Illustration Credit: Luján, El Comercio
On Monday, Guillermo Lasso took office as President of Ecuador, using his inaugural presidential address to underscore his commitment to reviving an economy battered by the COVID-19 pandemic and years of painful austerity. Among the first great challenges that the conservative former banker will be forced to address is that of vaccinating the Ecuadorean population against COVID-19. Lasso has promised to vaccinate nine million people—over half of Ecuador’s population of roughly 17.4 million—in the first 100 days of his presidency, hoping that mass vaccination will provide the country’s beleaguered economy with a much-needed boost while simultaneously eluding the prospect of future reinstatements of costly lockdown measures. Despite his pledges that his government will “vaccinate without rest […] seven days a week, in each province, in each town,” the ambitiousness of Lasso’s promise is highlighted by the fact that Ecuador currently has one of the lowest rates of inoculation in Latin America: only 1.6 percent of Ecuadorean citizens have been fully vaccinated since efforts began in earnest two months ago. Nevertheless, Lasso has announced that his administration has already begun to engage in negotiations and bilateral talks with Russia, China, the United States, the European Union, and Chile to acquire millions of vaccine doses. Lasso has also enlisted the aid of Ecuador’s National Electoral Council, using the information contained on its voter rolls to expedite the vaccine distribution process; and dispatched his Vice President Alfredo Borrero, a trained physician, to direct his government’s mass vaccination program in coordination with the Ministry of Health.
President Lasso has inherited a devastating economic crisis: last year, Ecuador’s economy contracted by nearly eight percent, while its national debt surged to 65 percent of national GDP. Outgoing President Lenin Moreno had staked his economic legacy on a series of agreements that his government signed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF)—a USD $4.2 billion credit deal signed in March 2019, followed by an additional USD $6.5 billion loan package signed just last October—conditional upon deep cuts to public spending and social expenditures. While Lasso has expressed his intention to negotiate with the IMF in an effort to reduce the burden of Ecuador’s debt-servicing obligations, his strategy for economic reactivation is otherwise drawn from a market-friendly, pro-business playbook: promoting private sector and foreign investment, slashing taxes, reducing government spending, and expanding free trade. (Before his inauguration, Lasso discussed his desire for Ecuador to join the Alianza del Pacífico—the regional trade bloc consisting of Chile, Mexico, Peru, and Colombia—“as urgently as possible”; he has also mentioned his openness to signing free trade agreements with other nations, including the United States.)
Recognizing that he now presides over a politically divided and socially vulnerable country—one with a long-demonstrated history of restive popular mobilizations against the very sort of economic reforms that he has repeatedly promoted—Lasso has emphasized his wish to lead a government of “national unity,” characterized by a “cultura del encuentro y la reconciliación” (a “culture of coming together and reconciliation”). Such entreaties, too, function as an acknowledgement of the difficult path that Lasso’s nascent government will be forced to tread in the National Assembly, where his CREO party controls only 12 out of 137 seats. Since his election, Lasso has sought to forge a series of strategic alliances to increase his foothold in the legislature, one of which resulted in the election of Pachakutik’s Guadalupe Llori as President of the National Assembly last week.