Thu, Nov 30, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Rafael Correa declared winner in Ecuador


Flush from his electoral victory, leftist Rafael Correa said on Tuesday that as president he will tighten banking regulations to stop capital flight, but that he does not plan to seize private property.

Hours after the country's Supreme Electoral Tribunal declared him the official winner of Sunday's runoff election, Correa said he wanted Ecuadoran banks to retrieve some US$2 billion they have deposited in US banks in Miami, Florida.

"I want them to bring that money back and set up a system of credits, like the banking system should do, and start a common fund," the 43-year-old economist told Ecuavisa TV.

"They want us to get on our knees begging for foreign investment when our own banks send money to Miami. We're financing foreigners and that's unacceptable," he said.

Correa said that when he begins his four-year mandate on Jan. 15, he will push for banking reforms to set a limit on how much money can be deposited outside the country.

"We'll put a tax on foreign speculation. Yes, foreign speculation of all shapes and forms must stop ... including capital flight," he said, signaling foreign direct investment is welcome.

However, Correa went out of his way to quash rumors that as a left-wing politician he plans to seize private property.

"The only ones seizing anything, in the strict sense of the term `property,' are the bankers and financial speculators when they froze banking accounts in 1999," he said.

Former president Jamil Mahuad that year froze all banking accounts to avert major financial hemorrhage after a banking crisis sapped an estimated US$5 billion from the economy.

Correa won Sunday's election by a 58-42 percent margin against conservative banana tycoon Alvaro Noboa, with 90.1 percent of votes tallied.

Correa's goals

* The president-elect wants banks to bring the billions of dollars they deposited in US banks in Miami back home.

* He wants to renegotiate the country's foreign debt.

* Ecuador will apply to rejoin OPEC.

* He wants to allow the lease on a US air base to lapse.

His election marked another blow to Washington's hope to retain its level of influence in the region, and came on the heels of the electoral comeback in Nicaragua of Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega.

On Monday, Correa said he would seek stronger ties with Venezuela, oppose a free-trade deal with the US and let lapse the lease for a US military air base on Ecuador's Pacific Coast.

On celebrating his triumph Monday, Correa called out, "until victory always" -- the slogan of late iconic revolutionary leader Ernesto "Che" Guevara -- to cheers from thousands of supporters.

He announced that Ecuador, which produces more than 540,000 barrels of crude oil a day, would apply to rejoin the OPEC, which it quit in 1992.

Correa has made financial markets uneasy with his calls to revise foreign oil companies' contracts in Ecuador, renegotiate the nation's foreign debt and expel the World Bank representative.

Describing himself as a "humanist, leftist Christian," Correa says he represents the "new Latin American left."

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