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Latin left's latest victory: Ecuador

But apparent victor Rafael Correa is unlikely to become as radical or isolationist as some have painted him.

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The apparent victory of Rafael Correa – a left-leaning economist and friend of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez – in Ecuador's presidential runoff election Sunday is the latest triumph for leftist governments in Latin America.

"Hopefully, we will get much, much closer to Mr. Chávez," Mr. Correa said after declaring victory Sunday night.

At press time, three exit polls, a quick count, and official results from more than half of the ballots showed Correa with close to 60 percent of the vote.

The election, which pitted Correa against billionaire banana tycoon Alvaro Noboa, was watched closely in the US. Correa had promised to disregard a free trade agreement with the US and close down a US military base in the country. Correa's win means Ecuador joins Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Nicaragua, and Venezuela on the list of countries that have also elected leftist presidents in recent years.

But Eduardo Gamarra, a Latin American expert at Florida International University, says that while Correa will forge closer relations with Latin America's leftist leaders, he is unlikely to become as radical or isolationist as his opponents have painted him. "[Ecuador's] relationship with Chávez will be stronger, the relationship with Evo Morales [Bolivia's leftist leader] will be stronger," Mr. Gamarra says. "But these countries have gone too far on the side of democracy and the economic side to turn back. Ecuador cannot think of closing its doors."

Correa says he will not rule out stronger ties to leftist leaders, but that their influence will be limited. "Chávez is my personal friend, but in my house, my friends aren't in charge, I am. And in Ecuador, it will be Ecuadorians in charge."

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