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, September 26, 2007

Ecuador Leader Has No Interest in Power

NEW YORK (AP) — Ecuador's leftist president said he would not follow the lead of his close Venezuelan ally Hugo Chavez and seek to abolish limits on his re-election, vowing he had no interest in perpetuating himself in power as part of his sweeping constitutional reforms.

Ecuadoreans are voting Sunday for a 130-member special assembly that will rewrite the constitution to reduce the power of political parties President Rafael Correa blames for the Andean country's problem. He has said the assembly should have the power to dissolve congress and other elected officials.

The process mirrors the constitutional overhaul pushed through eight years ago by Chavez. Critics say both presidents are part of a wave of Latin American leaders who have tapped into frustration among the poor to dismantle democratic systems and amass dictatorial powers.

Chavez recently proposed another set of constitutional changes that would allow him to be re-elected indefinitely.

But in an interview with The Associated Press on Monday, Correa vowed he had no plans to follow suit, impatiently shrugging off suggestions that his own reforms are inspired by Chavez. Ecuador's new constitution, Correa said, should allow two consecutive four-year terms, a change from the current system that allows only one.

"Because the opposition is so mediocre, they have focused ... on accusing Correa of seeking indefinite re-election and trying to be dictator for life," Correa said in New York ahead of the U.N. General Assembly meeting. "These elections and the process for the constituent assembly is the most democratic process that Ecuador has had in its entire history."

Correa, who took office in January, proclaims himself part of a new generation of Latin American leaders steering their countries away from U.S.-prescribed capitalism.

But he does not describe his policies in the same grandiose terms as Chavez, who says he is leading a "revolution" for Venezuela's poor and following in the footsteps of South American liberator Simon Bolivar. Correa is an avowed socialist, but promises Ecuador's constitution would not "impose any kind of ideology."

Envisioning two consecutive terms in power is hugely optimistic in a country whose last three elected presidents failed to make it through one. But Correa, 44, has remained intensely popular since taking office in January, helped by high crude prices that have kept the oil-based economy stable. In an April referendum, 82 percent of voters approved the need for the constituent assembly.

Like Chavez, Correa's policies have tested relations with Washington. He has said his government will not renew an agreement allowing the U.S. military to use an Ecuadorean air base for anti-drug surveillance flights when it expires in 2009. He has also refused to renew a bilateral investment protection agreement with the U.S.

Yet there has been little rhetorical vitriol between the two countries. While the Bush administration has called Chavez a threat to democracy, it has not directed such accusations against Correa. The top U.S. diplomat for the Americas, Thomas Shannon, has even voiced support for political reform in Ecuador, saying the country "spoke with a firm voice" in the April vote.

In the interview, Correa denounced the U.S. surveillance flights as a violation of Ecuador's sovereignty. He insisted it would be "suicidal" for Ecuador to follow neighboring Peru and Colombia into a free trade agreement with the U.S.

But he displayed little of Chavez's anti-imperialist bombast.

An economist with a doctorate from the University of Illinois, Correa tried to cast his concerns in rational terms, saying Ecuador's industries simply could not compete against an onslaught of U.S. imports, particularly subsidized ones. He did suggest a free trade pact might some day be possible — "when we are ready."

"If we had the level of productivity of the United States, we also would be going around to all our neighbors saying, 'open up, let's compete!' he said.

Correa and Chavez have signed several deals for Venezuela to invest in Ecuador's oil industry, which has struggled to keep up production.

Correa described Chavez as a friend and Venezuela's help as vital. But he has not jumped to join all of Chavez's schemes for Latin American integration.

He said he is somewhat mystified by the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, a pact Chavez has championed as an alternative to free trade. Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua have signed on, along with far-off Iran as an observer.

"The ALBA is very ... ambiguous. We don't even understand it," he said, referring to the pact by its Spanish acronym.

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