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The Journal Gazette

Friday, May 24, 2013 6:53 pm

Third term begins for Ecuador's President Correa

By GONZALO SOLANOAssociated Press

Ecuador's Rafael Correa began his third term as president on Friday under seemingly ideal conditions: extremely high popularity, a more than two-thirds majority in Congress, a stable economy and a badly splintered opposition.

The combative leftist economist used the opportunity to bash a few of his favorite targets: The Organization of American States, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the news media.

He said the commission, an independent watchdog of governments in the region excluding the United States, has become "an instrument of persecution of progressive governments."

The commission has been highly critical of Correa and Venezuela's leftist government for allegedly trampling on free speech and human rights.

Latin America's news media, meanwhile, "daily violates the most elemental notions of objectivity and journalistic ethic," Correa said in remarks before visiting dignitaries including the presidents of Chile, Colombia, Haiti, Costa Rica, Georgia, Bolivia and Venezuela.

Correa, 50, was re-elected in February with three times the votes of his closest challenger. Under the constitution, he cannot run again.

He has built his popularity on generous social spending in the small, oil-producing nation that exported $16 billion worth of crude last year. He has built roads, dispensed regular monthly payments to single mothers and the elderly poor and gained respect for an efficient public administration.

Correa could face trouble, however, if oil prices fall amid flagging global demand, as some economists predict, and if he does not attract more foreign investment, especially in the mining sector, which he is only beginning to develop amid resistance from indigenous groups.

Under Correa, Ecuador has become increasingly dependent on China as its main creditor and purchaser of oil.

It obtained $364 million in foreign investment in 2012 compared to $12.2 billion for neighboring Peru and $15.8 billion for Colombia.

Correa has been constantly at war with opposition news media. Press freedom activists worry a new media law now before congress will further restrict free expression.