Ecuador’s presidential candidate Yaku Pérez supported coups in Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. His US-backed party Pachakutik and supposedly “left-wing” environmentalist campaign is being promoted by right-wing corporate lobbyists.
by Ben Norton
Ecuador’s February 7 presidential election concluded in a surprise: The quick count published by the country’s National Electoral Council appeared to show a little-known candidate named Yaku Pérez Guartambel in second place, securing a narrow victory over right-wing candidate Guillermo Lasso, a banker with significant influence in the country.
Most polls had predicted that the presidential race would boil down to two presidential candidates, who could hardly have been more different: On one side was the conservative banker Lasso, who had the backing of Ecuadorian elites and the United States, and had unsuccessfully run for president twice before; while on the other was a youthful left-wing economist, Andrés Arauz, who follows in the footsteps of socialist former President Rafael Correa and wants to return to his Citizens’ Revolution.
But while polling consistently showed him coming in third place, Yaku Pérez stayed in the race until the end. And unlike Lasso, Pérez didn’t claim fidelity to the right-wing; he ran what was marketed as a progressive environmentalist campaign.
Pérez, an Indigenous leader from Ecuador’s party Pachakutik, purported to be the true left-wing option in the election, condemning Arauz and the socialist Correista movement he represents for being insufficiently pure. But Pérez’s political record suggests he is a Trojan horse for the left’s most bitter enemies.
The support Pérez apparently has from the US embassy reflects his dubious role. Immediately after the election, when Ecuador’s National Electoral Council (CNE) had still not officially published results determining who would go to the presidential run-off in April, Pérez said the US embassy called him and assured he would be the second-place candidate.
Pérez has viciously attacked other progressive movements in Latin America, supporting right-wing US-backed coups targeting Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, and demonizing those countries’ leftist governments as “racist.”
His political views fuse ultra-leftist, anarchistic critiques of existing left-wing states with an objectively right-wing political agenda. And his opposition to state power is deeply opportunistic. While Pérez harshly criticizes China, he has simultaneously pronounced he “will not think twice” about signing a trade deal with the United States.
Pérez’s ostensibly progressive ideology is filled with contradictions. While the Correista candidate Arauz has proposed giving $1000 checks to one million working-class Ecuadorian families, Pérez has attacked the plan on the grounds that poor citizens would spend all the money on beer in one day.
And while Pérez has criticized the current government of Ecuador and protested against its right-wing, US-backed President Lenín Moreno — who has an approval rating of just 8 percent, and is thus politically poisonous for all of the country’s electoral candidates — Pérez previously praised the corrupt and authoritarian leader as “a good man.”
Another Indigenous leader in Ecuador, Leonidas Iza, publicly warned that right-wing activists and members of the banker Guillermo Lasso’s conservative CREO party are in Pérez’s inner circle and are advising him.
The party of Yaku Pérez, Pachakutik, identifies as “ecosocialist” and claims to represent Ecuador’s Indigenous communities. But like the candidate that represents it, the party employs left-wing rhetoric to paper over regressive goals.
Pachakutik is closely linked to NGOs funded by Washington and EU member states. The party’s leaders have been trained by the US government-funded National Democratic Institute (NDI), a CIA cutout that operates under the auspices of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).
The NED publicly lists more than $5 million in grants for NGOs in Ecuador just in the years from 2016 to 2019. Much of this money has bankrolled anti-Correa opposition groups like Pachakutik and its allies.
Pachakutik is the political arm of the Indigenous confederation CONAIE, which helped lead protests against Ecuador’s former President Correa, forming an unspoken alliance with the country’s right-wing oligarchs in a bid to destabilize and overthrow the socialist president.
In fact, CONAIE and Pachakutik played a significant role in a violent US-backed 2010 coup attempt, supporting treasonous police that turned against the elected Correista government, kidnapped the president, and came close to undemocratically removing Correa from power.
In 2012, a co-founder of Pachakutik and former leader of CONAIE, Auki Tituaña, went so far as to form an open alliance with right-wing presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso, announcing that he would run as the banker’s vice president. In response, CONAIE expelled him.
CONAIE has internal divisions, some more right-wing and some more left-wing. The CONAIE leaders Leonidas Iza and Jaime Vargas helped lead October 2019 protests against neoliberal reforms imposed by sitting President Lenín Moreno. Pérez was noticeably not a leader of these anti-neoliberal demonstrations. But in general CONAIE has been a significant voice of opposition to Correismo.
Lasso is not threatened by the “ecosocialist” rhetoric of Pérez and Pachakutik; he seems keenly aware that the label is a marketing plot. The banker publicly declared before the February 7, 2021 vote that, if Pérez made it to a second round, Lasso would gladly support Pérez to defeat the Correistas.
The banker’s endorsement is unsurprising when one considers that, back in 2017, before he changed his name from Carlos to Yaku, Pérez himself supported Lasso’s presidential bid.
Pachakutik’s ties to Washington are extensive. One of its most prominent former members is Fernando Villavicencio, an Ecuadorian journalist who spearheaded a disinformation campaign targeting journalist Julian Assange, peddling discredited but deeply damaging claims about the Wikileaks publisher through the major British newspaper The Guardian.
Villavicencio’s anti-Correa activism also appears to have been funded by the US government’s National Endowment for Democracy.
Villavicencio served as an advisor for Pachakutik National Assembly member Cléver Jiménez, who helped lead the 2010 coup attempt against Correa.
Yaku Pérez held a public demonstration in support of Villavicencio and Jiménez when Correa sued them for defamation for spreading blatant fake news about him.
Pachakutik even has links to Ecuador’s National Electoral Council (CNE), which runs the elections, and which was taken over and deeply politicized by the US-backed Moreno government. After purging all pro-Correista officials from the CNE, Moreno selected a former Pachakutik member of the National Assembly, Diana Atamaint, to serve as president of the electoral council.
Under Atamaint’s leadership, the CNE put up many obstacles to prevent the leftist Correista movement from being able to freely participate in the election, blocking Correa’s attempt to run as vice president and even banning Andrés Arauz’s political party.
Before joining Pachakutik and being appointed head of Ecuador’s top electoral body, Atamaint worked with the World Bank, a notorious US government-backed institution that has imposed devastating neoliberal shock therapy across Latin America. Atamaint oversaw the World Bank’s initiatives in her country, including its so-called “Development Project for Indigenous and Black Peoples of Ecuador.”
Pachakutik’s tactics echo those of Nicaragua’s Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), another fringe US-backed party that played a leading role in a violent 2018 coup attempt against the Central American nation’s democratically elected Sandinista government. Like Pachakutik, the MRS is supported by the US government and works closely with Western-funded NGOs. Both groups act as though they are principled left-wing critics of popular leftist movements, when in reality they form de facto political alliances with right-wing oligarchs.
Then there is Pérez’s wife Manuela Picq, a French-Brazilian academic, herself a prominent anti-Correista activist and opponent of leftist governments in Latin America who was deported by Correa in 2015. Her opposition work in Ecuador has been funded by NGOs bankrolled by Western governments.
Although she is today a liberal specialist on sexuality and gender studies, Picq previously worked for Florida’s Republican government and was involved in unsuccessful negotiations of a neoliberal US trade agreement in Latin America, which leftist leaders condemned as “colonial.”
The tactics of Pérez, his partner Picq, and his party Pachakutik mirror another campaign in South America that exploited ostensibly left-wing forces on behalf of right-wing ends.
During the lead-up to the US-backed coup against Bolivia’s democratically elected socialist government in 2019, NGOs that claimed to support environmentalist causes participated in a disinformation operation to demonize then-President Evo Morales, the first Indigenous president in Bolivia’s history, himself a strong supporter of environmental protections.
Regime-change activists from organizations funded by the US and European governments accused the Morales administration of fueling fires in the Amazon rainforest that were most concentrated in Brazil, where far-right President Jair Bolsonaro proudly branded himself “captain chainsaw.”
Yaku Pérez and Pachakutik play a similar role in Ecuador, attacking popular leftist forces from the left, thereby opening up space for the right-wing to advance.
As in Bolivia, where Western environmental groups like Extinction Rebellion helped support the 2019 coup on the grounds of green concerns, self-declared anarchists from the ostensibly progressive organization are heaping praise on Pérez.
Extinction Rebellion is joined in its praise for the marginal pseudo-left figure by right-wing corporate lobby groups like the Americas Society and Council of the Americas (AS/COA), which is funded by planet-destroying fossil fuel corporations, weapons manufacturers, and banks that have a vested interest in trying to stop the Correistas from returning to power.