Ecuadorian president seeks ‘balance’ between US and China

Ecuador’s interests are best served by “balanced” relations with the world’s two superpowers, President Guillermo Lasso told Axios in a wide-ranging interview Monday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Rollback: A year ago, Lasso’s ambassador to Washington told Axios that US indifference was forcing Ecuador and other Latin American countries to look to Beijing. “China is waiting and saying, ‘We are here. We are giving you money.’ They want control of course, but they don’t say so,” Ambassador Ivonne Baki said.

Yes, but: Lasso, who visited Beijing in February to renegotiate Ecuador’s debt to China and seek a trade deal, said he never felt undue pressure from Beijing and trusted President Xi Jinping’s promise that China would never impose conditions on the relationship.

  • Lasso hopes to finalize the trade deal with China by the end of this year, and he insists he is not giving up hopes of a free trade deal with the United States, which has showed little interest.
  • “As the president of a country that is part of Latin America, I hope the president of the United States will pay more attention to Latin America, of course I do,” Lasso said. .
  • But he pointed to areas of cooperation with the United States, particularly on drug trafficking. He recently proposed a referendum that would allow, among other measures, the extradition of drug suspects to the United States. “We can’t fight this [drug trafficking] alone we need the help of the United States,” he said.

The big picture: Lasso took office in May 2021 as Ecuador’s first conservative president in two decades, and he was initially wildly popular thanks to the successful rollout of a vaccine.

  • But parts of the country have been paralyzed over the summer by protests against Lasso, initiated by indigenous groups – in particular the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) – and sparked by the rising cost of the life.
  • Gang violence has also increased. Lasso, who controls only a small fraction of the National Assembly, survived an impeachment vote in June but remains under significant political pressure.
  • Lasso railed against CONAIE in our interview, saying the group’s demands for more environmental protections around oil drilling were irreconcilable with its insistence that the government increase fuel subsidies.
    • Subsidies already cost the government more than it spends on education or health care, Lasso said. He tried, largely unsuccessfully, to reduce them as part of an agreement with the IMF.
    • CONAIE described as insufficient the measures taken by Lasso to deal with the surge in prices.

The bottom line: Ecuador is one of many countries struggling with high debt and rising prices following a devastating pandemic-related downturn.

  • “We will continue our work,” Lasso said of trying to put the country back on a stronger economic footing, “but we cannot change our situation overnight.”
  • He called for more concrete actions from the United States, the EU and other industrialized countries to support small, low-income countries like Ecuador.

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