A Conversation with Ecuadorian President-elect Daniel Noboa

Photo of Rebecca Bill Chavez and President Daniel Noboa

On November 6, 2023, the Inter-American Dialogue and Global Americans were pleased to host President-elect Daniel Noboa for a discussion on his domestic and foreign policy priorities. In an electoral period overshadowed by violence, the 35-year-old candidate won Ecuador’s anticipated presidential election in a second round. Noboa took office on November 23, 2023, for an abbreviated 18-month term. 

An Improbable Political Journey

President Noboa began by expressing his gratitude to be present at the Dialogue with his team and proceeded to share the story of his improbable political journey. He described his entry into a challenging political landscape marked by violence and a deep political crisis. Noboa shared his background in business and political marketing as well as his work in politics for seventeen years. The President noted his mix of political, business, and social service backgrounds, influenced by his parents. 

Noboa emphasized the importance of understanding how to win elections. He mentioned his father’s success in beating former President Rafael Correa in the first round of the 2006 election, and how they gathered the same team for the current endeavor. Noboa highlighted the unique and challenging circumstances that led to his win and the strategic approach his team has taken to navigate and succeed in this complex political landscape. Unlike his father, Noboa was able to attack the core of the Revolución Cuidadana party. Instead of having an anti-approach to Correa, he decided to focus on people’s needs, becoming pro-youth and pro-equality.  

When doing an in-depth analysis to find the most pressing issues that affect Ecuadorian society, Noboa’s team found out that at a national level it is insecurity and violence, with 60 to 65 percent of respondents identifying these. However, when the question was reframed to ask about personal concerns, economic problems surpassed insecurity and violence. This shift revealed that a national sense of insecurity is related to employment and economic development. As a result, Noboa’s campaign focus shifted to employment while other candidates did not. Despite challenges, Noboa is proud to be the youngest democratically elected president in the history of Latin America at 35 years old. 

An Emphasis on Youth

For Noboa, it was essential to understand Ecuador’s demographics. He shared that his campaign focused on providing hope for the youth and provided some statistics. Between the ages of 18 and 29, 50 percent of Ecuadorians are unemployed or self-employed, and for women it is 70 percent. He highlighted key demographic and electoral trends noting that 50 percent of his voters were women, with an average voter age of 33, indicating a changing political landscape. The president emphasized the significant influence of young voters, with a record turnout among 16 and 17-year-olds, winning by 70 percent within this demographic. He underscored the importance of the youth vote, as reflected in polls where 65 percent of respondents said they would consider leaving the country if Noboa did not win the election. 

"The message, especially for young people, was to give them hope for a better future, hope for a better life that includes employment and education. We focused on that."

- Daniel Noboa, President of Ecuador

President Noboa discussed a concerning trend of migration, particularly among the middle and lower-middle classes, driven by economic challenges. He attributed this to a lack of job opportunities and limited spaces in educational institutions. Noboa pointed out that Ecuador’s demographic structure, with a large population of young people, poses a challenge, as past governments have struggled to create sufficient job opportunities and educational spaces. Noboa reiterated his commitment to using youth as a driving force for the overall well-being of the nation, emphasizing the urgent need to address the issues faced by the younger population. 

Main Priorities

President Noboa's remarks outlined three key priorities for the next 18 months: reducing violence, addressing youth unemployment, and focusing on general employment. He emphasized the urgency of delivering tangible results, considering the public's fatigue and the high expectations, particularly among the youth. He highlighted the need for financial equality, pointing out disparities faced by women in accessing credit and getting higher interest rates. He underscored the importance of combating discrimination in financial options, citing initiatives such as working with the bank superintendency to regulate and address these issues. 

“Everywhere we went, there was a local leader. It was usually a woman who had her own business and kids. I'm very proud that I was their candidate and now their president.”

- Daniel Noboa, President of Ecuador

Noboa expressed pride in catering to overlooked groups such as youth, single moms, and women entrepreneurs, who served as ambassadors for his campaign. He outlined his commitment to showcasing female success by appointing a record number of women to ministerial positions, including the Minister of Environment, a 26-year-old renewable energy expert.  

Noboa acknowledged the challenges ahead, stressing the need to transmit hope and demonstrate that hard work and preparation can lead to success, regardless of gender. He shared plans for a diverse and young ministerial team and acknowledged the pressure to deliver quick wins. He wants to maintain hope and simplify complex issues for the public during the upcoming 18 months. 

Inter-American Dialogue President & CEO, Dr. Rebecca Bill Chavez, expressed gratitude for the message of hope conveyed by the speaker, acknowledging the challenges of authentically delivering such messages in present times. She commended the realization of Noboa’s improbable political journey and the emphasis on gender inclusion as this is an area of focus for the Dialogue through our initiative on women and girls. 

Addressing Insecurity and Unemployment

Chavez posed a question to Noboa, noting his apparent ability to navigate polarization effectively, a challenge not unique to Ecuador but also observed in the United States. Acknowledging the speaker's experience in the National Assembly, she highlighted the importance of understanding how the legislative branch works and anticipates the challenge of building a rational majority or governing coalition swiftly. Chavez mentioned the pressing issues portrayed by the speaker, such as citizen insecurity and job creation, and sought insights into the speaker's plan for addressing these challenges. 

President Noboa responded to Chavez's question by acknowledging the complexity of the assembly and stressing the importance of keeping one's word and adhering to non-negotiable principles. He explicitly stated that he will not lead any political organization attempting a political trial against the attorney general, Diana Salazar, emphasizing the need to protect individuals working against criminal organizations. 

“It is better to be part of a minority with integrity than a fragile majority under constant pressure.”

- Daniel Noboa, President of Ecuador

Noboa expressed his commitment to strict legislative negotiations without hidden agreements, coalitions, or pacts, as he believes such approaches signal the beginning of the end. President Noboa outlined his priorities, including urgent economic laws with multi-partisan support, a hands-off approach to the referendum, and a focus on achieving quick wins and real results in the first semester. He stressed the importance of working on concepts and laws that benefit the people, particularly those in need, rather than voting against political groups. 

Chavez commended President Noboa's perspective on legislative integrity and non-negotiable principles, seeing it as something that other countries could learn from. She then posed a question about the pressing issue of citizen insecurity in Ecuador. She highlighted the challenge of widespread criminal violence fueled by transnational drug trafficking organizations from Mexico and Colombia, resulting in a significant increase in the homicide rate over the past three years. Chavez inquired about the critical pillars of President Noboa's plan to address this challenge. 

Noboa recognized the need to reorganize the military and police forces. He mentioned the need to have a central intelligence agency, which he will work on with the help of the US and Israel, to provide a diagnosis and an action plan. He believes it is essential to have a centralized agency that addresses insecurity issues throughout the country and that aids red zones such as Durán. In addition, he emphasized the importance of providing mental healthcare to the population, especially to those who have been victims of crime and their families.  

Furthermore, Noboa stated the need to act quickly on education due to its direct relation to high violence rates. He wants to create an association with private universities, so the government can provide scholarships while more infrastructure and human capital are built that can sustain educational services to the younger population. Noboa claimed that one of his main aims is to tackle job insecurity by formalizing employment.  

Pressing Issues

In closing, Chavez opened the floor to questions from the public where Noboa addressed concerns over the current power outages in Ecuador and migration.  

Noboa revealed that he initiated legal proceedings against CELEC, CNEL, and TRANSELECTRIC two years ago, attributing Ecuador's electric woes to governmental inefficiencies. According to him, the only viable solution to the existing inefficiency is through immediate and decisive emergency actions. Noboa has engaged in discussions with various governmental figures, having conferred with President Petro even before he met with Lasso, with the aim of reaching an agreement on the pressing electricity concerns.  

Moreover, he advocated for the establishment of a more expedited local mechanism for private energy generation in Ecuador. To expedite this process, he intends to implement an urgent economic law in January. Noboa underscored the urgency of the matter, emphasizing that the current timeline for acquiring additional electric plants, involving the procurement of reports and environmental permits, spans 2 to 3 years. Immediate attention to this issue is imperative. 

“We need to act quickly. We need to facilitate the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity – focusing on cleaner energy.”

- Daniel Noboa, President of Ecuador

Noboa concluded his remarks by emphasizing the significance of preserving cultural heritage within Ecuadorian migrant communities, notably in the US. He advocated for the encouragement of political participation and the organization of cultural events to foster a sense of unity and connection. Noboa aspires to create conditions that would entice Ecuadorians to consider returning to their homeland; however, he pragmatically recognizes that addressing security concerns must be a priority in this endeavor. 

This was an in-person only event. 

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