- Image 1 of 2
- Image 2 of 2
QUITO, Ecuador – For Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno, watching his mentor and predecessor Rafael Correa fly to Europe this week for an extended vacation likely wasn't a sad farewell.
After months of them standing side-by-side on the campaign trail, a schism has opened between the two leftist allies, with the bad blood spilling out into sniping over social media and threatening to hamstring their ruling political party.
Correa was all smiles posing with Moreno after his former vice president eked out a narrow runoff victory over a conservative opponent three months ago. Since then Correa has accused his political acolyte on Twitter of "disloyalty" and pursuing "mediocre" policies that would undermine his legacy.
Leaving Monday for Belgium, where his wife is from, Correa called on supporters to defend the social programs and economic gains that endeared him to many poor Ecuadoreans. He also made a clear dig at Moreno, saying that while the opposition was defeated in April's presidential election, "I'm not sure the citizens' revolution won."
Correa made confrontation a hallmark of his presidency, picking public spats with his political opponents, the media, Washington and even British comedy host John Oliver of the HBO show "Last Week Tonight."
By contrast Moreno, who won office by less than 3 percentage points, has adopted a conciliatory approach and reached out to formerly spurned groups. He has called for a national dialogue, met with and made concessions to some of his predecessor's most bitter adversaries — much to Correa's irritation.
Correa was particularly irked by Moreno's recent granting of a 100-year lease on two properties to indigenous groups against which the previous administration government pressed charges in retaliation for protests over water rights and mining projects.
The former president lashed out after the tribal leaders were given a warm welcome at the presidential palace this month.
"If it's hatred you want, don't look to me," Moreno tweeted in response.
Both men have tried to play down the public feud, and Moreno was courteous in bidding Correa farewell.
"Rafael, have a good trip and may God bless you and your family," he said. "In the name of the Ecuadorean people, I want to thank you for all you achieved this past decade, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable."
But some analysts are predicting the pair's differences could spark divisions in their Alianza Pais party, especially as Moreno faces some hard choices to revive the economy of the oil-rich South American nation. Ecuador is struggling under the weight of large amounts of debt accumulated during years of heavy spending by Correa when crude prices were high and deficits easier to finance.
"The economic and fiscal situation is very difficult and requires that Moreno build bridges with the private sector and civil society," said Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue. "He can't give himself the luxury of continuing Correa's confrontational style of leadership."
Ecuadoreans are also beginning to take a dimmer view of Correa's government thanks to a proliferation of corruption scandals, the most important of which implicates the man Correa placed on Moreno's ticket as a political leash: Vice President Jorge Glas.
Glas, who also served as vice president under Correa, is accused of being part of a network of corrupt officials who took some $30 million in payments from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht in exchange for government contracts. Glas is also accused of taking millions in bribes for the construction of an oil refinery, though he has not been formally charged in either case. He denies wrongdoing.
Whether the feud worsens may depend largely on Correa, who spent 10 years in power, left office in May with an approval rating of over 60 percent and still enjoys widespread support.
Hundreds of backers thronged Quito's international airport to bid him farewell carrying signs such as "You'll always be our president!"
Correa says he plans to devote the next few years to spending time with family in Europe, removed from day-to-day politics. But he has held out the possibility of running for president again in four years if he feels his policies have been betrayed. He has more than 3 million Twitter followers and his every word could cast a shadow over Moreno's presidency.
"We are leaving a country completely changed but still in the middle of a process," Correa told supporters Monday, waving from the sunroof of his car. "You are going to have to learn to march without me."