- Associated Press - Monday, January 30, 2012

QUITO, Ecuador — Amparo Martinez’s universe is two small, tidy rooms in a poor Quito neighborhood that she shares with her 83-year-old mother and a severely handicapped daughter.

Her predicament makes holding a job impossible, so the three depend on a $240-a-month government stipend introduced by President Rafael Correa under a program for the disabled.

Ms. Martinez adores Mr. Correa.

“I hope he’s re-elected many times,” she says.

Mr. Correa is regularly assailed by human rights, press freedom and business groups as intemperate, autocratic and intolerant of dissent. Yet he is popular among millions of Ecuadoreans for programs that, like the initiative for the disabled, have improved their lives.

An array of state-funded programs implemented or broadened since Mr. Correa’s 2006 election have brought stability to this traditionally unruly South American nation that previously churned through six presidents in 10 years.

A doubling in public spending under Mr. Correa adheres to a formula that also has aided the political longevity of his leftist allies Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Cristina Fernandez of Argentina and Evo Morales of Bolivia.

But Ecuador devotes a greater share of its economy to public investment than any other nation in Latin America and the Caribbean, spending 10 percent of gross domestic product.

The main strategic ally of this tall, pugnacious U.S.- and European-trained economist has been the high price of oil, currently at $99.50 per barrel, which helped fuel 8.9 percent economic growth last year.

Oil accounts for about a third of government revenues in this OPEC member nation, whose proven oil reserves of 6.5 billion barrels are surpassed in South America only by those of Venezuela and Brazil.

According to Oil and Gas Journal, Ecuador held proven oil reserves of 6.51 billion barrels in January 2011, the third-largest reserves in South America.

Ecuador is the fifth-largest producer of oil in South America, producing 486,000 barrels per day in 2010 (almost all of which was crude oil), down from a 2006 peak of 536,000 barrels per day.

Data from the first half of 2011 show a rebound in production, which averaged 501,000 barrel per day through June.

Straying from Latin American custom, Mr. Correa also has engineered a vertiginous rise in income-tax collection, boosting compliance by businesses and professionals. From $4.9 billion in 2007, income-tax receipts rose to $8.4 billion last year.

He has exhibited uncanny resolve in coaxing higher numbers into the revenue columns of the balance sheet in a country that made the U.S. dollar its national currency in 2000.

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