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, April 13, 2007

Ecuador's leftist president steamrolling over foes, likely to win Sunday's constitution vote

IHT, April 12, 2007

QUITO, Ecuador: Seemingly poised for victory in Sunday's vote to fundamentally reshape Ecuador's government, President Rafael Correa has been drawing big crowds with vitriolic speeches from the balcony of the presidential palace, assailing his critics as abusive and corrupt.

The more he lashes out, the more his bond with Ecuador's poor majority seems to strengthen. Tall and charismatic, he has maintained a 70 percent popularity rating, and polls show a majority of voters on Sunday will approve the election of a special assembly with unlimited powers to write a new constitution undercutting Ecuador's traditional parties.

A political newcomer with a doctorate in economics from the University of Illinois, Correa, 44, won election last November with a power-to-the-people message, promising to clip the wings of Ecuador's discredited political establishment, which he blames for the country's deeply rooted corruption and political instability.

As Ecuador's eighth president in a decade, he says an all-new set of rules is necessary to bring political, social and economic stability. But critics see increasing similarities to his ally Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's firebrand president, and say his authoritarian style does not bode well for Ecuador's fledgling democracy.

"Correa is trying to achieve in two months what it took Chavez eight years to do," said opposition Congressman Federico Perez, one of 57 members of the 100-seat legislature who were fired in March by an electoral court for trying to block the referendum.

The ousted congressmen were replaced by alternates chosen during last October's elections, many of them sympathetic to the president. Correa ran no candidates for Congress, which he assailed as a "sewer of corruption." But he had support from other leftist parties, which formed a minority bloc, and the purge in March may have given him majority control of Congress.

In Venezuela, Chavez supporters now control the high courts, most governorships, and every seat in Congress, which recently granted him special powers to decree laws for 18 months.

Without a new constitution, Correa's ability to get his way depends more on his rhetoric and strong will — as well as his use of executive power.

For example, most constitutional experts agreed that Ecuador's Supreme Electoral Tribunal lacked the authority to dismiss the 57 congressmen. But Correa sent police to prevent the lawmakers from returning to their offices, and mobs of his supporters punched and kicked them in the streets.

Although the wording of the new constitution would be up to a special assembly of members elected at a later date, Correa hopes his supporters will control the body, and a growing number of critics warn that he might use it to obtain dictatorial powers.

"It's not a project for a better democracy. It's a project to accumulate power," said Oswaldo Hurtado, a respected intellectual who served as president in 1981-1984. "All dictators always have had constitutions made to fit them."

Benjamin Ortiz, who runs a Quito think tank, calls Correa intolerant and authoritarian. "Without the checks and balances of institutions, he could reach the extreme of turning into a dictator."

Correa defended his vitriolic rhetoric in a television interview Wednesday.

"What I do is respond straight out, with the energy, the passion, the vehemence that characterize me," he said.

That message resonates with Luis Anaya, a 54-year-old pharmaceutical salesman sitting on a bench in front of the presidential palace, who said he supports the president's effort to "move the country forward" with a new constitution.

Correa has "a sincere, frank style," Anaya said. "He says what he thinks, not like the old-time traditional politicians who said one thing but thought something else."

But his penchant for insulting foes worries critics, who say it reveals a dangerous intolerance.

"Only the candidates for Miss Universe smile more than the president," Hurtado said. "But behind that smile there is no gesture of kindness, no gesture of respect, of courtesy. There is a bitter gesture of insult."

Correa responded by calling Hurtado a political cadaver and offering to give him "a Christian burial."

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