International Explainers: Lenín Moreno, the World’s Only Paraplegic President

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Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno, who assumed office in May 2017, is somewhat of a rarity. As a paraplegic who was shot during a botched robbery in 1998, he is currently the world’s only Head of State to use a wheelchair.

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Even before he was appointed as the first ever United Nations Special Envoy on disability and accessibility in 2013, Moreno worked tirelessly before his election as president to improve conditions for disabled people both in Ecuador and on an international level. During the first year of his term as vice-president of the South American country (2007-2013), he increased the government budget for disabled people more than fifty-fold, and founded the Manuel Espejo Solidarity Mission for the Disabled. This organisation has provided thousands of disabled Ecuadorians with rehabilitation and physical and psychological support. The mission is currently expanding its work beyond Ecuador to several other South American countries, including Paraguay, Peru, Guatemala, Chile, El Salvador and Colombia.

His charitable work first began while he was recovering from his shooting in 1998, when he created the ‘Eventa’ foundation to promote humour and joy in life based on his personal experiences. His work in improving the conditions and rights of those with disabilities led to him being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 by a group of Ecuadoreans living in Norway, a move which gained widespread international support from around 180 countries, even though the award that year was given to the European Union.

As might be surmised from his noteworthy first name, Lenin Moreno’s political leanings are to the left of the political spectrum. He is the leader of the PAIS Alliance, a left-wing party which espouses socialism for the 21st century. PAIS Alliance has come to dominate the Ecuadorian political landscape in recent times, with Moreno’s predecessor as President and leader of the PAIS Alliance, Rafael Correa, becoming the first Ecuadorian President in 30 years to be re-elected.

Since becoming President himself, Moreno has pledged to hugely increase public spending and investing in health and social care. He has proposed the implementation of a project entitled ‘Toda una Vida’, which would provide assistance for children and pregnant women including neonatal screening. However, there are uncertainties about the extent to which he will be able to implement his programme. Although his predecessor, Correa (who handpicked Moreno to succeed him), made huge improvements to healthcare and social services, a similar or higher level of spending will be required to ensure that the standard of care is not reduced.

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This is easier said than done, as the huge revenues from oil (which makes up 40% of Ecuador’s exports) that Correa used to finance his policies are no longer available. Both Petroamazonas and Petroecuador, the country’s two state owned oil companies, are estimated to be selling oil at as low as $20 a barrel. In addition, Petroecuador has been embroiled in a large scale corruption scandal which led to the head of the company fleeing the country after being accused of taking bribes and hiding money in offshore accounts.

While Moreno’s bold and ambitious programme and fresh outlook offer hope for the future of Ecuador, financing them could be a difficult challenge indeed.

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Deputy Editor 2017-18, International Editor 2015-17. Languages student adjusting to being back in the UK after a year in Chile. Interested in Latin America, world news, media and politics.

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