Rafael Correa, a leftist friend of Venezuela's anti-US President Hugo Chavez, celebrated victory in Ecuador's presidential election with a large projected lead over a conservative tycoon as official results trickled in early yesterday.
"Thank God, we have triumphed," Correa, 43, said as fireworks lit up the Quito night sky after a projection gave him 57 percent of the vote and an advantage of 14 points over Bible-thumping banana baron Alvaro Noboa.
A slow official count gave Correa 66 percent of the vote, with less than 14 percent of the ballots counted, hours after the conclusion of Sunday's run-off presidential election. The partial tally was not representative of the nationwide vote.
Noboa dismissed the unofficial polls, said he would await full official results before pronouncing himself on the outcome of the voting, but a the same time insisted he was headed to victory.
Correa laughed off the statements by his rival, Ecuador's wealthiest man.
"We have defeated the fattest wallet in the country," he said.
Addressing journalists, the leftist economist said he would seek closer ties with Venezuela, reiterated he would not sign a free trade agreement with the US, and announced Ecuador would seek renewed membership of the OPEC.
"If if is possible, we will rejoin OPEC," Correa told reporters.
"We will seek union with other countries to confront the world's hegemonic powers," he said.
Ecuador, which produces more than 540,000 barrels of crude a day, much of it exported to the US, left the oil cartel in 1992.
Correa has stirred unease in financial markets with his calls to renegotiate the country's debt and revise foreign oil companies' contracts in Ecuador.
His friendship with Venezuela's firebrand president, and his determination not to renew a lease for a US military base in Ecuador also have caused concern in Washington.
After trailing behind Noboa in the Oct. 15 first round of voting, Correa had distanced himself from Chavez, who was accused of meddling in Ecuador's electoral campaign.
But late on Sunday, he said "it would be wonderful to move closer to a country like Venezuela, which can help us a lot because it has US$53 billion in cash reserves as a result of the oil surplus," he said after claim victory.
"If [George W.] Bush can offer such benefits, obviously we will make deals with him," said Correa, who during his campaign had called the US president a "dimwit."
Correa also repeated his promise to push for an assembly that would rewrite the constitution, as Chavez had done.
But he insisted he would not turn into a clone of the Venezuelan leader. "I will not be a new version of Chavez, nor of Bush or Fidel Castro," he said.
A former finance minister who describes himself as a "humanist, leftist Christian," Correa says he is a representative of the "new Latin American left" that offers an alternative to strict free-market policies he claims have proved a failure in Latin America.
Political analyst Fernando Bustamante said Correa's victory "represented the rejection by various sectors of the society of a political system considered inept and corrupt."
"There were also fears about giving more power to Noboa, who is already considered very influential," said Bustamante, of Quito's San Francisco university.