Those hoping for a fiery debate between presidential candidates Luisa González and Daniel Noboa, instead tuned in for a rehash of campaign points and the occasional mild accusation.
The presidential debate that unfolded on the evening of October 1, 2023, between the candidates Luisa González and Daniel Noboa offered little substantive contrast of ideas and failed to deliver any significant surprises.
Instead, it predominantly featured the candidates presenting their campaign proposals with limited details on how they plan to execute their objectives within a year and a half of their potential government. The two-hour-long debate, broadcast on the national network and via the social media channels of the National Electoral Council (CNE), ended with both candidates appealing for unity in the country.
Daniel Noboa, accompanied by his wife Lavinia Valbonesi and wearing a bulletproof vest, was the first to arrive. In contrast, Luisa González, also sporting a protective vest, was joined by her running mate Andrés Arauz. Noboa opted not to make any statements to the press upon arrival, while González referred to an alleged attempted attack against her.
Moderated by Ecuadorian journalist Ruth Del Salto, the presidential debate began with the presentation of the candidates’ profiles and an overview of the debate rules.
The anticipation in the country regarding the potential impact of this debate has been palpable over the last few weeks, as it could have proved to be a decisive factor in shaping the outcomes of the upcoming second-round presidential elections scheduled for October 15th.
Throughout the debate, González and Noboa engaged in discussions revolving around key issues such as economics, security, social policies, and politics.
Daniel Noboa initiated the debate by focusing on the critical matter of managing public finances. He outlined his strategies for addressing the fiscal deficit, which currently stands at approximately 5% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Noboa emphasized the need to enhance the country’s competitiveness, saying, “We must invest in electrical transmission, we are going to refine our oil here to have diesel and fuel oil at low cost, in refineries that already exist (those in La Libertad and those in Esmeraldas); and in the tax system, with a 22% ceiling for companies that make deductions according to job creation. If a company complies, on the last day of the year, with the SRI, with the Ministry of Labor and with Social Security, it will have deductions according to its generation of employment.
When asked by González about his past statement of possibly using $1.5 billion of the international reserve, Noboa commented that taking money from the reserve would be his “plan Z, the last option” in case of severe economic challenges, such as those potentially posed by the El Niño climate phenomenon expected at year-end.
In response, Luisa González pledged to overcome the $5.0 billion deficit by using money from the reserve, offering productive loans with low interest rates ranging from 5% to 7% and a commitment to increasing oil production.
Noboa countered by emphasizing the importance of conducting rigorous technical analyses when crafting economic policies. He also questioned González about her alignment with the Puebla Group, which advocates for de-dollarization, inquiring about the timeline for implementing de-dollarization following the group’s recommendations.
“How long does it take to de-dollarize Ecuador following the recommendations of the Puebla group and its leader, Rafael Correa?”
González sought to clarify her position, saying, “I want to confirm that the presidential candidate is me, the one who is here in front of the Ecuadorians is Luisa González and not Rafael Correa,” she stressed.
She then accused Noboa of traveling to Russia during his tenure as the president of the Economic Commission to explore alternatives to the dollar, implying that he, too, supports de-dollarization.
“Let’s not be fooled, they have been talking about de-dollarization for 15 years (…) You, Mr. Noboa, traveled to Russia as president of the Economic Commission to ask there for a payment alternative other than the dollar. So, you also intend to de-dollarize.”
Both candidates, however, have regularly affirmed their commitment to maintaining dollarization, which has been in effect in Ecuador since 2000.
Regarding the potential effects of the El Niño phenomenon, Noboa emphasized the need to protect the population by dredging rivers and constructing drainage systems for farmers, who should also have access to emergency credit. González inquired about the housing deficit in Ecuador, to which Noboa cited a figure of approximately 680,000 homes. He projected that the impact of El Niño could amount to $8 billion.
González countered that the number of affected houses would be 280,000 and outlined her plan to address the crisis, which included reestablishing credit lines, refinancing debts, and providing financial assistance. She also declared the road system as an emergency and proposed securing financing from multilateral institutions such as the World Bank. She underscored the need to combat impunity and strengthen the country’s institutions.
The debate briefly touched on the issue of increasing the Value Added Tax (VAT) with Noboa posing the question, “Are they going to increase the VAT to 14% like they did during the April 2016 earthquake?”
González responded, “What a shame, candidate Noboa, how quickly you became a typical Ecuadorian politician.”
Luisa González initiated the discussion on security by addressing policies to prevent crime. She emphasized the importance of a government that does not allow organized crime to infiltrate the country. González promised $500 million to upgrade the police force and regain control of prisons, ports, and airports to combat criminal gangs. She also connected common crime to issues of poverty, highlighting the significance of job creation.
Noboa questioned González on how she plans to deal with criminal gangs like Los Choneros or Los Lobos. González asserted that the leaders of organized crime had been captured during the Citizen Revolution government. She also mentioned her intention to militarize the country’s prisons, though she did not acknowledge that prison guards are not permitted to carry firearms inside prisons.
In a different line of inquiry, Noboa asked González for her opinion on the $5 million reward offered by the United States for information regarding the crime of Fernando Villavicencio. González expressed her agreement with the reward and added that she would offer rewards for information on other criminals as well.
Noboa outlined his ‘Phoenix Plan,’ which involved militarizing the borders with advanced technology to enhance security. He reiterated his proposal to militarize ports and develop an urban surveillance model using Israeli technology.
González suggested that criminal mafias influence the appointment of ministers and asked Noboa about the alleged connection between the former Minister of Agriculture, Bernardo Manzano, and Corporación Noboa. Noboa confirmed the connection but stressed that it was from a long time ago. He called for the sanctioning of officials involved in drug trafficking and suggested that ministers like José Pepe Serrano had links to drug trafficking in previous governments, necessitating further investigation.
The debate also delved into the issue of illegal mining, with González advocating for the protection of natural resources and regulated extraction. Noboa questioned how to prevent narco-terrorists from using mining to fund their activities, to which González responded with the idea of conducting a mining census.
“I am going to control illegal mining, but it should not be confused with artisanal mining,” said González.
“Are you going to promote new mining concessions?” Noboa asked and González.
González replied, “You have spoken out in favor of increasing mining production. I would like you to explain to the Ecuadorian people if this is because the Noboa Group, through the Adventus company, has mining exploitation.”
Noboa’s reply was a simple, “We have no interests in mining as the Noboa-Azín family.”
Daniel Noboa initiated the discussion on social policies by highlighting investments in healthcare, education, and a bonus for pregnant women. He expressed his commitment to implementing a national daycare system to safeguard children. González pointed out the similarities between his proposal and President Guillermo Lasso’s plan on this issue.
Noboa emphasized his opposition to the privatization of education and healthcare, while González stressed the importance of viewing education as a cornerstone for the country’s development. She advocated for creating secure zones around educational areas.
The debate delved into the controversy surrounding the regulation of drug consumption through the ‘consumption table,’ established in 2013 during Rafael Correa’s government to differentiate consumers from drug traffickers based on the maximum weights they could carry without being considered traffickers.
Noboa proposed eliminating the table, citing concerns about micro-trafficking’s impact on children and young people. “We want (children and young people) to fly high, but not because they are drugged.”
González defended the mechanism, arguing that it was designed to prevent addicts from ending up in jail and to provide access to public health programs.
Noboa persisted in questioning González about her stance on the consumption table, prompting González to express her unease with Noboa’s fixation on drug-related issues.
“You have me a little worried with that fixation you have with drugs (…) The rich, when they have addictions, go abroad.”
She added, “Why didn’t he propose that it be eliminated when he was an assemblyman,” González asked.
Regarding healthcare, González outlined her plan to hire 2,000 doctors to improve healthcare services and combat child malnutrition, at an estimated cost of $60 million to be financed through budget under-execution. Noboa asked about the Pedernales hospital and whether González planned to revitalize it, to which she responded affirmatively and indicated her intentions to put the Pedernales, El Carmen, and Portoviejo hospitals into operation while ensuring a steady supply of medicine.
On the subject of education, Noboa emphasized the need to eliminate inequalities in resource allocation for public education. He proposed declaring the Internet as a basic service, establishing telematic careers and technical schools, and facilitating university admissions.
González inquired about how he would ensure that 200,000 young people gain admission to universities. Noboa responded, “When there is no corruption, the money is enough. “When there are no imaginary $1.5 billion refineries, there is enough money.”
In her turn, González pledged to reinstate school breakfasts, allocate a $180 million budget for higher education, ease university access, offer virtual courses, provide 10 virtual gigabytes to support remote learning, and create 90,000 university places in one year, all while securing government funding.
The debate on political issues commenced with a focus on the challenges faced by the Ecuadorian Social Security Institute (IESS). González emphasized her commitment to ensuring that companies do not fail to affiliate their employees, which would help capitalize social security. She stressed the importance of strengthening the IESS, addressing a previous concern about what she called a “temporary suspension” of the government’s 40% allocations to the IESS, a measure implemented during Rafael Correa’s presidency. González said that access to services had always been guaranteed.
Noboa proposed catching up with the IESS to restore liquidity, which had been affected by the sale of bonds. He emphasized his commitment to ensuring that the minimum pension for retirees equates to a basic salary, currently set at $450.
Regarding the Citizen Participation Council, González recalled that a popular consultation had determined its continuation, and she affirmed her respect for the people’s decision. She also touched on her diplomatic relations with Nicaragua and Cuba, highlighting her intention to honor international agreements and strengthen trade ties with the United States and Colombia.
Noboa stressed the urgency of reducing violence and pledged to hold a popular consultation within the first 100 days of his potential government. He also expressed his support for the Armed Forces in their efforts to combat organized crime.
When questioned about the costs of conducting popular consultations, Noboa replied, “More expensive than the consultation is the loss of human life.”
To sum up the night, the debate between Luisa González and Daniel Noboa provided a platform for the candidates to present their campaign proposals and engage in discussions on critical issues facing Ecuador.
Undecided voters had hoped that the debate would help them determine which candidate could empathize with their concerns and offer viable solutions.
Regrettably, the debate fell short of delivering substantial insights. While González seemed slightly more at ease during the event, there was no decisive “victor” in the evening’s competition.