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.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Constitution making in Ecuador

Rafael Correa of Ecuador is one of a number of presidents referred to as left-leaning who have taken office in a Latin American country recently. Others are "Lula" da Silva in Brazil, Nestor Kirschner in Argentina, Evo Morales in Bolivia, and Tabare Vasquez in Uruguay. They are following somewhat in the mode of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez to alleviate, if not end, the draconian levels of inequality in their countries.

Correa, holder of a Ph.D in economics from an American university, assumed the presidential office last January. In his campaign he promised to renegotiate debt, rework oil deals, and end the lease on a military base used by the US military. In order to fulfil his campaign promises, the 43-year old leader challenged the traditional political parties which many Ecuadoreans regard as corrupt, and blame for the revolving door of eight presidents in ten years. This undertaking, applauded by Chavez, was more than a mouthful. Arrayed against Correa is the traditional elite. Moreover, the United States remains wary of Correa's programme and his seeming alliance with Chavez. Despite his friendship with the Venezuelan leader, the freshly-minted president declared that he was his own man: "My friend does not rule in my house, I do."

Correa's plan for change follows a rocky path at the end of which is a new constitution to emasculate the powerful political parties, more specifically, to lessen the influence of politicians on the judiciary and force legislators to live in the constituencies they represent. There were hurdles to surmount before writing the new constitution. He had to win the support of a congress in which he belonged to no political party, and win a referendum which would allow him to form a constituent assembly to draft the constitution. The referendum route was nothing original. It had been used by Chavez to weaken political parties.

The task seemed ominous for Correa who came into office without the support of any political party. Fortune, however, favoured him when an ousted president with the second largest party threw his weight behind Correa. The result - a slim majority for the fledgling president in the unicameral 100-seat congress. Support also came from an electoral court, an agency independent of government which has the final say on all electoral matters. The court dismissed 50 right-wing legislators who were opposed to the referendum. The lawmakers did not take things lying down and, though restrained by the police, they tried to force their way into the chamber, but were sidelined and eventually replaced by substitute legislators.

All hell really broke loose when the high court in a 6-3 decision overturned the electoral court's decision to fire the lawmakers. In turn, Congress dismissed the high court judges for reinstating the 50 legislators. The situation became even more chaotic when a prosecutor ordered the arrest of 24 of the 50 lawmakers for "refusing to recognise the constitution, and impeding a meeting of Congress." There were demonstrations against the expelled legislators with the police firing tear gas in sporadic confrontations. As one observer put it, "The entire country is near war."

The upshot was that 11 deputies fled to Colombia seeking political asylum. One reported: "We are not living in a state of law, but in a dictatorship presided over by Rafael Correa who has seized all the powers of the state." Meanwhile, Correa received the green light to revamp the legislature and other government structures to pursue his nationalist agenda when he won the referendum by a one-sided five-to-one margin. The next hurdle on the way to re-writing the constitution is the September election of a constituent assembly to draft the new charter.

When Correa came to power he met an inefficient public sector, a wobbly judicial system, an ineffective parliament, a country with a high index of corruption, and a depressing socio-economic environment for the impoverished masses. The majority of the population believes that he is doing the right thing. However, in the process he has dragged the judiciary into the fray, pitting judges against judges, and judges against legislators. Some believe that his actions will provide an unhealthy climate for business, discourage respect for the law, and eradicate the civic cordiality which should exist among political adversaries. Change is never easy. At times it comes with bloody revolutions. Let's hope it does not come to that in Ecuador and that both leader and opposition can arrive at some modus vivendi beneficial to all 13 million Ecuadoreans. Correa has taken a small step. He opposes the arrest order of the 24 politicians. Perhaps this could be the beginning of a rapprochement between government and opposition.


  1. Keep the updates coming mate. I am very interested in the developments in Equador!

  2. Anonymous3:05 am

    Unfortunately things might be deteriorating.