Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno’s war on crime requires a war on roads?

One of the most important achievements of former Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa’s ten years in office was the vast improvements in Ecuador’s roads. The time required to travel from previously isolated regions of the country to the most populated (and therefore economically developed and politically influential) was drastically reduced. The comfort and safety of road travel was also greatly improved. Places where, Pre-Correa, you’d have to spend several hours getting bounced around swallowing dust to reach, became quickly and safely accessible. Inequality among Ecuador’s social classes has, as in many countries, a regional component, so reducing regional isolation is immensely important for that reason alone as well as many others.  

The World Economic Forum ranked Ecuador’s roads tenth among 18 countries in Latin America in 2006, the year Correa was first elected. By 2015 they were ranked as the best.

Ecuador’s wealthy elite – and the private media outlets that serve them – moaned about “excessive public spending” and constantly levelled allegations of corruption against Correa’s government. But flinging mud at Correa didn’t work very well because he used the public media to fight back. At least as importantly, voters could see the roads being built as well as the schools, hospitals, hydroelectric plants, and other public infrastructure that should have been built decades earlier. Correa therefore answered his enemies not only with words but with deeds and that allowed him and his party to go on a decade long electoral winning streak.

However, Correa’s political project attracted opportunists as all successful political projects do: “yes-men” and “yes-women” who would readily switch sides if they felt it was – for them – the politically expedient thing to do.

Last year, Lenin Moreno campaigned for president as a staunch Correa loyalist and it was hard to doubt his sincerity. He was Correa’s Vice President for six years and Vice president of Correa’s (former) political party (Alianza Pais) for 10 years. But immediately after the votes were counted, Moreno rushed to embrace the policies and rhetoric of Cornea’s enemies. I’ve written about this in more detail here, here and here.

Last week, in an interview with CNN en Español, Moreno achieved a new low in cynicism. At about the 5 minute point, Moreno cited a “first class road” in a remote region of northern Ecuador as evidence that Correa’s government was stuffed with drug traffickers. Moreno noted that the suspiciously high quality road connected to a bridge that “led to nowhere”.  The bridge actually leads into Colombia which has been far behind in completing its side of the project. Moreno’s government had previously bragged about the completion of this bridge as one of the achievements of his government but a terrorist incident in northern Ecuador perpetrated by former FARC guerillas has prompted Moreno to sink even lower with his attacks on Correa. Moreno even revived allegations made by the far right that Correa’s early political campaigns (which Moreno was part of!) were partly financed by the FARC.

At about the 22 minute point of the CNN interview, Moreno claims that Correa had been spying on him in the presidential palace through a hidden camera – that Correa actually watched Moreno on a cell phone back in Belgium where Correa now resides – but that the evidence was then hidden by technicians so that prosecution was impossible.  In other words, Moreno made an extraordinary allegation for which he had – by own admission – no evidence whatsoever. The CNN journalist (Fernando Del Rincon) didn’t challenge Moreno on the morality of making public accusations (against Correa and the supposedly devious technicians) without any evidence.  

Anyway, back to those suspicious roads, poor regions certainly were connected to the rest of Ecuador with “top notch roads” during Correa’s years in office. That’s why, as noted above, the hardly radical Word Economic Forum ranked Ecuador’s roads as best in the region by 2015. Aside from the stupidity of Moreno linking road construction to drug trafficking, there is quite a bit of class hatred mixed into it – as if he were saying “Why should a nowhere region like that be properly linked up to the rest of the country? They must be up to no good.” In reality, law enforcement and disaster relief (necessary in country hit that has often been hit by earthquakes and that has active volcanoes) are assisted by proper infrastructure. Ecuador’s crime rate fell significantly while Correa was in office. If you believe Moreno, crime fell in spite of all the improved roads.  

No doubt, the quality of Ecuador’s roads will decline as Moreno continues to appease Ecuador’s elite by slashing public spending. Moreno can then point to unrepaired roads – especially in poor regions of the country – as evidence of his commitment to battling corruption and drug traffickers.

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