Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Ecuador: Popular Correa Faces Early Tests

From the Washington Post: Supporters of leftist President Rafael Correa armed with sticks and stones fought their way into the Congress building Tuesday, demanding lawmakers call a referendum on whether the country's constitution should be rewritten.

I have been putting off writing a longer piece on Ecuador and the ups and downs first fortnight of the newest member of the evil lefty latin club, President Rafael Correa. The times are very interesting - and fluid - but the events of yesterday make some comment in order.

To anyone just beginning to look at Ecuadorean (or Latin) politics, raiding the Congress may seem extreme. But like most things reagarding the Latin left, it is a scene blown way out of proportion. The protesters were mostly students who broke away from the main peaceful marchers. They only made it to the back patio area of the Congress building, not inside (like the Post and others reported) after.

The real story is much deeper, of course. What is taking place in Ecuador and Bolivia is an epic battle over the transfer of power. Like in Venezuela, the people have realized that a main issue preventing positive change are 200 yeras of dumb laws based on an outdated constitution. Today Venezuela has perhaps the most progressive Constitutiuon in the world, guaranteering the social, civil, political, social, economic rights of all.

Some more background of the situation from the Green Left Weekly
On January 15, Ecuador’s new president, Rafael Correa Delgado, was sworn in, promising to build “socialism of the 21st century” to overcome the poverty and instability of the small Andean country.
Correa, a 43-year-old economist, used his inauguration to call for a “citizens’ revolution”, using wealth to meet social and environmental needs, rather than maintaining the current “perverse system” that has led to over 60% of Ecuador’s 13 million people living in poverty and forced more than 3 million to emigrate in search of jobs.

“The long night of neoliberalism is coming to an end”, said Correa, “A sovereign, dignified, just and socialist Latin America is beginning to rise.”
Correa has also promised to renegotiate contracts with foreign oil companies, in order to free up money for spending on health, education, the environment and housing. The potential benefits for Ecuador are enormous: the oil company Oxy had its contracts cancelled a year ago, and the government has since made US$1.1 billion from those oilfields alone.

Another priority for Correa is Ecuador’s foreign debt, estimated in November last year at over 25% of the country’s GDP. Correa has suggested that at least part of the debt may be illegal, and is planning to renegotiate, or possibly default on it. He has also called for an international debt tribunal to prevent the exploitation of debt-ridden countries and has threatened to cut ties with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
The most important part of the new president’s platform for change is the promise to convoke a Constituent Assembly to rewrite the constitution to allow the recall of elected officials and greater participation by social movements and community sectors in government, weakening the traditional party system and making his reforms possible.

Correa, whose Alianza PAIS party ran no candidates for the Congress, faces a hostile legislature. His opponents in Congress, which is almost universally regarded to be run by a corrupt and inept “partyocracy”, formed a bloc of 76 out of 100 law-makers to oppose Correa’s reforms.
Assuming it is approved, there will now be a referendum on March 18 to endorse the initiative, and a Constituent Assembly of 87 members will be elected soon after from provincial, national and immigrant sectors of the population. The assembly will have 180 days to rewrite the constitution.

The task facing Correa is a challenging one. Previous governments that have promised reforms along similar lines have been unable or unwilling to carry them out, making only small reforms in the hope of placating big business and the people alike. In response, mass popular mobilisations, especially by the indigenous movements, have led to the overthrow of the last three elected presidents.

The hope is that Correa has broken the mould. “We’re not talking about little reforms, about making things less bad”, he said during his inauguration. “Latin America isn’t living an era of changes”, he explained. “It’s living a change of eras.”



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