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, June 25, 2008

Ecuador assembly head quits in constitution rift

Enrique Andres Pretel and Alonso Soto

QUITO, June 23 (Reuters) - The head of the assembly rewriting Ecuador's constitution resigned on Monday, exposing a rift in the leftist government and complicating its effort to overhaul institutions to bolster the president's power.

President Rafael Correa has made a priority of passing a new constitution this year that would allow him to run for office again and increase state control over the economy, particularly in the Andean country's mining and oil industries.

Assembly chief Alberto Acosta, a former oil minister who generally wants more curbs on foreign investment in mining than the president, told reporters he quit because Correa would not extend an end-of-July deadline for rewriting the constitution.

"I do not think we should sacrifice ... the quality of the text for the sake of speed," Acosta told a news conference. "We must produce a constitution of quality."

The tussle between the president and Acosta is important for foreign investors, particularly in the mining sector, where large projects run by Canadian companies are on hold until the government makes new rules.

Acosta's break with Correa also weakens the ruling alliance. Acosta, a hard-line leftist who often supports environmental groups against foreign companies, was popular both with government supporters and the opposition for seeking consensus despite Correa's typically confrontational style of politics.

Ecuadoreans complain the assembly, which has replaced Congress as the country's main legislature, is moving too slowly in the oil- and banana-exporting country.

Correa has also criticized its work, which has sometimes been bogged down with members' pet issues, including a measure to make sexual pleasure a constitutional right.

"We reiterate our commitment to have a constitution (proposal) by the end of July," said Augusto Barrea, the government's liaison in the assembly. "This is imperative. It is not optional."


Once the assembly produces its proposal, Ecuadoreans will vote on it in a referendum scheduled for September.

On topics setting rules to limit sovereign debt deals, scrap the central bank's autonomy and shift control over industries to the state, the assembly has largely mapped out its proposal.

The president still has work to do to convince Ecuadoreans to pass the constitution but his high popularity gives him a good chance of winning the vote, pollsters say.

Correa closed down the opposition-led Congress last year only months after coming to office.

Ecuador's assembly has already approved laws giving Correa more control over the budget and plans constitutional reforms that could allow him to stay in office until 2017.

The assembly is proposing to lift a ban on immediate presidential re-election and call for an early general election next year.

Correa chose Acosta to head the assembly. But his longtime ally has shown his independence in the job and his resignation appeared to be the culmination of weeks of disagreements.

Acosta would like to limit the work of companies such as Aurelian Resources, Corriente Resources and Iamgold Inc, while Correa says their investment is vital to a nascent industry that could spur economic growth.

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