A Conversation with Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso

Photo of Guillermo Lasso and Rebecca Bill Chavez CORTESÍA

On the heels of President Guillermo Lasso’s White House meeting with President Joe Biden on December 19, 2022, President Lasso joined Inter-American Dialogue President & CEO Rebecca Bill Chavez for a conversation about the US-Ecuador bilateral relationship. The Dialogue hosted the event in partnership with the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council, the Wilson Center Latin America Program, and the Center for Strategic International Studies Americas Program. Chavez and Lasso discussed priorities in the bilateral relationship, including bolstering democracy in the region, trade, women’s economic empowerment, and increasing citizen insecurity in Ecuador. 


Rebecca Bill Chavez set the stage with opening remarks emphasizing the significance of President Lasso’s bilateral visit to the United States in addition to the US-Ecuador Partnership Act’s inclusion in the National Defense Authorization Act, which was the first time in history that the US Congress approved legislation that is dedicated solely to the US-Ecuador relationship. Chavez outlined the breadth of the US-Ecuador relationship and the many areas of bilateral cooperation between the two countries.

Photo of Rebecca Bill Chavez and President Guillermo Lasso
"Ecuador and the United States share core principles and values, including the commitment to strengthening democracy and combatting inequality and poverty."

- Rebecca Bill Chavez, President & CEO, Inter-American Dialogue


Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols introduced President Lasso. He praised President Lasso’s commitment to democracy, defense of the environment, and dedication to the Ecuadorian people. He also commended President Lasso’s vision and perspective on the Western Hemisphere's political landscape, highlighting praise from multiple senior US government officials following their visits to Ecuador. Nichols underscored the friendship between the peoples of the United States and Ecuador, reiterating the US commitment to positive, mutually beneficial bilateral relations. 

"I want to highlight the importance of this visit to Washington. President Lasso’s presence as a leader in the hemisphere reinforces the message of friendship between the peoples of the United States and Ecuador."

- Brian Nichols, United States Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs

  Photo of Brian Nichols

Ecuador’s Commitment to Democracy 

Amidst the region’s recent democratic backslide, Ecuador has remained one of the hemisphere’s strongest advocates for democratic institutions and values, both domestically and abroad. President Lasso highlighted his administration’s commitment to liberal democracy for Ecuador. He touted his April 2021 electoral win over Andrés Arauz as clean, transparent, and fair. Furthermore, he stressed the re-establishment of the separation of powers and the defeat of a populist model that had undermined democratic institutions in Ecuador. In particular, Lasso pointed to his administration’s commitment to policies that promote democratic values, highlighting freedom of speech and expression. Furthermore, he referenced his commitment to combatting corruption and the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Secretariat, which focuses on accountability, prevention, and deterrence. Lasso stated that his government has prioritized recovering laundered money to benefit state programs.

"We are making a great effort to strengthen Ecuadorian democracy. We believe in a liberal democracy with independent powers."

- Guillermo Lasso Mendoza, President of the Republic of Ecuador

Empowering Women and Families 

In his opening remarks, Lasso stated that his administration created a Ministry of Women and Human Rights with the intention of combatting violence against women, particularly in the post-pandemic context. In the Q&A portion, the president was asked about the tangible steps Ecuador and this new Ministry were taking to combat gender-based violence. In response, Lasso said he believed the epidemic of gender-based violence to be two-fold in origin: first, from cultural norms and biases, and second, from a lack of women’s economic agency and empowerment. Lasso argued that supporting women’s economic independence is crucial to combatting violence. He cited his administration’s low-interest micro-loan program, which creates accessible financing options for people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Lasso stated that the primary beneficiaries of these loans are women who own small businesses, creating an avenue for sustained economic growth and opportunity for women. 

Lasso also underscored his administration’s commitment to the well-being of children. Citing Ecuador as having one of the highest children’s malnutrition rates in the region, he pledged to reduce that rate by funding programs that benefit pregnant women and children under two years of age. Lasso also pointed to Ecuador’s continual investment into modernizing its education systems for the betterment of all youth. Furthermore, Lasso emphasized the importance of investment in local social resources and youth programs as a deterrent for youth recruitment into criminal gangs and illicit trafficking organizations.

"We will massively expand [youth programs] in the next year. This is not an issue of the left or right. This is about acting with common sense, human sense, and concern for the most vulnerable sectors of the population."

- Guillermo Lasso Mendoza, President of the Republic of Ecuador

Refugee Integration 

Chavez lauded Ecuador for its integration and protection of migrants. Exemplifying this commitment, she cited the recent Ecuadorian government program, which regularized more than 300,000 Venezuelan refugees, giving them legal status. She asked Lasso to elaborate on the successes and challenges of this policy. Lasso stressed that migration is a region-wide issue. He remarked that Ecuador received over 500,000 refugees from Venezuela, which is about 3 percent of the Ecuadorian population, essentially overnight, thus requiring new and innovative solutions. Pointing to his personal values for inclusion and acceptance, Lasso depicted his own lower-middle class upbringing in a family of 11 children, where even though economically disadvantaged themselves, a guest was always welcome at their table. Lasso detailed Ecuadorian migration patterns to the United States and Europe and the mutually beneficial relationships established between migrant communities and their host countries. He pronounced Ecuador’s commitment to accepting Venezuelan refugees with the following:

"The world has been generous to Ecuador. Ecuador cannot be so selfish as to today say no and reject Venezuelans."

- Guillermo Lasso Mendoza, President of the Republic of Ecuador

Citizen Security and the Fight Against Organized Crime 

Chavez, concerned with Ecuador's rapid increase in violent crime and homicides, asked Lasso to detail the concrete actions his government is taking to fight against citizen insecurity and transnational drug-trafficking organizations. Lasso attributed the recent surge in violence to his administration’s seizure of more than 300 tons of drugs in the previous 18 months, leading to a loss of revenue and retaliation from the gangs and cartels. Lasso pointed to Ecuador’s rehabilitation-based prison reforms as a step in the right direction for reducing violence in prisons and recidivism, as well as upholding the human rights of criminal offenders. Conversely, he also referenced Ecuador’s heavy-handed action in declaring drug trafficking and organized crime an enemy of the state, which has led to an increasing role for the armed forces in internal security and prison control. 

"It’s my turn as the president of Ecuador, not to focus only on the economy—which is in very good health—but to focus on citizen security issues and the fight against drug trafficking."

- Guillermo Lasso Mendoza, President of the Republic of Ecuador

Trade and Macroeconomic Development 

In his opening remarks, Lasso touted Ecuador’s sustained economic growth and positive projections into 2023. He commented that over the past year, Ecuador has had among the lowest inflation rates and highest economic growth in the LAC region. He shared his commitment to continuing to reduce Ecuador’s fiscal deficit and highlighted the recent disbursal of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan to Ecuador for US$700 million, which represents only the second instance in the last 20 years that Ecuador has been able to close an agreement with the IMF. Lasso argued that his strategy to combat corruption will attract greater international investment.  

"The dilemma is not socialism versus capitalism. It is putting what it means to be human at the center of action and managing the economy in an orderly fashion to be able to attend to the needs of the people."

- Guillermo Lasso Mendoza, President of the Republic of Ecuador

International Cooperation

Photo of crowd at Lasso eventThe importance of bilateral cooperation was a strong theme throughout the conversation. Lasso referred to the United States as one of Ecuador’s strongest allies and called for collaboration between the two countries on a number of fronts, including migration, security, and economic development. In regard to Venezuelan refugees, Lasso asserted that Ecuador needs assistance from the international community to continue its progressive migration policy. He explained that his trip to Washington was an opportunity to highlight this point in meetings with US government officials and representatives of multilateral organizations. Furthermore, he said he appealed to the United States for support in strengthening the Ecuadorian national police and armed forces in order to combat ongoing security issues.  

Beyond the United States-Ecuador bilateral relationship, Lasso strongly expressed the need for international support toward a variety of initiatives and expressed a strong willingness for collaboration and diplomacy with countries throughout the hemisphere. For example, Lasso advocated for bilateral cooperation with Colombia to combat drug trafficking at the countries’ shared border.  

Closing the event, Jason Marczak, senior director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council, commended Ecuador’s openness to bilateral diplomacy, cooperation, and international trade and investment, as well as its ongoing commitment to democracy. Marczak concluded by assuring President Lasso that he could count on the support of the Washington think tank community for strengthening the United States-Ecuador bilateral relationship. 


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