The people of Ecuador are rising up to refound their country as a pluri-national homeland for all. This inspiring movement, with Ecuador's indigenous peoples at its heart, is part of the revolution spreading across the Americas, laying the groundwork for a new, fairer, world. Ecuador Rising aims to bring news and analysis of events unfolding in Ecuador to english speakers.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Ecuador: A Midair Collision and Correa's Balancing Act

January 25, 2007



Ecuadorian Defense Minister Guadalupe Larriva died Jan. 24 when the military helicopter she was riding had a midair collision with another military helicopter. The government called for a thorough investigation of the incident, and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has requested international assistance from France and Chile to legitimize the probe. The incident highlights Correa's shaky control of a country that has ejected three presidents in seven years.


After only nine days in office, Ecuadorian Defense Minister Guadalupe Larriva died Jan. 24 when the military helicopter she was riding in collided with another military helicopter in midflight. Larriva's 17-year-old daughter and five military personnel also were killed.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa called for assistance from friendly countries in investigating the crash. Although the collision appears to have been accidental, Correa's need to call in international support emphasizes the delicate balance Correa must maintain between the powerful and potentially hostile legislature and the military.

Larriva, a former member of parliament and head of the Ecuadorian Socialist Party-Broad Front, was a popular Cabinet selection. She was Ecuador's first female defense minister, and was one of very few civilian leaders of its military. Correa hoped to use Larriva's appointment to strengthen presidential control over the military. To sweeten the deal, she had promised to raise salaries and increase transparency in the armed forces' promotional system.

Though nothing outwardly signals that the military would want Larriva dead, her position as Correa's tool for controlling a particularly coup-happy military establishment could have made her a prime target. Her death thus could have been meant as a warning to Correa.

Interior Minister Gustavo Larrea has said that two helicopters flying together, much less at night, is unusual. Larrea added that the government suspects one of the pilots made a bad maneuver, or that one of the helicopters suffered a mechanical malfunction, causing the collision

Though the incident is being called an accident within Ecuador, Correa's decision to ask foreigners to participate in the investigation testifies to his shaky position in Ecuador's sharply divided domestic political climate. Between 1996 and 2000, Ecuador had two military coups and four presidents, and since January 2000, Ecuador has seen four presidents and one brief military tribunal. Although Ecuadorian presidential terms last four years, Correa's three predecessors served only two years each, as public demonstrations pushed the legislature to revoke each president's mandate. Though the military has made few active moves to oust presidents or to threaten the democratic nature of the government in the past seven years, it has declined to suppress unrest, leading to the escalation of chaos and eventual calls for elections.

Correa has carefully chosen the countries asked to help investigate the incident. The helicopters were French-made, so Correa has requested that France send two technical specialists to survey the crash. Correa also requested a crash investigatory team from the Chilean air force. In selecting France and Chile, he has avoided the obvious choice of Ecuador's main ally in the region, Venezuela. One of the main critiques of Correa in the run-up to his election regarded questions about his ability to remain independent from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, something that remains a sensitive issue in Ecuador. Chavez, who has a propensity toward drama, has pursued a marked increase of his military's capacity and budget, both of which make involving Venezuela in this situation problematic for Correa.

The results of the investigation will heavily influence Correa's choice for Larriva's replacement. He likely will replace her with another civilian who is on board with his agenda. If the collision turns out to have resulted from foul play on the part of the military, however, Correa will be faced with a choice. He will either have to bargain, which will mean replacing Larriva with the military's first choice, or he will need to purge the military. And a purge might provoke a very strong military response.

No comments:

Post a Comment