Chavez nor Rafael Correa, only worthless whimps who aren't worth a you know what!!! These people just sit on their laurels and take oders from Washington D.C. No wonder the European people are suffering so much these days!

    August 2, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Reply
    • Quigley

      How right you are, Joseph! The current leaders in Europe are very pathetic to say the least and they disgust me to no end!

      August 2, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Reply
  4. Peric O'Verde

    Whether Correa could replace Chavez hinges on the answer to two questions:

    1) Is he willing to commit treason against his own people?
    2) Will he willingly turn Ecuador into a Cuban colony?

    Yes to both questions are unavoidable requirements to be a Chavez clone.

    August 2, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Reply
  5. Hhaahahahahaha

    I didn't know William Shatner was a dictator! Hahahahahahahahahahaa

    August 3, 2012 at 11:47 am | Reply
  6. Harris

    After visiting Ecuador again this summer ( I have been going there every two years) I noticed that they are doing far better under Correa than any other president Ecuador has had. He invests in the poor and their education and makes the rich pay their taxes (something they have not been used too with the past presidents). I disaprove that he is involved with countries like Iran and Belarus but does the U.S. government really have to act like a bully and decide who can be friends with who. It's not like Ecuador is threat to a superpower. If all what Correa is doing makes him like Chavez then I prefer it to a president who sits around in his office not doing anything.

    August 3, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Reply
    • Quigley

      Well said, Harris and quite true. The only thing worse than a President who sits around and does nothing is one who carries out orders from Washington D.C. with blind obedience!

      August 4, 2012 at 2:04 am | Reply
      • Nina


        August 4, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
  7. j. von hettlingen

    Wikileaks' Julian Assange sought political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. He interviewed Correra a few months ago and they seemed to understand each other.

    August 7, 2012 at 3:45 am | Reply
  8. juancarlosyanez

    He is one of the best presidents Ecuador has ever had. This article is non-sense and the American press is non-sense. Get a passport and travel the world, experience culture and the people. I love the U.S. but its reputation is going down for playing the role of kings and wage war with no reason. I hope the U.S. won't get another Bush. Guys like that are worst than Chavez. Bush has and still has buisness agreements with the Bin Laden family. What about Iraq? Sept. 11? What about the thousands of people who die every year in countries like Congo in Africa killed by American weapons given to militias and guerrillas? Every time a 3rd world country wants to succeed it becomes a threat to the empire. Sad and very sad. Like the story CNN is showing of Brazil and the 2016 Olympics. Sad sad. This sensasionalist press should talk about the errors of
    doctrine of its foreign policy. You have freedom of speech and freedom to slander; freedom to wash peoples minds and freedom for the rich to take advantage of the poor. Sad sad.

    August 13, 2012 at 11:19 am | Reply
  9. Joseph McCarthy/Quigley/LyndsieGraham/krm1007 ©™/Joe Collins/J. Foster Dulles/Marine5484

    I am a useless piece of camel dung. I post anti American, anti GB, anti semite, anti India, anti modern anything because I am a good moooooslem. I steal people's monikers because I am so ashamed of myself and post the most stupid comment. When people get angry with me, I claim insanity. I am the same guy.

    August 18, 2012 at 9:11 am | Reply
  10. Ecuatoriana


    February 17, 2013 at 6:40 pm | Reply

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