| QUITO, April 1
QUITO, April 1 Venezuela's political crisis is
looming over Sunday's tight presidential election in Ecuador,
where a leftist government aligned with Venezuela's socialist
President Nicolas Maduro is hoping to prolong its decade-long
Ecuador pro-business candidate Guillermo Lasso has doubled
down on accusations that government-backed candidate Lenin
Moreno would turn the Andean country into Venezuela, alluding to
a recent Supreme Court move there to neuter the National
Assembly that foes denounced as a lurch into dictatorship.
"A coup annulling the National Assembly! Is that what you
want?" right-wing challenger Lasso told a crowd of supporters at
a rally in the sweltering city of Guayaquil this week. "Then
let's go for change! Change is avoiding Venezuela's suffering."
The outgoing administration of Ecuadorean President Rafael
Correa has scoffed at the accusations, slamming them as
desperate attempts by Lasso, a former banker, to spook voters
and cover up his plans to slash welfare programs.
"They've been trying to confuse the population with the
argument that Ecuador is going to turn into Venezuela," Foreign
Minister Guillaume Long said on Friday. "But no, Ecuador is not
The Ecuadorean economy, like the Venezuelan, is heavily
dependent on oil and is suffering a downturn. But Ecuador's
situation is a far cry from the full-blown crisis in Venezuela,
where millions of people are suffering food shortages and raging
Critics have long accused Correa of clamping down on the
press, stacking institutions with supporters and being hostile
toward business - just as they see happening in Venezuela's
self-styled "21st century Socialism."
Lasso accused "foreign mercenaries" - and alluded to them
being Venezuelan - of trying to attack him with rocks, sticks,
and knives after a soccer game on Tuesday.
The Ecuadorean government rejected the accusation.
The Venezuela crisis could be relevant given the tightness
of Ecuador's election, with Moreno just slightly ahead in recent
polls. The vote is being closely watched as South America has in
recent months swung to the right, as a once solid leftist bloc
loses ground amid an ebbing commodities boom and growing
With Latin American news dominated by the Venezuelan crisis
and regional groups issuing statements condemning the Supreme
Court move, Venezuela's turmoil is ever present in Ecuador.
"Maduro is pushing that country to the limits. It's a
dictatorship," said Felipe Kulqui Murillo, 65, an artisan who
used to support Correa but will vote Lasso on Sunday.
"Ecuador can turn into a second Venezuela. Correa and the
Latin American presidents have promoted a hypocritical
Socialism," he said in the sweltering lowland city of Guayaquil.
In an interview with Reuters in February, Lasso said Correa
"wants to leave his own Maduro in Ecuador," alluding to late
leader Hugo Chavez asking Venezuelans to support Maduro, a
former bus driver and union leader.
Still, the economy is the top voter concern in Ecuador and a
foreign crisis is unlikely to significantly change voters'
"There's a small group of undecided voters who could be
impacted by what is happening in Venezuela," said Blasco
Penaherrera of Ecuador-based pollster Market.
Lasso voters are likely to dislike Maduro anyway while many
leftists blame the Venezuela crisis on a power-hungry business
elite seeking to sabotage socialism in Latin America.
The Venezuelan crisis appears to be diffusing, too, with the
pro-government Supreme Court on Saturday revoking its
controversial annulment of the opposition-led Congress amid
international condemnation and protests.
Still, some Correa supporters want a firmer stance against
Maduro. That could be crucial as the Organization of American
States gears up for a vote on whether to suspend Venezuela from
the regional bloc.
"The situation there is severe," said technician Cristian
Gomez, 44, who supports the government. "I don't like the
relationship they have with Maduro. I think they should stop
supporting him so much and worry about what's happening here."
(Additional reporting by Yury Garcia in Guayaquil; Writing by
Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Bill Trott)