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Lasso Fulfills Mass Ecuador Vaccination Pledge, Turns to Economy

·3 min read

(Bloomberg) -- Ecuador President Guillermo Lasso, who hit his key campaign pledge of vaccinating 9 million people in his first 100 days in office this week, will now have to try to use his sky high approval rating of 74% to push through tough economic reforms and fulfill a deal with the IMF.

Lasso, a 65-year-old former banker, took office May 24 with just 3% of the population vaccinated, so inoculating half of the country of 17.5 million people from Covid-19 by Sept. 1, struck many as an improbable feat at best.

But now, nearly 20 million vaccines have been deployed, with 62% of the population having received at least a first shot and 51% fully vaccinated. It’s the South American country with the third-highest percentage of fully vaccinated people after Uruguay and Chile, according to Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker.

The strategy has included expanding the list of suppliers, including a significant hauling of Chinese-made vaccines and U.S. donated mRNA shots. He’s also pushed the shots into rural areas and covered many workers and their families at factories, retail stores and real estate development projects.

The achievements haven’t gone unnoticed in the bond market. A rally was sparked by Lasso’s upset election victory on April 11 and was sustained on the back of higher oil prices. Investors have bid up the price of Ecuador’s dollar bonds to as high as 89 cents on the dollar, a far cry from the deeply distressed levels before the vote. Ecuadorian debt has returned 33% this year, the most in emerging markets.

The president’s next test will be putting the economy back on track after the deepest slump in decades.

Ecuador and the International Monetary Fund are “very likely” to announce an updated funding agreement next week, Lasso said in an interview with newspaper Expreso that was live streamed Friday. “We won’t increase the value-added tax,” Lasso said, which was another campaign pledge.

With the vaccine rollout now well underway, Lasso will focus on getting people back to work, cutting the budget deficit and shaking up the oil industry in a bid to attract more private investment. After shrinking 7.8% in 2020, the central bank sees the economy expanding roughly 3% in 2021.

His biggest challenge, however, continues to be getting congress to approve tax, labor and oil legislation he plans to submit this month without having a majority in the legislature.

“The relationship between the executive and congress is tense and it’s still an open question as to whether he is going to be able to advance priority items of his agenda even with these levels of popular support,” said Eurasia Latin America Director Risa Grais-Targow.

Lasso has said that he could call a referendum if the legislature refuses to pass his reforms.

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