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.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

ECUADOR: Constituent Assembly Shakeup Highlights Divisions

By Rosa Rodríguez

QUITO, Jun 25 (IPS) - The resignation of the head of the constituent assembly that is rewriting Ecuador’s constitution, a popular figure who up to now has been close to President Rafael Correa, highlighted discrepancies within the government.

Alberto Acosta was replaced Wednesday by the vice president of the assembly, Fernando Cordero.

Acosta resigned Tuesday after the leadership of the governing Acuerdo País party asked him last week to "step aside," he said. He himself supported the decision to appoint Cordero as his replacement.

"My resignation does not mean I am abandoning my commitment to the government programme and to our electoral promises," Acosta told IPS. "I will remain a member of the constituent assembly, faithful to my principles, willing to engage in dialogue, as a member of the Acuerdo País bloc."

But the president of the powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) expressed concern, because of the Ecuadorean people’s strong confidence in Acosta.

He told IPS that Acosta’s resignation was "the result of constant, overbearing pressure and meddling from the executive branch, which has not respected the assembly’s full autonomy and authority."

CONAIE also said Correa should be "coherent with his discourse and election promises, and should not water down his commitment to the promised political changes."

This is not the first time differences between Acosta and Correa have flared up since the left-leaning president took office in January 2007.

Acosta’s resignation was triggered by disagreements over the way the assembly is being managed. According to Correa, so much time was taken up by assembly-members addressing the plenary session that it was becoming impossible to meet the Jul. 26 deadline for completing the draft of the new constitution.

So far, 90 articles of the new constitution have been approved by the assembly, and more than 300 are still in the process of approval.

But according to Acosta, the assembly is "a democratic forum par excellence," and it is the process itself, and not only the text of the document, that will make the new constitution meaningful to the lives of all Ecuadoreans. He added, upon presenting his resignation, that "society will be democratic only if the process of building it is democratic."

"We need to change the way we do politics, politicising society while keeping in mind at all times that democracy is for everyone and rejecting in practice, and not only in rhetoric, the old, exhausted practices of the traditional parties," said Acosta.

He also said he was fully committed to the urgent social and political changes promised by the government and that for that reason he does not believe that debate and deliberation and the clarity and quality of the draft constitution should be sacrificed to meet a deadline.

Acosta said the aim of the ruling party leadership was to replace him with someone who agreed on the need to make the deadline.

But sources in the assembly who preferred to remain anonymous told IPS that measures to confront the food crisis presented last week by Correa were criticised by Acosta, who believes that not only do they delay the work of the assembly, but that they also favour large agrochemical companies over small and medium size farmers.

Acosta, a university professor, economic analyst and newspaper columnist, has close ties to indigenous and social movements and is seen as having a stronger commitment to social causes than any other leading figure in the governing coalition.

He is considered one of the president’s mentors and was the first to promote Correa’s candidacy when he was economy minister in 2005. He also enjoys strong credibility and is the second most popular political leader in the country, after Correa: they have popularity ratings of 47 and 57 percent, respectively, according to opinion polls.

After stating that it is the people themselves who build history, Acosta said "the constituent assembly is the only opportunity for change," and pointed to several important advances reflected in the draft constitution.

For example, "Sumak Kausay" ("good life" in the Quechua indigenous language) "is a condition for achieving true quality of life, going beyond mere subsistence while leaving aside insatiable consumerism, which only a few enjoy," he said.

"This ‘good life’ must be based on respect and recognition of ‘the other’. My freedom ends where someone else’s begins -- the freedom of that ‘other’, with whom we are building a social, as well as political, community," said Acosta.

He also underlined that through the new constitution’s "recognition of Ecuador as a plurinational state, we will find ourselves in a state that, while unified in terms of sovereignty and territory, recognises and incorporates the different indigenous nations that form part of Ecuador, reaffirming that this coexistence without colonial-style power relations is built on an intercultural foundation."

In addition, he emphasised the process of decentralisation and regional autonomy, which clarifies the roles and authority of each level of government, while strengthening the capacities of the central administration, arguing that "without a strong central state, decentralisation is a fallacy."

The new constitution also stresses national sovereignty, added Acosta. "Our country will be a territory of peace, free of the presence of foreign troops," he said.

And for the first time ever, nature will be protected in the constitution. "This is unprecedented; it is a novel contribution to global legislation," he said.

The constitution will also declare water "a basic human right" -- another point of contention with the government, according to the constituent assembly sources who spoke to IPS.

Furthermore, "the new constitution recognises all forms of work, including subsistence farming, self-employment, caretaking and domestic work, as enjoying the same rights and guarantees. Wages must be decent, and must tend to be equivalent to the cost of the basic basket of consumer goods; there will be no more overexploitation of workers," said Acosta.

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