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.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Ecuador's incoming president pledges radical political, economic reforms

January 13, 2007.
International Herald Tribune

QUITO, Ecuador: Rafael Correa, a leftist economist and friend of Venezuela's anti-U.S. leader, plans to lose no time implementing radical political and economic reforms after he is sworn in as president on Monday.

Correa, 43, won Ecuador's November election runoff as a charismatic outsider who pledged to lead a "citizens' revolution" against a political establishment widely seen as corrupt and incompetent.

Correa says his first act as president will be to call a national referendum on a special assembly to rewrite the constitution — a move he says is vital to limiting the power of the traditional parties that he blames for the country's problems.

"Citizens are fed up. We need a profound political reform, including a new generation of leaders," Correa said in an interview with The Associated Press shortly before his victory.

The U.S.-educated Correa displays a fiery nationalism. He has called U.S. President George W. Bush "tremendously dimwitted." He has rejected a free trade pact with America, saying it would hurt Ecuador's farmers. And he has said he will not extend the U.S. military's use of the Manta air base on the Pacific coast for drug surveillance flights when a treaty expires in 2009.

Correa joins a string of recently elected leftist presidents — in Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Nicaragua, where old U.S. foe Daniel Ortega returned to power last week — many of whom plan to attend his inauguration. Some, like Correa, admire Venezuela's firebrand anti-U.S. president, Hugo Chavez, but others have distanced themselves from him.

Correa's call for a constitutional assembly follows similar moves by Chavez, who last week began a new six-year term after a landslide re-election, and Bolivian President Evo Morales, the first Indian to govern his nation.

During his campaign, Correa attacked Ecuador's Congress as a "sewer" of corruption and ran no candidates for the legislature.

His view that Ecuador's democratic system benefits parties, not people, attracted voters disgusted with the corruption and greed of the political elite. More than 60 percent of Ecuadoreans live in poverty even though Ecuador is South America's fifth-largest oil producer.

"This democracy is the property of 13 million Ecuadoreans, not a bunch of caudillos, not a group of political mafias," Correa said recently.

Some analysts worry that Correa will use the assembly to consolidate and strengthen presidential power. But he says his reforms aim to make elected officials more accountable, including having congressmen represent districts instead of being elected in a national vote. He supports allowing all elected officials to be recalled.

Correa also wants to strip the parties in Congress of their power over the judicial system. Currently the parties name members of the Constitutional Tribunal and the National Election Tribunal and appoint key officials such as the attorney general.

But Correa could have a tough challenge ahead, as he will be attempting reforms in a country that has suffered chronic political instability since its return to democracy in 1979. Congress dismissed the last three elected presidents — violating impeachment proceedings — after huge street protests demanding their ousters.

While Correa has shown a strong will that could help him stand up to the political establishment, some worry he also shows signs of an authoritarian governing style and an arrogance that could exacerbate efforts to reach peaceful compromises.

Last week he had a reporter expelled from a news conference, saying he did not show proper respect for him as the future president. He also warned recently that if Congress chooses an attorney general he does not like, he will not recognize his authority.

"He divides people into good and bad," said Patricio Pena, president of the Quito Stock Exchange. "The good are the ones who think as he does, and the bad are those who do not share his views."

Correa, who has a doctorate in economics from the University of Illinois, has criticized the free-market policies that he says have failed to improve the lives of Ecuadoreans. He has urged his countrymen to join him "to overcome 20 years of a long and sad neoliberal night."

He plans to increase the state's control over the economy, especially the banking system, and expand the state oil company's role in the production and commercialization of the country's oil. Correa also intends to renegotiate contracts with foreign oil companies to force them to share more of the oil they produce with the state.

He intends to cut ties to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and has threatened a moratorium on foreign debt payments to free up money for social programs.

Recent polls show 75 percent of Ecuadoreans support his plans.

"Our hope is that with this new government there will be jobs, work, health care, education," Maria Condor, 45, a Quechua-speaking vendor in Quito's San Roque market, said as she offered cooking herbs to passing shoppers.

But Santiago Nieto, director of the Informe Confidencial polling firm, warned that Correa's support was based on inflated expectations and could easily fall.

"The people are expecting a lot more than he can deliver," Nieto said. "They view the constitutional assembly as a magic wand."

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