QUITO, Ecuador – Ecuador’s hugely popular leftist president, Rafael Correa, kicks off a second term in office Friday with energy reform and boosting trade his main challenges lying ahead.
Correa was to be inaugurated at a ceremony at Congress attended by various foreign leaders and dignitaries, including Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, Haitian President Michel Martelly, Spain’s Crown Prince Felipe and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
The 50-year-old U.S.- and Belgian-educated economist, an outspoken populist in the mold of his late mentor Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, has brought stability to a country that has gone through eight presidents since 1996, three of whom were ousted.
Correa won a landslide victory in elections back in February, and shortly thereafter won a rare majority in Congress, giving him a strong hand to implement reforms in sectors such as energy, agriculture, mining, justice and the media. He also plans heavy spending on infrastructure and socially-oriented invesment.
His approval rating is as high as 86 percent, according to a survey by pollsters Perfiles de Opinion.
“Together, we are going to undertake a second round of consolidating our project, and now the pace will quicken because of our historic majority in congress,” Correa said in a recent ad promoting the inauguration.
He has ruled out seeking a third term, however.
Ecuador, a country of some 16 million people that belongs to OPEC but is its smallest member, is heavily dependent on oil revenue, and Correa has said finding more crude is essential to its future.
The country has proven reserves of 7.2 billion barrels but is short on refining capacity. So Correa wants to build a new refinery, and has also opened a tender process for 16 tracts of the Amazon with an eye to finding crude.
At the same time, to ease dependence on fossil fuels, he has announced plans to construct eight dams to produce electricity, with an investment of five billion dollars.
Foreign trade is also key. Ecuador posted a trade deficit of $194 million in 2012. Before Correa took office, the foreign ministry handled the issue, but Correa took away that brief and created a ministry just to boost trade.
Other heads of state due attending Correa’s swearing-in include Chávez successor Nicolas Maduro and leaders from Colombia, Bolivia, and Chile, among others.
As he takes the oath of office, for the first time a woman will preside over the ceremony: the legislature’s speaker Gabriela Rivadeneira.
Correa said this week that he will not run for another term in 2017, even if his party does not have a strong candidate to replace him.
He said he will move to Belgium, where his wife, Anne Malherbe, is from, so as not to overshadow whoever that candidate turns out to be.