President of Ecuador Rafael Correa Talks Politics, Immigration

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The country of Ecuador is in the throes of digging out from a massive earthquake that hit on Saturday.

The 7.8 quake killed more than 350 people, leaving thousands injured and thousands more homeless. Rescue workers are still searching for victims and survivors.

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Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa cut short a trip to the Vatican to return to his country and deal with the devastation. He says billions will be needed to rebuild, and is quoted as saying his country will find a way to move forward.

"If our pain is immense," Correa said, "still larger is the spirit of our people."

Last Thursday, Correa joined “Chicago Tonight” to talk about the South American nation that straddles the equator and to promote the new documentary about his country, "Ecuador: The Royal Tour," which aired on WTTW11 last week.

Below, highlights from last week's conversation.

In 2006, Rafael Correa, a U.S.-trained economist and former Finance Minister was elected President of Ecuador.

The South American nation that stretches from the Amazon rain forest to as far west as the Galapagos Islands had gone through seven president in 10 years before Correa's election.

But Correa, who describes his politics as "Christian left," has been popular enough to have won re-election to an unprecedented third term in 2013.

The president joined "Chicago Tonight" host Phil Ponce to talk about his country and the challenges of being president, as well as a little bit about his time as a student in Illinois. His visit to Chicago is tied to a new documentary hosted by journalist Peter Greenberg,

"I have very good memories of my years living here," said Correa of his time studying at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

In the documentary, Correa's relationship with the U.S. is said to be "often described as complicated."

When asked by Ponce to characterize the relationship, Correa said he appreciates America and spent "some of the happiest years" of his life in the country. Adding that he thinks President Barack Obama is a "very good person."

As to his biggest accomplishments since being elected in 2006, Correa mentioned what he called an "intangible accomplishment."

"When I arrived to office, I found a country very disappointed, very sad," Correa said. "We had a huge economic crisis in 1999 and it took very long to recover from this crisis. Now, you can see a proud country, with self-confidence. So this is a very important change.

"It is the most beautiful country in the world," Correa said, laughing. "It is a very tiny country, but with four worlds: the Pacific coast, the highlands, the Amazon jungle and the Galapagos Islands. So you can find everything in Ecuador."

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