Conservative businessman Guillermo Lasso was sworn in as Ecuador’s new president on Monday, giving a sombre speech in congress about the many economic and social challenges facing his government.
The 65-year-old, to everyone’s surprise won the election last month, said Ecuador’s past leaders have failed the country by succumbing to the temptation of authoritarianism and the “obscene cult of leader”- the force that has always dominated Latin American politics.
“Today, we have received a country with a historic level of unemployment, a country that shows a lack of capacity to deal with a brutal pandemic,” he told guests of the grandeur, accompanied by the Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and King Felipe of Spain. “Other countries in similar situations have handled it in a more orderly, efficient manner, and above all without corruption.”
Looking weak and walking with the help of a cane, a consequence of a walking accident in 2013 followed by an unplanned operation, Lasso faces severe challenges as leader of Ecuador.
Lasso, who got his fortune in the banking sector before entering politics and winning the presidency in his third try, described Ecuador as “a country where criminals fill their pockets while the most innocent – bag -born Ecuadorians -can’t even fill their bellies ”, and“ a country that has failed in youth education and creating opportunities ”.
The country’s economy was in trouble even before the coronavirus disease. It contracted nearly 8 percent last year, and the central bank announced a recovery of just 3.1 percent this year.
Debt jumped to nearly 65 percent of total domestic product and the fiscal deficit widened. As the only formal dollar country in South America, Ecuador is limited in what it can do to sustain its finances.
Last year it agreed a $ 6.5bn lending program with the IMF but, when the pandemic hit, it was found to be unable to meet the requirements. Lasso declined to consider some of the tax increases the fund called for.
He appointed Simón Cueva, a 53-year-old economist, as his finance minister.
“It’s a good teaching,” said Sebastián Hurtado, head of local political risk consultant Prófitas. “Aside from a brief central bank spell, Cueva spends most of this time in the private sector and academic research. He’s not neoliberal like some of the other economists close to Lasso, and we can see more emphasis on social policies than one might expect. “
Cueva said Ecuador will begin negotiations with the IMF to tweak the current program in the coming months.
“I expect the Lasso government to have a healthy funding relationship,” Hurtado said. “The problem is not reaching an agreement. Implement it.”
The other immediate challenge facing the Lasso government is pandemic.
Ecuador suffers the second worst rate of excessive deaths since the health emergency began, according to an analysis in the Financial Times. The answer is already done troubled: There were five health ministers last year.
Lasso said his government would monitor the vaccination of 9m people, more than half the population, in its first 100 days – an ambitious goal for a country that manages less than 2m.