State spending fuels Correa's re-election bid in Ecuador

Fri Jan 25, 2013 1:30am EST
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By Eduardo Garcia

ZUMBAHUA, Ecuador (Reuters) - Once a forgotten cluster of mud houses amid windswept peaks, the Ecuadorean village of Zumbahua today boasts a state-of-the-art schoolhouse with large projection touch screens, Internet access in every classroom and lessons in three languages.

Indigenous Kichwa Indians who once stuffed savings under their mattresses now have a bank in town and a free Internet cafe - all paid for by the state.

The treacherous muddy road to the village is being widened and paved, and residents are particularly proud of their local school.

"Education has improved dramatically ... The students know how to work with computers better than kids from the city," headmaster Vicente Caiza said.

Zumbahua is one example of how Ecuadoreans from the Andes mountains to the Amazon jungle have benefited from heavy government spending that will almost certainly win socialist President Rafael Correa a new term in next month's presidential election.

Buoyed by strong oil revenue, record tax collection and steady economic growth, Correa has won broad popular support by expanding access to healthcare, doubling state spending on education and turning rough dirt paths into proper paved roads.

Polls show the U.S.-trained economist turned leftist stalwart is the clear favorite to win the February 17 election. Polls show he has the support of about 50 percent of voters, in spite of opposition criticism that he is an autocrat who has amassed power and persecuted rivals.

A Correa victory would be a boost to the alliance of left-wing Latin American presidents at a time when Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, the bloc's figurehead, is battling to recover from cancer surgery in Cuba.   Continued...

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa (R) addresses indigneous Indian supporters during a political rally in Zumbahua January 16, 2013. REUTERS/Guillermo Granja