One of the vice presidential candidates in Ecuador’s 2021 election is turning to the US for COVID-19 assistance and a political boost ahead of the country’s runoff next month.
Physician-turned-politician Alfredo Borrero has tapped Washington-based consulting firm Moonlight International to help coordinate meetings during his visit to the US this week “in order to set up preliminary relationships for COVID-19 pandemic response in Ecuador,” according to Moonlight’s lobbying registration with the US Justice Department. Moonlight is representing Borrero pro bono on issues related to “public health interests of Ecuador, foreign aid and cooperation policies of private and public organizations in the US” during his trip, which began Tuesday.
This is Moonlight International’s first registration under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Founded by international business strategist Angel Saltos, the firm’s usual range of clients include Dell Technologies, Monsanto and the United Nations.
Saltos is registered to lobby on the account for Borrero alongside consultant Magdalena Janik. The pair’s primary task is to coordinate meetings with US officials in order to boost bilateral cooperation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Moonlight International did not respond to a request for comment.
Discussions with US officials have already begun. Borrero’s official Twitter page shows him meeting virtually with US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci‘s team Tuesday. He also visited an Inova Healthcare System COVID-19 vaccination site and met with Maryland Secretary of State John Wobensmith.
Although Borrero’s trip to the US is officially focused on Ecuador’s COVID-19 response, its political optics are impossible to ignore.
The visit comes just over two weeks before the runoff election opposing Borrero and his running mate, businessman Guillermo Lasso of the conservative Creating Opportunities party, against Andres Arauz and his vice-presidential running mate Carlos Rabascall from the left-wing Union of Hope. A protege of former President Rafael Correa, a socialist who had strained ties with Washington during his decade in office from 2007 to 2017, Arauz is favored to win after getting a third of the vote to Lasso’s 20 % in the first round last month.
John Polga-Hecimovich, a professor of comparative politics at the US Naval Academy, told Foreign Lobby Report that Borrera’s visit to the US likely aims to position himself and Lasso as strong partners. The push comes as Ecuador has launched a $900,000 lobbying blitz to secure a free-trade deal with the Joe Biden administration.
“It makes total sense that Lasso, looking for vaccines, would turn to the US,” Polga-Hecimovich said. “It could be that he’s establishing a relationship and establishing a reputation as an administration that is pro-US and pro-business.”
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The response to the COVID-19 pandemic by Ecuador’s current president Lenin Moreno was a significant part of both Lasso’s and Arauz’s campaigns. In the early days of the pandemic, Ecuador experienced one of the world’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks, which collapsed its healthcare system and forced the country into strict lockdown. The health crisis was compounded by a variety of economic factors and corruption allegations against hospitals and public officials.
Forced to do damage control, Ecuador’s Center for Strategic Intelligence hired former Barack Obama campaign consultant Alfredo “Freddy” Balsera and his firm Balsera Communications last June. The team was tasked with developing “communications strategies and tactics to counter the perception of an Ecuador besieged by the coronavirus and lacking a cohesive response.”
Lasso for his part launched a fundraising initiative, Save Lives, that claims to have raised more than $8.5 million for Ecuador’s healthcare system. Borrero serves on the initiative’s board.
As of today, the country has reported more than 313,000 cases of COVID-19 and 16,500 deaths, according to a tracker from Johns Hopkins University. Although Ecuador is better equipped to respond to the virus than last year, the vaccine roll-out has been roiled by allegations of favoritism that forced out two health ministers in less than a month.
“The fact that this visit is occurring before the second round elections has even taken place may suggest the way that the Lasso team is prioritizing the US relationship,” Polga-Hecimovich said, “and then the necessity of hitting the ground running on May 24 if Lasso were to take office on that date.”