BANOS, Ecuador, April 14 (Reuters) - Ecuador's President Rafael Correa admitted on Saturday that his father was arrested for drug smuggling nearly 40 years ago, as he responded to attacks from congressmen ahead of a poll that pits him against old elites.
Polls expect the leftist leader to win a landslide victory in Sunday's referendum to set up an assembly to rewrite the constitution, in a bid to sap power from a Congress viewed as over influential in state companies and the judiciary. In acerbic exchanges, legislators have accused Correa of benefiting from his father's drug deals. But the charismatic populist fired back on Saturday and defended the poor majority whom he said were abused and misled by drug lords.
"When I was five my father carried drugs to the United States and was arrested," said Correa, speaking during a weekly radio address broadcast from the Andean city of Banos.
"I lived through this and these people are not delinquents. They are single mothers or unemployed people who are desperate to feed their families," added the U.S.-educated economist who took power in the world's top banana exporter in January.
Cocaine cartels in Colombia and Peru often use Ecuador as a main thoroughfare for smuggling the white powder to the United States.
Correa won a scholarship to one of Ecuador's most prestigious schools but his mother had to support her household by cooking and selling food in the port city of Guayaquil.
"I am not to blame for what my father did 40 years ago," said an angry Correa. "I do not justify what he did, but he was unemployed."
Political rivals accuse Correa of trying to centralize power around himself as his close friend and ally Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez did.
((Reporting by Alonso Soto, Editing by Philip Barbara; Quito newsroom, 593-22523560 ext 102, RM: Christian.Oliver.email@example.com)) Keywords: ECUADOR REFERENDUM/FATHER
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