Nascent Leftist Government Victorious In Confrontation With Right
By Roger Burbach
26 March, 2007
two month old government of leftist Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa
and the popular movements that back him have emerged triumphant in their
first battle with the oligarchy and the traditional political parties
that have historically dominated the country. Correa in his inaugural
address in January called for an opening to a "new socialism of
the twenty-first century" and declared that Ecuador has to end
"the perverse system that has destroyed our democracy, our economy
and our society."
Correa's presidency is rooted
in a militant mass movement that has been mobilizing and challenging
the country's ascendant economic and political interests for years.
The Ecuadorian political system, referred to as a "partidocracia,"
is run by factious political parties dominated by oligarchs who pull
the strings on a corrupt state that includes Congress, the Supreme Court,
as well as the presidency until Correa's election. Even Michel Camdessus,
the former head of the International Monetary Fund, once commented that
Ecuador is characterized "by an incestuous relation between bankers,
political- financial pressure groups and corrupt government officials."
The central demand of the
broad movement that brought Correa to power is for a Constituent Assembly
to draft a new constitution that breaks up the current dysfunctional
state, ends the reign of the "partidocracia," refounds the
country as a plurinational, participatory democracy, reclaims Ecuadorian
sovereignty and uses the state to advance social and economic policies
that benefit the people, not the oligarchy.
Correa upon his inauguration
issued a decree calling for a plebiscite for the people to vote on April
15 for the election of a Constituent Assembly. The Congress refused
to accept the president's initiative, passing its own law saying that
such an assembly would not have the right to limit the tenure of Congressional
members or any other elected officials until their terms expired with
the next elections. It would not be an assembly with powers to refound
the country's institutions. Then with the intent of turning the election
of assembly members into a virtual circus, the Congress declared that
anyone could put their name on the ballot for the assembly. No signatures
or petitions were required, meaning that hundreds or more could simply
sign up to run for any given seat, making the balloting virtually impossible
Correa responded by taking
the Congressional legislation, eliminating the onerous clauses, tailoring
it to his original decree for a Constituent Assembly to refound the
country, and sending it the country's Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which
rules on elections and electoral procedures. Hopes were not high, as
the Tribunal is historically viewed as part of the "partidocracia.'
The popular movements began to demonstrate in front of the Tribunal
and Congress, calling for their closure, and for Correa to simply issue
a decree for the Constituent Assembly.
Rene Baez, a political analyst
at the Catholic University of Ecuador, says: "To the surprise of
virtually everyone the popular repudiation shook the consciousness of
the Supreme Electoral Tribunal." Lead by its president, Jorge Acosta,
a member of a traditional right wing party, the Tribunal declared that
the statute proposed by President Correa to refound the country's institutions
would be the one that would be voted up or down on April 15.
Outraged by this decree,
fifty-seven of the one hundred deputies of Congress voted to depose
Acosta from the Tribunal. The next day Acosta and the Tribunal responded
by expelling the fifty-seven deputies from Congress for their unconstitutional
The people took to the streets
in a jubilant mood. Backed by demonstrators, Correa ordered 1500 policeman
to surround the Congress to enforce the decree of the Tribunal, preventing
any of the fifty-seven deposed representatives from entering. They attempted
to hold a rump session at the Quito Hotel, but it went nowhere, with
demonstrators ridiculing them outside by throwing pieces of dried pork
fat at them as they entered and left.
Since a quorum of fifty-one
members is required in Congress to conduct business, the deposed members
hoped to provoke an institutional crisis. But because of a quirk of
Ecuadorian law, each deputy of Congress is elected along with a substitute
legislator from the same party. The Correa government made it clear
it would seat any of the substitutes, if they accepted the rulings of
the Electoral Tribunal. Twenty substitutes almost immediately broke
ranks with their parties, and Congress had the quorum necessary to function.
"This is a major blow
to the right wing and the oligarchy," says Rene Baez. "The
'partidocracia' has been gutted in the political realm." President
Correa proclaimed: "The fifty-seven deputies tried to sow chaos
in the country...now they have been sanctioned and deposed. Congress
will continue to function."
While the plans for the Constituent
Assembly to refound the country move forward, Correa on the same day
that he declared victory made it clear that he intends to take advantage
of his powers and a more pliant Congress, particularly to control the
country's private banks. In the midst of the political crisis, the banks
spread rumors of a "liquidity crisis," saying they were short
of funds and might have to close their doors. Correa declared: "The
problem is the exact opposite: The banks have ample funds and reserves,
they are breaking historic records with their profits, exaggerated profits
based on high interest rates, these will be regulated and controlled."
Correa is setting up a special
commission to investigate bank accesses and corruption dating back to
1998. "Let's be clear" he said, "The banks are never
again going to be in the position to break the state."
With the victory of Correa
and the popular movement, a leftist axis of nations comprised of Venezuela,
Bolivia and Ecuador is consolidating in South America that is bent on
carrying out profound social and economic changes at home while challenging
the historic domination of the United States in the region. Correa has
already announced he is shutting down the largest US military base on
the South American coast at Manta, Ecuador. He is also moving forward
with the expropriation of Occidental Petroleum, the largest petroleum
corporation in the country, merging it with the state-owned company
PetroEcuador, which in turn is signing a number of accords for cooperation
and joint investments with PDVSA, the Venezuelan state company.
Simultaneously, the popular
movements are moving forward with their plans to make the Constituent
Assembly a democratic, participatory process. In "An Open Letter
to the People," signed by many leaders of the country's popular
organizations, they declared: "The Constituent Assembly should
be an organizing process for the Ecuadorian people, including workshops,
seminars, and discussions at the grassroots of society that spills over
and includes the different social sectors, women, the indigenous peoples,
the Afro-Ecuadorians, workers, professors, students, informal merchants
"Never before has it
been so clear that it is the people who make history. Today we are at
the beginning of an era of popular power, marked by the initial work
of the Constituent Assembly. It flows out of the resilience of the Ecuadorian
people. It is potent and tumultuous."
Roger Burbach is the director of the Center for the Study of the Americas,
based in Berkeley, California. He has written extensively on Latin America,
including, "The Pinochet Affair: State Terrorism and Global Justice."
He is also the co-author with Jim Tarbell of: "Imperial Overstretch:
George W. Bush and the Hubris of Empire."
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