Brother is critic-in-chief of Ecuador's Correa
If it were anyone else, President Correa might be suing for slander, as he's done with several journalists. But sue your older brother?
Other presidential critics have bigger followings, but none hits harder at the charismatic but prickly leftist leader than the man with whom he shared a less than charmed childhood.
Fabricio Correa also shares his brother's green eyes, his roughly 6-foot stature and his tendency to hyperbolic language. He says his brother's "21st-century socialism" is really "totalitarian and statist ... Strictly speaking, it's a fascism of the Adolf Hitler type, the Mussolini type, the Chavez type."
Perhaps even more irritating to official ears, he sometimes pulls generational rank on his three-years-younger sibling, lecturing him on what he considers the dangers of the president's populist policies.
Fabricio Correa claims credit for helping put his brother in office by raising $3.5 million in donations from businessmen friends for the successful 2006 presidential campaign.
"I got the country into this, and there's nobody getting us out of it, so it's mostly up to me to assume that responsibility," he said.
The last time the brothers met was at a June 16, 2009, dinner that Fabricio hosted for members of a soccer team both brothers love not long after Rafael had been re-elected.
Two days later, a newspaper reported that the elder Correa was part-owner of a company with financial stakes in businesses with millions of dollars worth of state contracts, most for construction projects. Ecuadorean law bars a president's close relatives from state contracts.
Nearly overnight, $167 million in contracts were canceled with the companies and some government officials publicly questioned Fabricio Correa's honesty. The president made it worse when reporters asked him if his brother might be prosecuted, and he said that wouldn't happen "out of respect for my mother."
Fabricio Correa felt betrayed. He told the AP he had no financial interests in the businesses with the questioned contracts, although companies he owned or invested in had been doing business with the state since the 1990s.
The incident prompted him to increasingly side with Ecuadoreans who abhor the president's insistence on a greater state role in the economy, his close ties with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his growing commercial ties with countries such as Iran and China.
The elder brother says Ecuador needs as president an experienced businessman who knows how to create jobs, "who knows how many potatoes it takes to make the soup ... Not like now, university theorists" — a dig at his brother's academic trajectory.
While Rafael was earning postgraduate economics degrees in Belgium and at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Fabricio says, he had already married and was building businesses, starting with selling hydraulic pumps to drain flooded banana plantations after heavy rains.
Asked if he might be that businessman-president, Fabricio Correa said he doesn't know yet if he will challenge his brother in presidential elections slated for sometime next year. He doesn't even figure as a potential candidate in opinion polls so far. They show former Guayaquil Mayor Jaime Nebot and former President Lucio Gutierrez as the top potential contenders.
He has, nevertheless, formed a political party called Equity, Progress and Order, a linguistic combination that in Spanish produces the word Equipo, or Team. It hasn't raised any money yet, he says, and so far has representatives in only about a quarter of Ecuador's 24 provinces.
The president hasn't commented on whether his brother might be a contender. But after the filial rupture in 2009 he commented: "Greed has unbalanced my brother, given the amount of inanities he's uttered."
Their sister, Pierina, had been silent on the dispute and refused to discuss it with the AP. An architect, she maintains good relations with both brothers and voices support for Rafael's politics.
The Correa children had a sometimes difficult childhood in Guayaquil, a industrial port that is Ecuador's largest city.
Their father was an entrepreneur who often lacked steady work and tried to smuggle two kilograms of cocaine into the United States when the boys were young.
He was caught, spent three years in prison in Atlanta in the late 1960s and, in 1995, committed suicide under circumstances that haven't been explained.
Rafael Correa has said his father wasn't a criminal but rather "unemployed and desperately looking to feed his family" when caught smuggling the cocaine.
He recalled "a happy but difficult childhood ... with many economic limitations. We never had a car and for a time we didn't have television. To even think of a color set was out of the question."
Fabricio Correa told the AP that his father's absence forced him, at age 6 or 7, to become the man of the house.
"I was responsible for home repairs, for paying the rent and electricity and helping my mother with my younger siblings," he said. That included his first job, delivering food that his mother would prepare at home and sell.
No one told the children their father was in prison, he added. They were told he'd gone abroad to work.
When their father returned he was more fit and muscular, had stopped smoking and found a full-time job as an office worker in the Social Security agency, Fabricio Correa recalled.
He said their father's absence was difficult because "it marked an orphanhood of authority, of the person who provides security, who defends you. We felt this."
The effect that had on the children is for psychologists to examine.
Fabricio Correa said with some affection that "Rafael wasn't the kind of brother whose hand you had to hold crossing the street, though I did have to go out and defend him when he got into trouble.
"Rafael was always very aggressive. He would fight with me and Pierina. He was always a combative spirit, (had) the typical dustups with other kids, but (was) essentially good. He didn't have any vices."
But he sure was competitive, Fabricio Correa adds.
"He didn't like to lose. He wanted to be the first at everything, in his studies, in football, among friends. That's what set him apart."
Interview by Gonzalo Solano, Associated Press
Published at the Seattle Post Intelligencer, Seattle, WA.