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  • Ex-banker and current Ecuadorean presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso

    Ex-banker and current Ecuadorean presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso | Photo: Reuters

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Lasso has a 20-year history of pushing some of the most backward social and economic policies in the continent.

As Ecuadoreans await the official results of Sunday's presidential elections we take a look at presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso, who — while well behind Lenin Moreno in the vote count — emerged as the clear leader of country's right-wing opposition.

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Before his first unsuccessful run for the presidency in 2013 — where he came in a distant second to Rafael Correa — Lasso had been one of the most powerful figures in Ecuador's finance sector as president and majority shareholder of the Bank of Guayaquil for 18 years.

Lasso is the eldest of 11 children born to a middle-class family and began his banking career while working part-time jobs as a bank teller during high-school in Ecuador's financial capital of Guayaquil.

He got his start in big business thanks to his brother-in-law, who hired Lasso to help run his Panama-based private finance company. After a brief stint in the 1980's running Coca-Cola's Ecuadorean operations, he was hired as a vice president of the Bank of Guayaquil after that same brother-in-law bought the bank. In 1994 he succeeded his brother-in-law as bank president.

Throughout this period Lasso was a close ally of Jaime Nebot, who for decades has been a key political figure in the Social Christian Party, PSC, movement which was guilty of some of the worst human rights abuses in Ecuador's history during the presidency of León Febres Cordero.

Despite the apparent divisions during this year's campaign between Lasso and the PSC candidate Cynthia Viteri, he has deep personal and political connections with her party, both of which are based in the coastal city of Guayaquil.

Three years later he was charged in relation to several loan irregularities connected to Ecuador's central bank, though the charges were eventually dropped.

His formal entry into politics began in 1998 — just one year after charges were dropped against him in a case related to loan irregularities connected to Ecuador’s central bank — when he was appointed as the governor of Guayas province by President Jamil Mahuad. During that year's election campaign Lasso had been one of Mahuad's biggest donors.

Despite, or perhaps because of, Lasso's controversial short reign as governor — where he attacked civil servants and used state police to violently repress union demonstrations — Mahuad appointed Lasso as Ecuador's minister of finance and energy in 1999.

In that role, Lasso — in a departure from his current promises to eliminate corporate and inheritance taxes — oversaw a significant increase in the sales tax on basic goods which primarily affected poor and middle-class Ecuadoreans.

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He resigned as finance minister just months before Mahuad fled the country after being ousted by an Indigenous-led uprising in the wake of a massive banking and dollarization scandal.

Despite overseeing Ecuador's economy in the lead-up to the country's worst ever economic crisis, Lasso himself was never charged in connection to the banking scandal which crippled the country's economy and led to the forced migration of almost three million Ecuadoreans.

In fact, President Mahuad's decision to freeze all bank accounts in the country for a year eventually meant millions of dollars in profits for Lasso and his bank, as people were forced to withdraw their savings at half their value.

By 2003 Lasso again returned to government as a 'roving ambassador” for then-President Gutierrez, playing a key role in that administrations' relationship with Washington and the International Monetary Fund.

Indeed, it is around this time that Lasso's name begins to appear in confidential reports from the U.S. Embassy in Ecuador.

Lasso is named in the reports as a key contact for the U.S. government, which often sought out Lasso's opinions about the political situation in Ecuador and the rise of Rafael Correa's left-wing Citizens' Revolution.

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In 2005 Lasso founded the right-wing free market think tank Ecuador Libre (Free Ecuador) to promote “individual freedom, private property, and rule of law.”

However Lasso's personal commitment to the "rule of law” was questioned as it emerged via the Panama Papers leaks that for years he has actively avoided paying taxes. The leaks revealed that Lasso acts as director, president, and secretary of 10 tax exempt companies in Panama.

Unsurprising, Lasso has been a vocal leader in the No campaign against the referendum to make it illegal for public officials to have investments in offshore tax shelters.

Lasso is such an opponent of taxes that his 2017 campaign promised to eliminate 14 taxes, cutting US$3 billion from Ecuador's budget as it faces a massive drop in revenues due to lower oil prices.

Lasso has five children and is a member of the far-right Catholic movement Opus Dei.

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