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.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Ecuador's Correa outflanks foes in popular assembly

By Patrick Markey

QUITO, Oct 4 (Reuters) - Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa talks revolution and berates capitalists, and his big election victory this week has foes fretting about how far he will follow the socialist ways of his ally Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

Correa's party won by a wide majority in Sunday's election for an assembly he says must dissolve Congress, call early elections and rewrite the constitution to curtail the power of the unstable Andean country's political old guard.

At Chavez's urging, Venezuela held a similar assembly in 1999 to draft a constitution that outflanked Congress, bolstered presidential powers, allowed his early re-election and set Venezuela on its current socialist track.

But while Correa has also drawn on his mandate by attacking elites, his mettle has yet to be tested by reactions to his proposed reforms and his popularity could dwindle if he does not tackle Ecuador's pallid economy, analysts said.

"The people who went along with Correa, went along with him because it was a referendum on the political class. That is the easy one, it is much harder when you get to specific policies," said Michael Shifter at Inter-American Dialogue think tank.

The Andean region is a caldron of left-wing sentiment with Chavez, Bolivia's Evo Morales and now Correa using popular mandates to challenge career politicians, shore up state control of energy resources and roll back free-market policies.

Correa's proposed dissolution of the Congress already has opponents playing on fears of the worst, but they have little room to challenge his assembly majority at the moment.

"It seems the president has the same policies as President Chavez," toppled president and opposition leader Lucio Gutierrez told Reuters. "This is a classic totalitarian government, one with an authoritarian tint."


Correa often says he wants to usher in a "21st Century" Socialism, but brushes off charges that he wants to follow the Venezuelan in nationalizing energy resources and taking a more radical anti-free market stance.

The U.S.-trained economist has so far proven less hard-line in his financial policies than some have feared. But with only eight months in government, Correa has more control than Chavez had when he came to office in Venezuela, a major oil producer.

"He is certainly on the road to victory the way Hugo was after his initial shock win," said Riordan Roett at Johns Hopkins University. "The opposition is totally demoralized."

Then a young, ex-soldier fresh from imprisonment for leading a bloody coup, Chavez made a popular assembly the centerpiece of his presidential campaign against career lawmakers he portrayed as a "political gangrene" -- with himself as the cure.

He later won 90 percent of the assembly seats. The 1999 referendum on reforms allowed him to shore up his authority by extending the presidential mandate from five years to six years and allowing his immediate reelection.

Still, his foes held enough sway in the military and the state oil company to launch a coup and an oil strike before Chavez consolidated control in 2004 with a referendum win.

Bolstered by high world oil prices, Chavez has since moved to take over foreign oil assets and kept up his popularity with huge state spending on social programs for the poor majority.

For Correa, negotiating Ecuador's highly fragmented political scene means keeping his own Alianza Pais alliance intact in the assembly, which will start debating the new constitution this year. But lacking Venezuela's huge oil resources, his main challenge is managing the fragile economy and flagging petroleum output.

"Correa faces much heavier economic restrictions," said Patrick Esteruelas at Eurasia Group. "He can only spend so much more without running into financing constraints."

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