Ecuadorians have elected a new president, and he’s a somewhat unconventional choice. Daniel Noboa is a 35-year-old businessman who little political experience, but also little political baggage. Guiding him are his mother, a former legislator, and his aunt, Ecuador’s wealthiest woman. Known for his reticence and brevity in public appearances, he gave a short statement to the press from his beach house after winning the election. Noboa is relatively unknown to his compatriots, but they elected him to counter the leftist drift initiated by former President Rafael Correa (2007-2017).
Daniel Noboa inherits a disastrous situation from the outgoing president Guillermo Lasso. Despite his banking background, Lasso’s inability to revive the economy, rein in public spending and prevent institutional decay led to a surge in drug trafficking. He has also failed to bring to justice the people behind the shocking assassination of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio two months before the election. Villavicencio was a fearless journalist who exposed corruption at all levels and repeatedly denounced widespread government infiltration by criminal networks.
Marjorie Clavijo, a woman in her fifties, voted for Noboa because she believes he is the only hope to reverse Ecuador’s worsening situation. However, she also expects him to do two things. “I want job opportunities for young people and better security. We’ve sadly grown accustomed to kidnappings, homicides, and even massacres,” said Clavijo, a building manager in Quito. “My vote for Noboa was more like a vote against [former president] Correa’s candidate, Luisa González. Correa and his movement had connections with [Hugo] Chávez, [Nicolás] Maduro and Cuba. That made me think about what would happen if they won.”
Standing nearby is María José Campos, a 21-year-old student with a broad, but somewhat shy smile. This was the second time she voted in an election and initially didn’t plan backing Noboa. Once he made it to the runoff against González, she decided voting for Noboa was the right choice. She also wants the new president to focus on job opportunities for young people, and would like more funding for shelters like the one where she volunteers because President Lasso has cut the budget for social welfare programs.
An elegant older man with a well-groomed beard approaches. Néstor Díaz is wearing a brown sweater, pleated pants and polished shoes. The 75-year-old retired surveyor says he has “election chuchaqui,” using the local slang for a hangover. Díaz is a staunch supporter of the Correa movement and says he was disappointed in the election outcome. Making a half-hearted pun, he says Ecuador used to be “Guate-mala” and is now “Guate-peor” — in other words, going from bad to worse. Díaz says Noboa is just another version of Lasso, and that the presidency is passing from a banker to the entitled heir to a banana empire that has made the Noboas the richest family in the country. “I really hope things go well for Noboa, but honestly, I have a bad feeling about it. At my age, I doubt I’ll be proven wrong. Why doesn’t he start by paying his workers well and paying the taxes his companies owe? I really hope he won’t try to privatize health, education or social security.”
On a pedestrian bridge, José Escobar is talking politics with his partner. Is there anything else to talk about these days? Escobar is a chef who is currently developing a Japanese street-food eatery. He’s never been to Japan, but has seen how well the country’s street food does in the United States and Canada. Escobar voted for Noboa because he thinks Ecuador needs a change. “He ran a clean campaign and didn’t mess with anyone. That approach gave him a lot of the youth vote,” said Escobar. He thinks the Correa movement is straight-up socialist and has used “class resentment” to divide Ecuadorians at a crucial time. “I understand that security problems are on the rise and bringing down the murder rate can’t be done overnight. Even [Salvadoran President] Bukele couldn’t do that. But if Noboa can quickly retake control of the prisons, it should relieve some of our security concerns.”
Andrea Vega, José's partner, is a construction company manager. She listens impatiently as Escobar talks, trying to get a word in. “Noboa,” she said, “ran on his own platform and didn’t get involved in this class struggle between the rich and the poor.” Vega says she doesn’t care that the president-elect is the very wealthy son of a tycoon. “He never boasted about that.” Noboa is taking aim at Latin American socialism and more specifically at Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who didn’t have a horse in this race but still ended up losing political ground. “That man preaches socialism, but he’s always well-dressed and doesn’t miss any meals. What about his people? They’re all leaving the country! If we stuck with Correa and his people, we would all be leaving too… although many already are.”
Vega wants the same things from Noboa as her boyfriend — control the prisons. Just like Villavicencio said, the mafias are well-entrenched in Ecuadorian politics. “Noboa needs to attack that immediately, otherwise no president will be able to achieve real change in this country.”
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