Ecuador President Correa could face challenge from brother

Rafael Correa in a photo from 6 July Rafael Correa was first elected in 2006

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Ecuador's President Rafael Correa may be about to face a new political opponent.

But the challenger is not just any political foe: it is the president's older brother, Fabricio Correa.

Unlike the Miliband brothers in the UK, both running for the Labour Party leadership with each other's blessing, there is hardly a kind word shared between the Correas.

The brothers have been fighting publicly for a year now, and Fabricio's decision to try to launch a political party has taken the battle up a notch.

President Correa, who has been in office since 2007, and his Alianza Pais governing movement have been losing public support in recent months.

Start Quote

I know that my brother will be my brother all of my life, but the same goes for my principles”

End Quote Rafael Correa Ecuadorean President

But the weak and fragmented opposition can do little to challenge the president, which is why Fabricio Correa's potential move into politics is attracting attention.

Mutual accusations first emerged after the Diario Expreso newspaper reported in June 2009 that Fabricio Correa's engineering business had boomed since his brother entered the presidential palace.

The president, who has made the fight against corruption a key priority of his term in office, initially called the media reports biased and defended his brother. Fabricio also denied any wrongdoing.

Ecuador's new constitution, approved in 2008, forbids relatives of public officials from winning government contracts.

Fabricio said that he was only a partner in some of the companies involved, and that all the contracts had been obtained through public tenders.

Fabricio Correa Fabricio Correa: relationship with his brother used to be cordial but not close

But as public opinion grew more negative, the president changed his tone and mind.

"If my brother had been president, I would have never done this to him," said President Correa during one of his weekly radio and TV shows.

He announced that the government would cancel $80m (£50m) worth of contracts that Fabricio's companies had signed with state companies because his brother's involvement was, in his opinion, unethical.

"I know that my brother will be my brother all of my life, but the same goes for my principles," said President Correa. "I will always do what needs doing, no matter what the personal price is."

Christian Zurita, the investigative journalist at Diario Expreso who wrote about the public contracts, says that it would have been impossible for the president not to know about his brother's deals, especially because their mother is on the executive board of several of Fabricio's businesses.

"Fabricio is the older brother, but Rafael is the big brother," says Zurita.

Strong words

In the end, the comptroller general's office found no wrongdoing in the way the contracts were awarded and no further official investigation was pursued.

But the row between the brothers had escalated. Rafael accused his brother of being a greedy "big shot".

Fabricio responded with strong language, accusing Rafael's circle of lacking manliness.

"Nobody has so far had the testicular competence to sue me," said Fabricio.

Rafael Correa (left) and Hugo Chavez (right) in a photo from 6 July 2010 Fabricio has attacked his brother's ties to Venezuela's Hugo Chavez

Fabricio is the eldest in the family, three and a half years Rafael's senior.

The brothers were both born in the port of Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest and richest city.

They both did their undergraduate studies there - Fabricio studied engineering and Rafael economics.

But then Rafael's career took off. He volunteered for a year in an indigenous Quechua community in Ecuador's Andes, before doing postgraduate degrees in Belgium and the US.

When Rafael ran for president in 2006, Fabricio acted as his brother's fundraiser.

During the campaign, Rafael promised to change the political system to give more say to the country's poor and indigenous groups.

But his political project has disappointed people on all sides of the political spectrum.

Which Correa?

Over the past year, indigenous people, environmentalists and students have protested against his policies.

Conservative opponents have meanwhile kept up their criticism of President Correa's close ties to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Start Quote

Since no other leader has decided to come forth and take on the challenge, if the circumstances are right, I will be a candidate”

End Quote Fabricio Correa President's brother

However wide and diverse the opposition might be, so far no clear candidate has emerged to speak up against Rafael - except his brother.

In an e-mail interview, Fabricio said that his relationship with his brother used to be cordial but they did not see each other very often.

"I knew he had good intentions and he was seeking the well-being of the country, but I didn't know that he was lying to me, just like he lied to 13 million Ecuadoreans," Fabricio told BBC News.

"This is a Communist project, led by a political bureau that receives orders from Venezuela."

Such accusations have been routinely dismissed by President Correa.

Ecuador's next scheduled presidential elections are in 2013, and Fabricio has said that he feels a sense of responsibility towards the country.

"Since no other leader has decided to come forth and take on the challenge, if the circumstances are right, I will be a candidate," he said.

While the brothers' discourse is fundamentally different, they do share an ability to work the crowds.

If Rafael's political project continues to lose support, Fabricio's emergence onto the political scene may mean that in three years' time there is still a Correa in the presidency.

The question is which one?

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