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Monday, September 10, 2007

Correa’s ups and downs

Luis Angel Saavedra. Sep 7, 2007

Latin America Press

President fails to convince country’s organized popular movement.

Ever since Rafael Correa and a group of intellectuals prominent in the country’s nongovernmental organizations created the Movimiento País party to participate in last year’s election, Ecuador’s political scene experienced its greatest change since the nation returned to democracy almost 30 years ago.

Correa took office Jan. 15 blasting Ecuador’s traditional political parties. He also implemented a series of social policy measures such as doubling funds for human development and housing, which helped solidify his support that allowed his initiative to write a new constitution cruise to approval (LP, March 7, 2007).

In an April 15 referendum, 82 percent of voters approved the need for a constituent assembly to write a new charter, Correa’s first major victory.
It was also a blow to traditional political parties, especially right-wing parties and powerful business owners who, then, began to use other forums to voice their opinions: the mainstream media and production chambers.

No friend of the media
Correa has had to confront the media and the harsh criticisms they dolled out. “The media have become political spokespeople, so they will receive a political response,” said Correa’s then-press officer Mónica Chuji, who said that the government was not trying to curb freedom of expression.

Earlier this year, Correa filed a libel suit against Quito daily La Hora after it ran an editorial criticizing him for how he handled a political crisis ahead of the April referendum. Congress tried to block the vote, and 57 lawmakers were fired by the electoral court.

He later issued a series of decrees including one that prohibited the airing of videos without the permission of those who were taped. Earlier this year, a scandal erupted after then-Economy Minister Ricardo Patiño was shown in a video meeting with investors, discussing plans to possibly manipulate bond prices.

Correa has since replaced him and the minister’s adviser, Quinto Pazmiño, who leaked the tape, filed criminal defamation charges against Correa in June after the leader called him “swine.” Pazmiño was arrested on Sept. 1 in his home for allegedly threatening the president. Patiño said he taped the meeting with investors himself to “expose corruption” in the financial sector.

“The middle class is purist, it doesn’t forgive mistakes,” said Pablo Dávalos, a political analyst and former deputy economy minister during the government of interim President Alfredo Palacio (2005-2007) (LP, Sept. 21, 2005).

Correa paid little mind to media criticism and said he would push forth with his economic policy, including the reduction of interest rates and the elimination of bank commissions and control over the energy sector.
“While the country is fighting poverty, the banks are getting the highest profits in their histories,” Correa said in June when he presented his new banking bill to Congress.

Congress approved the law in June but left interest rates and unlimited profitability in place, practically defeating the purpose of Correa’s proposal.

Losing possible support
His impulsive nature led Correa to lose support in the middle class sector, but his policy for increased social spending boosted his popularity in poor sectors, though the leader has not been able to forge an alliance with social organizations.

“Correa wants his own social base and he is mistrusted by organized grassroots, especially those that have the most ability to mobilize,” said political analysts Mario Unda.

Organized movements, especially indigenous and campesino groups, demand an even more radical position from Correa toward transnational companies operating there. The mistrust is likely to be a major hurdle for Correa, who is seeking a majority in the 130-member constituent assembly, which will be elected Sept. 30.

The assembly, for many, is a chance for Ecuadorians to express their desires for change, but even leftist parties, which could win a majority of seats in the body, are varied and present a fragmented movement to voters, lowering their chances of being elected.

Correa’s Alianza País party, for example, is riding on making agreements with the middle class that do not clearly represent any ideology and have different views about the so-called “Citizen’s Revolution” proposal.

According to former Transportation and Public Works Minister Trajano Andrade and the intellectual María Paula Romo, Correa’s so-called “Citizen’s Revolution” initiative must limit government restructuring to create more independence and transparency. Chuji and former Energy Minister Alberto Acosta, both of whom resigned to run for the assembly, say they the project must help protect indigenous peoples and lands.

But the right-wing does not fare well either in terms of unity. The crisis in the traditional political parties has unleashed the emergence of many movements each one obeying to particular interests. “It’s possible that the fragmentation impedes that one party or another has a majority,” said Dávalos.

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