The Tropical Shades of Grey

Guayaquil-Ecuador: April 6 of 1963. Having been born in a lower middle class mestizo family far away from any noble birth, his last name had no connection with any hero of Ecuadorian Independence.  As many newborns in Latin America his future had no ace under the sleeve.

When he was 5 years old the family economy was failing. His father was arrested and accused of trying to smuggle drugs into the US. This was a breakdown for the family. His mother, worried for his education, made enough effort to enroll him in a private catholic school where he had an exceptional performance. When he was 17 years old, a new financial hardship came to the family, at this time a friend of the family paid for his studies and he excelled. Thanks to a scholarship, he started studying in the private college Universidad Católica Santiago de Guayaquil, where he was noted as an exceptional student leader and years later a charismatic volunteer in Quechua communities in the Ecuadorian Highlands. With the help of funding grants, he earned a MS (1999) and PhD (2001) in Economics at the University of Illinois.  He describes himself as "left-wing - not from the Marxist left, but rather a Christian left"(BBC 1).

In 2005 he was appointed to the position of finance minister in the government of President Alfredo Palacios. A few months later he resigned because of his disagreements with advice from the International Fund that ended up on the cancellation of a loan from the World Bank.

In 2006, he started the presidential campaign. In was elected to power in 2007 and re elected in 2009 and 2013, Rafael Correa is the current president of the Democratic Republic of Ecuador, a South American country smaller than Texas, with more natural resources per hectare than any developed country. Ecuador also carries a deep cultural and social influence from its colonial history.

Correa is a democratic socialist, definitely a leader, with an administration focused on the implementation of leftist policies, poverty reduction and combating the influence of the United States and multinational corporations in the country. Under the slogan of the "Revolución Ciudadana" (Citizenship Revolution), Ecuador has been shaken from its social and economic foundations with an unusual economic stability and conflicting cultural changes. Rafael Correa started this process, with the use of his characteristics as a leader and the implementation of a culture of governance where it wasn’t.    


Green Eyes, clear mestizo skin, tall, fit body and fine-looking smile is what you see in Correa’s image. People in Ecuador say people from Guayaquil carry the tropic in their tongues and body movement. Correa’s personality is full of this tropical and charming charisma. It was clear since he was a teenager as president of Boy Scouts group #14 in his hometown that he was able to engage followers. When he was finishing high school he became president of the Lasallian Student Cultural Association ("ACEL" in Spanish). Both experiences were profound for his life; decades later many of his piers supported him on his political campaign and became members of his government (Vaderetro 1) .

He is totally sure about his capacities as a leader that has used since early years and is still working on in his role as president. Intelligence is obvious from his educational background, having received many scholarships to pursue a high quality education. As a president, he restructured the entire state and has been at its head for almost a decade.

Rafael Correa riding a bike. TV Spot 

Rafael Correa riding a bike. TV Spot 

Masculinity, his role as protective father always shows the few times his family is in the public eye. Family life and work do not match, his wife is in charge of the family, he is in charge of the country. A totally different role in comparison with previous years, when the president’s wife was default for president of the INNFA (National Institute for Children and Family). Correa’s masculinity was explicitly showed in a TV commercial for his second reelection. He was shown as a cyclist driving around Ecuador.

Extraversion, his speeches are terrific and are exposed to diverse kind of people. In the case of massive audiences, he created a Saturday morning TV show called "Enlace Ciudadano". In this space he lectures about all the accountabilities and actions the government has achieved during the week. It has been criticized because of the excessive budget of the 452 episodes (Enlace 1)  but also cheered as an effective and massive tool of communication with the country, where private TV stations don't broadcast what's going on.

When it’s time to face bigger global audiences he doesn’t hesitate. On June 19 2012, Julian Assange (founder of WikiLeaks) entered the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden under the charge of sexual assault. Despite the massive political pressure from the UK, Sweden and the US, Correa stood his ground (Business Year, 1). Assange has been under asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy since then. Another case of his extraversion has been the declaration against the multinational Chevron. Correa accused the oil giant of “deliberately polluting” the Amazon rain forest in eastern Ecuador, of “shamelessly lying” to evade its legal reasonability to clean up, and waging a ferocious international campaign “to destroy the reputation of our justice system and government” (North, 1). It does not matter how big or small the audience is, Correa does not hesitate.

Conservatism, his education based on catholic values is clearly dominant especially with sensitive topics like abortion, sex education, and LGBT rights, mainly when they are debated in policy making and on the occasions that Correa declared his personal opinion about gay marriage as a barbarity (Miroff Nick 1). However, there are exceptions in his government, for instance the inclusion of same-gender civil unions in the new constitution (Bergado 1) and the incorporation of many openly LGBT contributors to the regime.

Correa's tweet to a public institution after a complain in social media 

Correa's tweet to a public institution after a complain in social media 

Correa’s leadership style is clear and strong because of his high self-confidence and obsessive focus on goals. This approach is clearly transmitted to his closest followers inside the government and also into the general population. Ecuadorean pollsters have consistently put Correa's approval rating between 60 and 85 percent, making him one of the region's most popular leaders (Telesur 1). However, he extremely lacks in tolerance and is prone to frustration by delay. Several times he has publicly shamed his ministers during the Enlace Ciudadano or even called for action in regard to people’s complaints via twitter. He is well known for his low tolerance with media; which has caused great critique outside the country: The president is a self-declared enemy of the independent news media, which he has termed a “global problem” (Pallares 1).

At the moment, to analyze his role as the head of the state, it is clear the way he uses his technical, human and conceptual skills to create his closest team of work. Technical skills are not a priority; the people close to him have experience in their fields, and they even rotate from one position to another to avoid their erosion as figures of power. For instance, one of his closest collaborators Natalie Cely served as the Coordinating Minister of Production, Employment and Competitiveness. She later served as Ecuador’s Coordinating Minister of Social Development from March 2007 to April 2009, and as Ambassador to the United States from 18 January 2012 to early 2015 (Bewig 1). These people stay close to his circles of power only if they can handle Correa’s speed of working. This makes his human skills particularly interesting, as he is very demanding and controlling of his close collaborators. This hyperactive dynamic is possible because of his amazing conceptual skills. He has a way of being for his collaborators. For his election in 2005 he created the Movement PAIS Alliance (Proud, and Sovereign Fatherland) (Universo 1), all of his closest collaborators are also part of the directory of this institution. Also, the party’s building itself is a figure of this conceptual power: Public manifestations pro or against the government take place in the main square in front of the Government Palace, but more often in front of PAIS Alliance’s building on Avenida de los Shyris in the north area of the capital. A movement and its buildings are symbols of power.

This strong team has clearly demonstrated its competence. It has been the key to be able to define problems for the government. However, the way they are understood tends to be polarized to the government’s interests which leads to the appearance that the decisions that are taken are not versatile enough with the change of external or unintended influences. This is the case of the country’s general budget. The collapse in oil prices over the last year has put the economy of Ecuador under extreme stress. The oil exportations will plunge as much as 50% from last year representing a decline of $7 billion for a country of only 16 million people (Krauss 1) The ghosts of this problem are the excessive public spending and communication budgets, predictions that were anticipated by many opponents. However, it is easy to see everywhere strategic public spending, essential for Ecuador's development.   

As narrow as the circle of power is, Correa’s Social Judgment Skills are limited. The government is not open to suggestions and the opposition easily manipulates people. As a result, Ecuador is divided in three main groups: pro government, who approve without hesitating every action of Correa. The opposition, divided without any constructive behavior or conceptualization. And a third group of people in the middle who don’t see themselves represented on either side. This unhealthy dynamic is affecting Correa’s knowledge, garnered over his experience in the last decade, and his ability to lead the country. There’s little room for innovation inside the circle of power. The learning from the past is limited by personal bias and opinions instead of trying to understand the complicated social systems. This job was done at the beginning of the government but was not updated, and Ecuador has changed. 

On a separate note, Correa’s leadership is particular and rare with its own style. And because leadership approaches are not static, his Style Approach waves during the moments of calm and/or under stress. When the government is facing peaceful waves Correa’s managements is all about the teamwork. All passionate and committed ministers, directors and collaborators work under the common propose. Correa’s brain is the mind of a driver. He is decisive, direct, fast; extremely focused on the task and its control. And because he knows his team’s accountabilities each one has a role and he can tell them what to do. He knows they will have results.

One of the best examples archived under his driver approach is the Ecuadorian Scholarships Program, which offers to pay up to US$250,000 for flights, the course of study and living costs in return for working in Ecuador two years for every one year abroad. This program was developed early in Correa’s government because he realized there was a lack of minimal critical mass of top-flight professionals needed to spur the country’s development (Custer 1). This program could succeed because of all the human efforts behind its design, at the command of minister Rene Ramirez. From physical structures, human resources and capacitation and software development, it is one of the best scholarship program in the region. This and many other projects are jewels of Correa’s government because the capacity to generate positive indicators in short, medium and long terms: It fixes the problem of people who cannot afford education, fills the gap of professionals in the industry and creates a diverse economy in the future.

The way he shows himself in this scenario is as a reference to power. People know he is under control, and is easy to trust. You know he is taking care of your family. Under this leadership approach he is also recognized by his achievements as president and an economist.  

Andes Magazine: "The Ecuadorean Miracle"

Andes Magazine: "The Ecuadorean Miracle"

On the opposite scenario, stress and tension are also part of the daily life of Correa. Under crisis his government focuses on Authority Compliance Management, results and assertiveness are the priority. At the same time, it doesn’t matter who’s head will be on the chopping block. Correa projects himself as an angry and compulsive leader, and people in the government and the streets could make an interpretation about him with traces of paternalism, even restricting his own freedom and responsibilities. In the popular slang Ecuadorians use the expression “papi Correa” when they refer to his explosive personality: You do what papi Correa says.

With stress Rafael Correa becomes an expressive leader.  Extremely verbal and enthusiast like on September 30 2010 when the police went on a nationwide strike in response to payment grievances and Correa made a surprise visit to the police headquarters in Quito. He borrowed a megaphone, ripped open his shirt and yelled at the assembled police officers: “Kill me if you like, kill me if you’re brave, instead of being cowards, hiding like cowards!” (Dennehy 1). An action that ended up with eight people killed, several years in court against the leaders of the strike, millionaire lawsuits against private journalists and the creation of the brand 30s (September 30th). A date that was remembered for couple years almost as a National Holiday as the day democracy triumphed (Nazimba 15). This behavior is usually interpreted as manipulation and abuse of power because its reactionary nature.

Cover of the digital magazine Dedo Medio. Correa is called the “Illustrated Despot”

Cover of the digital magazine Dedo Medio. Correa is called the “Illustrated Despot”

“I’m your president so you have to respect me”, is a phrase that synthesizes Correa’s power as legitimate. According the version of the opposition, on May 1, 2015 a student of La Salle School in Quito made an insolent gesture to Correa’s convoy. Correa himself ordered the car to stop and got out of the vehicle. He held and rebuked the kid with the previous phrase (Ecuador Review 1). According to Correa’s version in the next enlace ciudadano, the kid and his mother were manipulated by leaders of the opposition.

One of the biggest Correa’s dilemmas is to develop his situational approach leadership. He needs to be aware and tolerate shades of grey. There are people critical of the government who prefer to censor themselves because of fear of legal retaliation. Ecuadorian culture and society have many traces from its colonial years. The levels of education and community dynamics have developed themselves in opposite directions. The country is still worried about the last names of the rich families and the number of diplomas. That means that the society is extremely diverse, and has different levels of motivations. All of them are valuable and important, but they have to be listened and guided accordingly. Correa’s leadership of directing with low motivation from the people will not achieve a leadership-based delegation with high motivation.

On the other hand, sharing leadership is critical for Correa, especially when new elections are close. In the public imaginary, there is no one at the same level of leadership than Correa in either the Movement PAIS or in the opposition. If Ecuador is advocating for a democratic republic this movement is crucial. Rafael Correa mentioned John Oliver "More unpleasant than a diuretic" after the comedian talked about Correa in his TV Show. Rafael Correa mentioned John Oliver "More unpleasant than a diuretic" after the comedian talked about Correa in his TV Show. 



Past performance doesn’t guarantee future success. Correa’s leadership started with a stable and inclusive way to lead the country. Over time, the balance has declined. His government has created a modus operandi based on the strong figure of the leader, and its operation behavior has changed as well the leadership. Correa is a strong leader standing on a swinging three-legged stool: governance, operation and behavior.

At the beginning of his regime, it was really clear the intention to include as many voices as possible in the progress of revolution. For the new style of governance the purpose was clear and required a new constitution. For this purpose, in the coastal city of Montecristi from November 30th 2007 to July 24th 2008, The General Constitutional Assembly redacted the new Magna Carta. The invitation was open to any social organization to join the “democratic agreement to keep the social mobilization” (Montecristi Vive 1). These organizations supported the new constitution that was approved by the population with positive 63,93% agreement.  Sadly, over time many of his most enthusiastic supported are now increasingly disillusioned with the possibility that Correa represents a continuation of neoliberal policy (Dosh and Kligerman 1).

In the same context, the constitutional reformation was the promise for inclusion of the minorities in the decision-making process. Indigenous organizations are one of the examples. The new constitution recognizes indigenous groups that coexist in plurinational Ecuador (Constitute 1). It includes articles about recognition and respect of their justice system, independency in land and protection for the ecosystems. Over time, the president forged ahead with oil and mining concessions that ignored the rights of indigenous communities. In many cases, such concessions were given by the state without consultation with the indigenous communities (Dudenhoefer 1). The supporters in the past are now furious members of the opposition.

After the approval of the new constitution, the government was ready to start. It was required to clarify the accountabilities of every governmental organization. The original 9 ministries were not enough. For this purpose, 11 new ministries were created, each one focusing on a specific task. The problem over time has been the funding and overlapping of accountabilities, especially in the lower scale of the pyramid. The administrative roles are clear but there is an excess amount of bureaucrats in the lower levels.   

The original proposal facilitated the operations of the state because it aligned systems and processes. With stable oil prices it was easy to maintain all of them. However, with oil half priced the budget is short. Just in this year the Ministry of Finances has had two budget cuts, the first one of $1420 million and the second of $800 million (Comercio 1).

Most economists and critical opponents of Correa argue the over spending of the public budget. However, the government has a strong tool: and Effective communications system. The SECOM (National Secretary of Communications) is in charge of all the content created for the government, that includes almost every single medium such as traditional propaganda, TV spots, documentaries, social media, etc. With a budget of the $28,175,497 (Ministerio Finanzas 1) the SECOM is in charge of creating positive content pro government for the general public. Content about the actions of the government that otherwise wouldn’t be promoted by private radio and TV stations, independent newspapers and online platforms. However, Correa’s communications strength is also malevolent. After the approval of the Communication Law on June 14 2013 by the General Assembly (Martinez 1), a new arm was aggregated to the SECOM, the SUPERCOM (Superintendence of Communications and Information) in charge of the regulation of media content in the country. In two years of existence, from 506 cases 282 came from complaints of citizens and 224 from the office itself. (Mioli 1). A strategy seen by many people as a persecution of the freedom of speech.

The behavior of Correa’s government has changed. His role modeling evolved from open collaboration and driver leadership to management based on the echo of his behavior; people have to do what they are told. Effectiveness is the key. And if someone doesn’t agree with that it will instantly become member of the opposition. In Correa’s mind every big problem in the country happens because of the opposition.

This role has been transmitted as a cultural way of being inside the government agencies. And even though each ministry and agency has specified roles, there is an effective cross-cultural awareness. The managers of each institution know who is in charge of everything so does Correa. That means that if Correa needs something every piece of engine is aligned for work together to success.

The key of this alignment is the constant joining problem solving of the decision makers. Regular meetings between the heads happened. Correa gave each one a task and they show results. This practice has tried to be replicated in contact with the community. The Gabinetes Itinerantes are regular meetings between representatives of the government institutions including the ministries and civil society. The idea according the government is “monitoring and promoting community control to governance, generating transparency and stimulating collective action against corruption, waste and patronage” (CEGE 1). In theory, the proposal is terrific but its effectiveness has declined over time because of the erosion of the social organizations because of Correa’s retaliations. Such as the high level meeting as the Gabinetes Itinerantes happen only between members who are pro government.   


Ecuador couldn’t be better in terms of economy, political stability and promotion of production if we compare it to the previous republican years. According the International Monetary Fund, the Ecuadorean economy GDP will increase 3,5% this year and unemployment will stay at 5% (Comercio 1), in spite of the 50% budget cut because of oil prices, a denied crisis by the government that says it has been well handled. However, mouth to mouth people are complaining. 

The problem is that public opinion has changed and the differences are not being considered by Correa’s government. Correa denies, ignores and obligates the government to do what he thinks is the best. Excessive taxation on imported goods, freedom of speech, human rights, intervention on the justice system, mining projects in the rainforest and indigenous territories are blowing a balloon that could explode. Many members of the unorganized opposition have tried to take advantage of this discomfort without much effectiveness. Nobody knows the future because is the first time in Ecuadorian history that we have a real leader. He is a man with a simple past and good intentions. No matter how powerful and influential Correa is, at the end of the day he is also an imperfect human being with green eyes.