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South America's rising star: President Rafael Correa of Ecuador


Ecuador's recently re-elected President Rafael Correa is popular. So popular he earned twice the votes in the February election as his closest opponent, who snagged a meager 23 percent. So popular as a steady leader and populist, he's revered by the masses. But he may be most popular as "king of the hill" of Ecuador, a country so rich in natural resources he can swat away multinationals who covet his gold.

How long will his popularity last? That's the question.

Educated at the University of Illinois, the left-leaning Correa is the closest Ecuador has come to a stable leader since the 20th century ended. Before he took office in 2007 after a runoff election, the country had had seven presidents in the prior decade. The Ecuadorean sucre, its currency, had crashed in 1999. Poverty and unemployment rates were rising. And it appeared Ecuador would just stagger so long as its leadership failed to coalesce behind a central figure.

Correa has become that figure — for country and continent. Now that Venezuelan leftist icon Hugo Chavez has died, Correa scratched his way to the front of the pack as one of the most vociferously nationalist leaders in South America:

— He has declared his intention to "radicalize" his "citizens' revolution."

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