In a speech that echoed an op-ed published Wednesday in the Boston Globe, President of the Republic of Ecuador Rafael Correa told an audience at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum Wednesday night that the economic situation in Ecuador has improved rapidly over the last few years, but is still inhibited by economic, political, and legal inequalities.
Although Kennedy School of Government Dean David T. Ellwood ’75 introduced Correa as a controversial figure, the Ecuadorian president's 50-minute speech, which was delivered in English, avoided most of the controversial topics, such as human rights and freedom of speech infringement, which have caused some U.S. citizens to view his presidency as corrupt and authoritarian.
Audience members nevertheless used the 30-minute question and answer segment at the end of the speech to inquire about Correa’s policies.
When a Kennedy School student in the audience asked Correa about Ecuador’s increasing infringement on the freedom of the press, Correa responded, “that is not true, I don’t know who tells you that.”
“Come to our country,” he added. “You will see yourself.”
Most of Correa’s speech highlighted the improving situation in Ecuador, including a sharp decrease in poverty levels and increase in higher education. The event began with a short tourism advertisement highlighting the natural beauties of Ecuador with the message, “All you need is Ecuador. Ecuador is all you need.”
Correa took pride in distancing himself from the presidents that led Ecuador before the new constitution was written and put into place soon after Correa took office in 2007.
Citing the fact that Ecuador went through seven presidents in 10 years, Correa emphasized that the current situation in Ecuador is extremely different than it was a decade ago.
“Ecuador was an example of everything that could go wrong with a country,” Correa said. “Today, Ecuador is one of the most distinguished democracies in Latin America.”
According to Correa, democracy is in full effect in Ecuador today.
“Democracy has been freely established in Ecuador. Not only a democracy in the formal sense, but real democracy in terms of people’s access to rights, equal opportunities, and dignified conditions,” Correa said. “This is the so-called Ecuadorian miracle.”
Correa said that it is now time to move Ecuador and its surrounding countries past the inequalities that have been of serious concern over the last several decades, citing a wide disparity in wealth.
“In Latin America, where not just economic but political and legal inequalities plague our continent, seeking justice is the only way to achieve true freedom,” Correa said.
About 1,100 people entered the lottery on the Institute of Politics’ website to attend Correa’s address, but the room was capped at its capacity of 750, according to IOP Director of Communications Esten Perez.
Correa was educated in Latin America, Europe, and the United States, and referred fondly in his speech to his time in the United States as “four of the happiest years of my life.”
He is currently at the beginning of his tour of the Northeast that will include stops at MIT and Yale. He is traveling with a large contingent of ministry and cabinet members including Nathalie Cely, Ecuador’s Ambassador to the United States, all of whom were present at the forum on Wednesday.
—Staff writer Forrest K. Lewis can be reached at email@example.com.