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Banana Tycoon, Leftist to Face Off in Ecuador's Run-off Presidential Election

In Ecuador's presidential election, the top two candidates will compete in a run-off in November. With nearly 70 percent of the votes counted, a billionaire banana magnate is leading with nearly 27 percent of the vote, and a leftist ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is second with almost 23 percent. To win outright, a candidate needed 50 percent, or 40 percent with a 10-point lead over the other candidates.

Voters waking up in Ecuador Monday may have been surprised to learn that one of the wealthiest men in the country, Alvaro Noboa, was narrowly ahead of the expected front-runner, Rafael Correa in Sunday's elections.

Professor Frank Mora of the National War College is an expert on regional issues in Latin America:

"Certainly, any one who followed the polls over the last month or so should be surprised," said Frank Mora. "I think, most polls were saying Correa could possibly get 40 percent and win the election in the first round."

Correa, a 43-year-old U.S.-educated economist, is running as a left-leaning political outsider. He proudly acknowledges close ties to Venezuelan President Chavez, and says he would end free-trade negotiations with the United States, and ask the U.S. to leave its counter-narcotics base in Ecuador.

In contrast, 55-year-old Noboa runs a massive banana-growing and exporting company, and has promised to ally himself with the United States. Noboa has traveled across Ecuador in recent weeks, handing out medicine, wheelchairs and computers. This is his third run for the presidency, and Professor Mora says many in Ecuador believe Noboa would mean more foreign investment, more factories and more jobs:

"He is the country's largest investor, so he has put a lot of money into the country," he said. "He is viewed by Ecuadorians as not just a successful businessman, but as someone who could potentially transfer that know-how and that success into running a country."

Noboa told the press after the elections that the people of Ecuador have a clear choice. He said his opponent, Correa, represents a Communist position, like Cuba. He said his proposal is to be like Spain, Chile, the United States and Italy, countries with liberty.

For his part, Correa appeared on television a short time later, referring to Noboa's alleged use of child labor on his banana plantations, and to all the presents Noboa gave out to voters during his campaign.

Ana Palacio, the daughter of Ecuador's current President Alfredo Palacio, may have summed up the hopes of many Sunday when she commented after voting:

"I hope that democracy endures, that we choose well, and the president can remain in office for the full four years," she said.

Ecuadorians have ousted three presidents in the last decade through street protests.