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.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Ecuador Congress backs Correa's referendum plan

February 14, 2007

Leftist Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa won a victory on Tuesday when Congress approved his request for a referendum on whether to hold a popular assembly to rewrite the politically unstable country's constitution.

Opposition lawmakers had been hostile to the referendum plan but Correa, a political outsider popular for promising to curb the influence of traditional parties, finally won majority backing after several weeks of negotiations.

Ecuador's top election tribunal later set April 15 as the date for the referendum, a court official told local radio.

The approval came less than two weeks after hundreds of Correa supporters stormed Congress, battled police on the streets and forced lawmakers to evacuate the building to demand the referendum be approved.

Dozens of opposition lawmakers walked out in protest on Tuesday after demanding broad changes to the plan, but the legislature made only minor rewrites.

Correa's movement has no formal representatives in Congress, but the former economy minister appeals to the public with his vows for a "citizens revolution" in a country where instability has toppled three presidents in a decade.

"This is a victory for the people," Interior Minister Gustavo Larrea told reporters after the decision.

Larrea said the government sees no significant changes in Congress-approved reforms to the referendum plan.

Elected in November, Correa has rattled Wall Street and Washington with pledges to restructure debt and end a lease allowing the U.S. military to use an air base and by fostering ties with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a White House foe.

Ecuador also delayed the coupon payment on its global 2030 bonds that was due on Thursday. Wall Street experts had said they expected such an action as a way for Correa to please his leftist supporters.


Political analysts said the referendum approval could provoke more turmoil as government sympathizers turned to street protests to pressure opposition lawmakers.

"This is a victory for Correa ... he was able to twist the arm of Congress, but the effect of his assembly will be unpredictable," said Simon Pachano at Ecuador's branch of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences.

The constitutional assembly is a special legislative body, where citizens join lawmakers to draft a new constitution. Venezuela held one after Chavez's 1999 election and an assembly in Bolivia has been deadlocked over political in-fighting.

Ecuador's 130-member assembly is expected to legislate for 180 days with a possible 30-day extension.

Opposition lawmakers said they fear that granting a Constitutional Assembly broad powers will help consolidate Correa's presidential powers and usher in more instability.

"Today the constitution has been broken," said opposition congressman Federico Perez. "I really hope our country doesn't fall in to communism."

Correa says constitutional reforms are needed to limit the influence of political elites on institutions such as the Supreme Court and the electoral authority.

More than three-quarters of Ecuadoreans support Correa's referendum proposal, a survey by local pollster Cedatos Gallup showed in January.

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