World

Ecuador's Moreno takes office vowing to heal divisions

Lenin Moreno was sworn in as Ecuador's president on Wednesday, promising to try and heal divisions stirred by a decade of polarizing leftist rule.

Moreno assumed the presidency during a ceremony in Ecuador's congress before some 12 heads of state from around Latin America.

His cabinet, announced Tuesday after weeks of backdoor haggling inside the ruling party, seeks to follow through on his campaign pledge to open up a dialogue with the private sector that was largely shunned by his predecessor and political mentor Rafael Correa, who surrounded himself with ideological loyalists.

Several business executives were included in the cabinet, including a member of the Noboa family, among Ecuador's wealthiest, as trade minister. Eight women were also appointed to key positions, including foreign minister and central bank president.

"There can't be dialogue without freedom of expression," Moreno said in an apparent olive branch to Ecuador's media, which faced frequent government harassment under Correa.

Moreno came from behind in polls and narrowly defeated conservative banker Guillermo Lasso in an April runoff widely seen as a referendum on Correa's so-called "Citizens' Revolution." Moreno was Correa's first vice president.

While he benefited from the popularity of Correa's social programs, Moreno is counting on private investment to help revive the dollarized Ecuadorean economy, which is mired in recession because of a collapse in oil prices and its dependency on the strong U.S. currency, which has hurt manufacturers competing against cheaper imports.

Moreno, who uses a wheelchair after losing mobility when he was the victim of a botched robbery, dismissed the idea of abandoning use of the U.S. dollar as the country's currency, adopted during an inflationary spiral and banking crisis 17 years ago.

"We're going to sustain dollarization. There won't be any parallel currencies," he said in his inaugural address while promising an "austere" administration.

But economists warn that unpopular cuts to public spending will likely deepen Ecuador's economic woes in the short term. Any cuts could stir tensions with supporters of Correa, who has said he's ready to come out of political retirement and run again for the presidency if Ecuador's problems become unmanageable.