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.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Ecuador: The resignation of Alberto Acosta

(Eduardo Gudynas, Uruguay)
Asamblea Constituente blog, June 26, 2008
Old politics and new in the Ecuadorian Constituent Assembly


Alberto Acosta (left) and the author (right), in the office of the presidency of the Constituent Assembly, in Ciudad Alfaro, Ecuador.

The president of the Constituent Assembly of Ecuador, Alberto Acosta, resigned as chair of that body on Monday June 23. This is a fact of great importance and deserves an immediate analysis. It should be remembered that the economist Acosta was the most voted for
candidate in the Constituent Assembly for the government coalition "Acuerdo Pais", and one of the main pillars of the transformations underway in Ecuador.

Because of his popular support, and for his intellectual capacities, Acosta was selected to preside over the Assembly to draft the new constitution of Ecuador. Over these months he has guided this process, interspersed with legislative tasks undertaken by the Assembly, and under strong attack from conservative sectors and the representatives of traditional politics.

Given the closeness of the deadline for drafting the new constitution, set for July 26, various members of the Assembly, including Acosta himself, argued that it would be necessary to extend the deadlines to ensure quality and a text with sufficient legitimacy. That stance collided with the demands of other political actors, including many members of the government
coalition, and the president of the republic himself, Rafael Correa, who refused to extend that deadline and demanded an acceleration of pace and a reduction of the time spent on discussions.

Acosta, as indicated in his letter of resignation, did not want to sacrifice the plurality of debate and the quality of the text because of the pressure of time. In his view the Constituent Assembly should be a "democratic space par excellence", and because for democracy it is an "intrinsically fundamental condition that everyone can hear and be heard", it was necessary to ensure continuity in that debate. However, the political council of Acuerdo Pais withdrew its support, calling for a speeding up so as to reach the magical deadline for the vote. Faced with this new circumstance, Acosta resigned from the chairmanship of the Assembly, to go back to his position as an ordinary member of the Assembly.

This resignation has generated a great impact both in Ecuador and abroad. This is because constitutional reforms have been tested by other progressive governments: Venezuela and Bolivia. In both Bolivia and Venezuela this process has been contradictory and full of tension, while the Ecuadorian case, most recently, has appeared as the most orderly, and fed hopes that this attempt would bring a text of good quality, and one that was given broad social legitimacy. It seems timely to review these cases in order to analyse the options in Ecuador.

Let us begin with the Venezuelan proposal for constitutional reform, which was not born of civic complaint, but out of presidential interests to implement more or less specific
changes. This makes the process appear to be, not the seeking of a Venezuelan constitution common to all, but rather an agenda of Hugo Chávez. This not only prevented the building of consensus on basic principles, but accentuated the differences between chavistas and anti-chavistas. Many people there saw their opportunity to express their dissatisfaction with the progress of the Chavez government, without stopping to assess the quality of this constitutional proposal. The result is well known: the constitutional reform was rejected by the citizenry.

This is a basic lesson that should be borne in mind in the case of Ecuador. A constitution is not a partisan platform, nor can it reflect the presidential
interests, but must express agreements that are common to all citizens. This is precisely one of the risks they face at the headquarters of the Ecuadorian Constituent Assembly, in Alfaro City, since the project could end up being an expression of a government agenda, and their vote would be a referendum on the presidential figure.

In the case of Bolivia, the ruling coalition Movement for Socialism (MAS) of Evo Morales, held that a new constitution would allow it to refound the country. But the process was hindered, questioned and bombarded by the opposition. One problem was that many MAS members got caught up in repeating old political practices, and finally decided to rush the process and approve it as it was presented. The text has since shown evidence of drafting problems, and even contradictory concepts. Quality was sacrificed to ensure political deadlines. The consequences of that decision were that the constitutional text, rather than appeasing the national political debate by serving as a frame of reference for basic concepts and values shared by large majorities, completely fueled the fires of political crisis and resistance from various minorities.

All of these are important lessons. In Ecuador, the Constituent Assembly has also suffered tension and questions of all kinds. It is true that interventions in the Assembly can be used constructively to improve the constitutional text, but they were also exploited by opposition groups to disrupt, question and torpedo the whole process. That opposition, amplified in the media, created enormous tensions, which explains some delays, and aroused doubts in the citizenship. But could anyone assume that the opposition would act differently? The "politics of the spectacle" confused the process, but not the battle about cancelling the debate, when the antidote is to achieve a discussion of quality. Silence is not the solution to defeating the old policies.

The truth is that the progress of that debate, with all its lights and shadows, fed criticism directed towards Acosta for allowing everyone to speak in the Assembly. The president Rafael Correa came to say that Acosta was "too democratic", alluding to the need to shorten the discussion, implement automatic majorities, and approve the constitutional text. Correa confused his presidential role, the type of executive who can manage ministers and secretaries, with the role of a collegial body, and of small constituencies, where everyone has the same representation and authority.

It is true that there are several analysts of irreproachable reputation defending this change in the Constituent Assembly since they consider the "citizens' revolution" as facing increasing political costs, and that it is necessary to move quickly to the "yes" campaign for the new constitution (this as has been repeated in recent days, for example on Radio La Luna).

It might be tempting to the government
coalition to use its majority to force approval of the upcoming articles. The use of "automatic majorities" reflecting the views of presidency, has been used, for example, in Chavez's Venezuela or Néstor Kirchner's Argentina. In both cases the rules were adopted, but also ended in damaging the role of the legislature, where the vices of the old caudillo-style partyocracy persisted but in different clothing.

The risks of following that path to approve a constitutional text are enormous. Not only because of the problems listed above, but also because a constitution is not as simple as decreeing a law. A constitutional text goes far beyond that, pointing to a consensual framework where all citizens feel represented and protected. Again, Acosta is right on this issue when he says in his letter of resignation to the president that the process of the Constituent Assembly must "seek and obtain a true social pact in which large majorities but also minorities, are recognised and reconciled, not excluded ". He added that "we need a change in the way of doing politics, rescuing politics and repoliticising society; bearing in mind each time that democracy is for everyone and for all."

The "speed" puts a limit on the discussion, risking rejection, and many practices replicate the old policy, and therefore do not generate the legitimacy of inclusive agreement. Precisely because of these serious limitations it runs the risk of losing its content as a common project for the country, and becoming a referendum on presidential performance. There will, therefore, still be a focus on the quality of the text, but only to express rejection or attachment to Rafael Correa.

The resignation of Acosta also makes apparent differences on other development strategies to be followed in Ecuador. This is becoming increasingly evident from the slow but persistent shift by Correa towards conventional attitudes, such as continuing a
conventional oil policy or mining to encourage investment, both anchored in the insertion of international commercial dependency. In other words, strategies whose practical expression are becoming increasingly similar to those exploitative policies implemented in Peru or Colombia. The responses to those who warn about these problems from within Ecuadorian civil society fall into the trap of criticism and disqualification, which does not go unnoticed at the international level, and at this level also resembles what happens in Colombia and Peru.

Note carefully everything that is happening in Ecuador. The resignation of Alberto Acosta opens enormous challenges for the progress of constitutional reform, and to processes of
change in Ecuador. But it can not go unnoticed that such a resignation is also an example of a new politics. It can not be interpreted under the old political practices, as it did not aim for the headlines, nor at personal figures, nor was it intended to jeopardise the government coalition. It is a resignation that captures the dream of another way of practicing politics, committed to the principles and process of change. We have just witnessed a deeply masterful exercise of democracy.

Published in the weekly Adventures No. 102 on June 25, 2008. Reproduction of the article is allowed if the source is acknowledged. Creative Commons license with some restrictions.

1 comment:

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