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.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Ecuador: Will the Civil Crisis Remain Civil?

Stratfor, March 13, 2007


Ecuador's Constitutional Tribunal on March 13 declined to decide whether to reinstate 57 legislators dismissed March 7 by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. This leaves the country with an unresolved crisis regarding legitimate authority -- a situation in which the military could intervene.


Ecuador's Constitutional Tribunal on March 13 declined to decide on the reinstatement of 57 legislators dismissed six days earlier by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. The constitutional court realized that without President Rafael Correa's support, its decision would not matter except as a possible trigger for massive protests. The court announced that the motion filed lacked the required signatures from a congressional majority, but that it could be considered if it is refiled with the signatures.

If the Constitutional Tribunal had ruled on reinstating the 57 legislators, the result could have been chaos on the streets. There would be large demonstrations, led in part by the indigenous groups of the highlands, echoing Correa's demand that the ruling be ignored. Traditionally, at such inflection points in Ecuadorian politics, the military steps in. Since those demonstrations did not materialize, however, the military is waiting to see whether the ongoing crisis reaches a boiling point.

The situation began March 7, when Ecuador's Supreme Electoral Tribunal fired 57 of the 100 members of the country's unicameral Congress, based on allegations of interfering with a constitutional referendum after those 57 attempted to dismiss a majority of the tribunal's members. Correa announced March 8 that if the constitutional court were to reinstate the legislators, he would consider the ruling invalid and call for a popular uprising against the decision. In other words, Correa is de facto dismissing the judicial and legislative branches of Ecuador's government and making himself the sole authority. Strengthened by widespread public support (though it dropped from the 70 percent range in January to around 65 percent in early March, according to polling firm Cedatos/Gallup), Correa has decided to descend the slippery slope from populist to authoritarian.

Ecuador has seen its share of coups, with the military sometimes supporting the sitting president and sometimes overthrowing him, but usually acting decisively either way "for the good of the country." This case is a tricky one for the military, however. Correa is clearly dismantling the government's checks and balances and alienating the country's commercial class. On the other hand, he is very popular. It is not clear whether the military could control the public backlash that would occur if it tried to overthrow Correa, and it probably does not have the stomach to try at this point.

The military appears to have a cordial relationship with Correa thus far -- Correa has even approved military pay raises -- and is not likely to rock the boat. However, if the opposition is able to gather strength, the military will have to make tough decisions.

Many of the deposed congressmen gathered March 13 at a Marriott hotel in Ecuador. Several supported an announcement by Gloria Gallardo, a dismissed legislator from the opposition Institutional Renewal Party of National Action, who said that democracy in Ecuador is dead and Correa has become a dictator. Furthermore, Pedro Almeida of the Patriotic Society Party called for an extraordinary Congress to meet in Ecuador's largest city, Guayaquil, located in the west coast lowlands where the opposition movement is based. If opposition political parties and businessmen can create a well-organized grassroots movement to support the deposed legislators' reinstatement, popular unrest could become significant.

Any such organized opposition would shrink Correa's window of opportunity for attempting to restore a semblance of legitimacy to his decisions by getting Congress to function again. Correa would do this by replacing some of the dismissed congressmen with preselected alternates loyal to him. Even if Correa's popularity holds above the 60 percent mark -- which is likely -- the country is now dangerously divided by competing claims to legitimate authority. Leading up to Ecuador's April 15 referendum on the formation of a constitutional assembly, the military could face increasing pressure to intervene before, after, or during the outbreak of violent demonstrations regarding the dismissed legislators.

The least stable -- and almost certainly bloody -- outcome would be an attempt to oust Correa. The most stable outcome, and still the most likely, is that Correa will keep the military's support, suppress the opposition, continue his constitutional reform, and eventually restore a veneer of respectability to the other branches of government by repopulating Congress with his supporters and committing to honor all court decisions under the new constitution. Such a turn of events might help preserve domestic tranquility, but it would also push Correa further toward becoming an imitation of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

No comments:

Post a Comment