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Ecuador's President Demonstrates He's His Own Man


Ecuador has a new president - Lenin Moreno. Since taking the presidential oath, Moreno has been rooting out government corruption and also clashing with his predecessor. But his story began in 1998 when he was shot in the back by a car thief. From Quito, reporter John Otis has more.

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: The shooting in a grocery store parking lot left Moreno paralyzed from the waist down. He went on to become a motivational speaker and to write books about the healing power of laughter. Moreno was elected vice president in 2006, then worked at the U.N. promoting the rights of the disabled. He's also a decent singer.


PRESIDENT LENIN MORENO: (Singing in Spanish).

OTIS: That's Moreno crooning to supporters while running for president. In the wake of his narrow election victory in April, Moreno is proving that he's also got sharp elbows. He's using them in a bitter feud with Rafael Correa, the president he just replaced. The left wing Correa ruled Ecuador for the past decade. His government reduced poverty and built highways and schools, but Correa also muzzled the news media and concentrated power in his own hands. With his poll numbers slipping, Correa chose not to run for re-election this year. Instead, he backed Moreno, who was Correa's vice president during his first term. Political analyst Martha Roldos says Correa believed Moreno would serve as a pliant placeholder until Correa could try to regain the presidency in the next election.

MARTHA ROLDOS: Correa was a control freak, and he wanted to control Moreno and he wanted Moreno to be his puppet and him to be the puppeteer.

OTIS: But Moreno is forging his own path and has now turned against his former boss. Moreno claims that Correa lied about the weak state of Ecuador's oil-reliant economy. He says Correa underreported the nation's swelling $40 billion foreign debt and ignored a massive bribery scandal at Petroecuador, the state-run oil company.


MORENO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: In speeches, Moreno promises to go after unscrupulous officials. This month, police arrested the current vice president, Jorge Glas, who was a top aide to Correa. Glas is under investigation for allegedly taking kickbacks during the Correa administration. But the feud's most bizarre twist is Moreno's claim that Correa is spying on him.


MORENO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: In a TV address, Moreno said that before stepping down Correa installed a hidden camera in the presidential palace that he monitors from his cellphone. A camera was found, but investigators have yet to determine whether it was used for spying. For his part, Correa suggests Moreno has gone off the deep end and calls his former protege a traitor.


RAFAEL CORREA: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: "It's bizarre," Correa told reporters, "our party won the election, but it's like we lost because Moreno is governing with the opposition and going after our people." But public opinion seems to be turning against Correa.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in Spanish).

OTIS: Thousands of people marched through Quito last month to protest graft and shady deals during Correa's presidency. Among them was farmer Maria Sotomayor.

MARIA SOTOMAYOR: This is democracy, people taking power, coming to the streets to say what we need to say because we are tired of corruption.

OTIS: Meanwhile, Moreno is gaining momentum. A recent Gallup poll put the president's job approval rating at 77 percent. For NPR News, I'm John Otis in Quito, Ecuador.

(SOUNDBITE OF JESSE COOK'S "RUMBA D'EL JEFE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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