CNH Tours - Cultural and Natural Heritage Tours Galapagos
Tuesday February 19, 2013
Correa wins elections - good for Galapagos
Economist and US educated Rafael Correa was re-elected as president of Ecuador over the weekend in the first round of presidential voting - indicating widespread support from Ecuadoreans. He first came to power in 2007, then basically strong armed a constitutional review, which allowed him to present his candidacy for the 2009 elections (he won) and now again in 2013.
CNH Tours has been following Ecuadorian politics (in no great depth admittedly, but following nonetheless - and we're sure some of our friends in the islands will disagree with us!) since 1998, when we first moved to Galapagos. During our first four years there, we got to see at least 5 presidents (at one point, there were 3 joint presidents!), many ministers of the environment, massive inflation, a run on the banks and the abandonment of the national currency for the US$. The 3-4 years after we left in 2002, the Galapagos National Park Service had a revolving door directorship, with 13 directors or interim directors in 3 years.
Since Correa came along in 2007, things have calmed down tremendously, both in the country and in Galapagos. One of the first moves we took note of under the Correa administration was the ending of fuel subsidy cheating for cruise ships. Fuel in Galapagos was subsidized, but this was for fishing boats. Under the lax regimes prior to Correa, many ships somehow managed to get access to fishing boat fuel subsidies - essentially resulting in the poor taxpayers of Ecuador subsidizing profits of the ship owners, and lower cruise prices for international visitors. No more - and that's a good thing.
The new constitution of Ecuador also removed the "Provincial" status for Galapagos. This small territory, with a population of under 30,000, had the same constitutional status as other mainland provinces, with populations of up to 3 million people. This had led to completely warped politics in the islands, with plenty of destructive in-fighting amongst small minded politicians, who exploited various interest groups to make a name for themselves. Things have been quiet in the islands over the past several years - that's good for local residents and good for visitors. Galapagos is now managed by a governing council, comprised of national administration and local representatives. This seems to be working.
CNH Tours had the pleasure to have known the minister of environment under Correa, Marcel Aguiñaga, who was a tough cookie and did her job well. She was a colleague of ours ' when we worked at the Charles Darwin Research Station, she was the legal advisor with the Galapagos National Park Service. She resigned from her ministerial post last November to present herself as a candidate for the National Assembly in this election - and we note that she was duly elected.
Correa has invested a good deal of the country's oil revenues in infrastructure and services (sometimes via massive advance selling of oil to China). Roads have been built, teachers hired. In Galapagos, a modern hospital will be built for the first time. All this isn't to say that Correa is perfect - his relationship with the press is worrying - he has bullied owners of newspapers and television stations into submission, or forced them to sell their businesses. It is ironic that while his administration has brought in measures to ensure that government is more transparent on the one hand, he is making life more difficult for the press to verify that.
But given the choice between Correa and the previous administrations we've known to have run Ecuador, we will stand with Correa. He has been better for Ecuadorians in general, and better for Galapagos.