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It was only a matter of time, really. President Rafael Correa declared a default on Ecuador’s foreign sovereign bonds earlier this month, vowing to fight “monster” debt-holders who had “illegal,” “immoral” and “illegitimate” claims against his country. The question now is whether this is a precursor to similar actions by like-minded Latin American leaders, eager to exploit current economic circumstances and the outrage against bankers who precipitated the crisis.

Mr. Correa is a U.S.-trained economist who has allied with other left-leaning leaders in South America to repudiate the Washington Consensus, which urges less government intervention in national economies. He is an unabashed populist who has spent liberally to finance social programs. His generosity is lubricated by record income from the sale of oil.

In fact, Mr. Correa does not have to default. Ecuador has ample funds to make the $31 million payment that was due Dec. 15. His opposition is rooted in ideology, not economics. He had threatened not to pay when he was elected in 2006. A debt commission he set up concluded last month that bonds due in 2012 and 2030 “show serious signs of illegality,” including issuance without proper government authorization. This gave him the grounds he needed to keep his election pledge.

Mr. Correa says he wants to renegotiate the bonds, offering up to 60 percent of their worth. That will be difficult. Ecuador only owes $10 billion to international creditors — global bonds make up $3.8 billion — and has reserves to cover its payments. The country defaulted in 1999, and investors are loath to reward debtors who can otherwise pay.

Will Mr. Correa’s nationalism — his political slogan is “life before debt” — appeal to other countries? It is unlikely. While the economic crisis makes it easier to rail against “rapacious” foreign capital, oil prices have plummeted and it will be increasingly difficult to finance the social services he needs to maintain his political support. Investors have long memories, and the prospect of lawsuits to recoup funds is likely to scare off future investments. Mr. Correa may regret the consequences.

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