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Ecuador: Left Turn? October 19, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Latin America.
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Ecuador: Left Turn? Print E-mail
Written by Marc Becker
Thursday, 08 October 2009
ImageSource: Against the Current

On April 26, 2009, Rafael Correa won re-election to the Ecuadorian presidency with an absolute majority of the vote. He gained broad popular appeal through a combination of nationalist rhetoric and increased social spending on education and health care. The victory cemented Correa’s control over the country as the old political establishment appeared to be in complete collapse.

Mainstream news outlets reported Correa’s triumph as another socialist win in Latin America. Barely a month earlier, Maurcio Funes of the former guerrilla Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) won El Salvador’s presidential elections, bringing the left to power for the first time in that country’s history.

Motivated by what is perhaps an unjustified optimism by the left, undue fear on the right, and the opportunism of eager politicians, socialism is increasingly seen as the dominant discourse in Latin America. Is Ecuador’s Correa justly included as part of a leftward tilt in Latin America, or is his inclusion in this trend a result of hopeful thinking?

On one hand, analysts now talk of Latin America’s “many lefts,” ranging through Chile’s neoliberal socialist president Michelle Bachelet, Bolivia’s Indigenous socialist Evo Morales, and Venezuela’s state-centered socialism of Hugo Chávez. On the other hand, this is not the first time that a new president in the small South American country of Ecuador has been warmly greeted as part of a leftward movement.

In 2003, in a seeming repeat of Chávez’s rise to power, Lucio Gutiérrez was elected president after a failed 2001 military-Indigenous coup. He quickly moved in a significantly neoliberal direction, alienating his social movement base and finally falling in an April 2005 popular uprising known the “rebellion of the forajidos” or outlaws. Gutiérrez continues to enjoy a significant amount of support from some sectors of the Ecuadorian population, particularly from evangelical Indigenous communities, but most of those on the left would now denounce him as a center-right populist.

While many outside observers either celebrated or bemoaned Correa’s consolidation of power as part of Latin America’s broader turn to the left, social movements in Ecuador have become increasingly critical of his populist positioning. Despite Correa’s claims that under his administration the long dark night of neoliberalism is finally over, Indigenous movements have condemned him for continuing basically these same policies through large-scale mineral extractive enterprises, particularly of petroleum in the ecologically delicate eastern Amazonian basin.

Rafael Correa and a New Constitution

Correa is a young economist and university professor who wrote his dissertation at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign attacking neoliberal economic policies known as the “Washington Consensus.” He does not emerge out of social movement organizing, but rather out of a Catholic left motivated by concerns for social justice.

Correa first came onto the public scene as the Minister of Finance in Alfredo Palacios’ government after Gutiérrez’s removal. Correa leveraged his popularity in that position to a win in the 2006 presidential elections.

In power, Correa appeared to attempt to follow Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez’s strategy to consolidate power through rewriting the constitution. He could then call for new elections that would reaffirm himself in office and provide for a more sympathetic legislature.

Like Chávez, Correa had run as an independent without the support of a traditional political party. The existing “party-ocracy” was severely discredited in both countries. Since 1996, not a single president in Ecuador had been able to complete a four-year term in office. Three presidents (Abdalá Bucaram in 1997, Jamil Mahuad in 2000, and Lucio Gutiérrez in 2005) were removed through massive street protests.

On April 15, 2007, three months after Correa took office, 80% of the Ecuadorian electorate approved a referendum to convoke a constituent assembly. Correa created a new political movement called Acuerdo País (AP) that on September 30, 2007 won a majority of seats in the assembly.

A year later, on September 28, 2008, almost two-thirds of the voters approved the new constitution that had been drafted largely under Correa’s control. As was the case with Venezuela’s 1999 constitution, Ecuador’s new Magna Carta so fundamentally remapped the country’s political structures that it required new local, congressional and presidential elections.

Lengthy and contentious debates in the constituent assembly resulted in a constitution that provided a basis for a more inclusionary and participatory political system. The new document rejected neoliberalism, and embraced increased resource allocation to education, social services and health care. Similar to Venezuela, it also employed gender inclusive language. It also expanded democratic participation, including extending the vote to those between 16 and 18 years of age, foreigners living in the country for more than five years, and Ecuadorans living outside the country.

The constitution also defended the rights of nature, Indigenous languages, and in a highly symbolic gesture, pluri-nationalism designed to incorporate Indigenous cosmologies into the governing of the country. The constitution also borrowed from Bolivia’s Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca the Quechua concept of sumak kawsay, of living well not just better. Sumak kawsay includes an explicit critique of traditional development strategies that increased the use of resources rather than seeking to live in harmony with others and with nature.

Following Venezuela’s lead, Ecuador also created five branches of government. In addition to the executive, legislative, and judicial, the constitution added an electoral branch and a Consejo de Participación Ciudadana y Control Social or Council of Citizenship Participation and Social Control. The last branch is in charge of nominating officials including the attorney general and comptroller general.

The purpose for the new branch is to increase citizen participation and improve political transparency, although the opposition complained that it would concentrate more power in Correa’s hands. While advocates argued that a stronger executive was necessary to bring stability to this chronically politically unstable country, social movements feared that it would come at a cost to their ability to influence policy decisions.

2009 Elections

Correa won the April 26, 2009 presidential elections with 52% of the vote. The significance of this victory cannot be overstated — the first time since Ecuador’s return to civilian rule in 1979 that a candidate won a high enough percentage of the vote to avoid a runoff election.

Most Latin American presidential campaigns are multi-party races that require either a runoff election between the top two vote getters or a congressional decision to select the victor. Salvador Allende, for example, won the 1970 presidential race in Chile with only 36% of the vote. Evo Morales’ 2005 victory in Bolivia with 54% of the vote was the first time in that country’s history that a candidate had won the election with an absolute majority.

Under Ecuador’s current constitution, in order to avoid a second round a candidate must either win more than 50% of the vote, or gain at least 40% of the vote and outpace the nearest rival by at least 10%. In Ecuador’s fragmented and contentious political landscape, it is unusual for any candidate to poll more than 25% of the vote in the initial multi-candidate round.

Correa’s closest competitor in this election was the former president Lucio Gutiérrez of the centrist Partido Sociedad Patriótica (PSP), who won 28% of the vote. Gutiérrez drew most of his support from his native Amazonian region, wining those provinces by a wide margin, and in evangelical Indigenous communities in the central highland provinces of Bolívar, Chimborazo and Tungurahua. His support rose as the election approached when the conservative opposition, including the most traditional sectors of the Catholic Church grouped into Opus Dei, recognized him as the best opportunity to defeat Correa.

Gutiérrez claimed he had evidence of a monstrous fraud that denied him victory, although the electoral commission rejected the charge. International observers, however, criticized Correa’s overwhelmingly dominant media presence as compromising the fairness of the poll.

The third-place candidate was billionaire banana magnate Alvaro Noboa of the right-wing Partido Renovador Institucional Acción Nacional (PRIAN), who almost won the 2006 elections. In 2009, with the right completely discredited but still running on the same neoliberal agenda of privatization, opening up the country to foreign capital, and lowering taxes on the most wealthy, he only polled 11%. This was his worst showing in four attempts to win the presidency.

The left did not fare any better than the right. Martha Roldós, daughter of the progressive president who returned Ecuador to civilian rule in 1979 but was killed two years later in a mysterious plane crash, only won four percent of the vote. She ran as a candidate of the Red Ética y Democracia (RED), which grouped labor leaders and other leftist militants. Her campaign was based largely on attacking Correa, without successfully presenting an alternative to his “citizen’s revolution” project.

Another leftist candidate Diego Delgado, who strongly questioned Correa’s commitment to socialism, only gained one percent. Many on the left preferred to opt for Correa instead of risking a conservative victory. Eight candidates in total competed for the country’s highest office.

Many on the left had urged Alberto Acosta, the popular former president of the constituent assembly, to run. When it appeared unlikely that he could rally the left against Correa in the face of the president’s overwhelming popularity he declined to enter the race.

The Indigenous party Pachakutik did not run a presidential candidate, and refused to endorse any of the candidates. In the 2006 elections when a possible alliance with Correa fell apart, Pachakutik ran their standard bearer Luis Macas but only polled two percent of the vote.

While Correa enjoys majority support from the voters, the same is not true for his AP, which lost its control over congress. In 2006, Correa campaigned without the support of a political party or alliances with congressional delegates. Three years later, Correa is still having difficulty pulling his new party together even though he personally remains quite popular.

The January 25, 2009 primaries for legislative and local races was fraught with difficulties and disorganization. The AP is by no means an ideologically homogenous or coherent party, which may be its greatest strength as well as its greatest weakness. While it incorporates a broad range of people, that diversity also threatens to pull the party apart into left and right wings.

In the runup to the April vote, Correa implemented several populist economic measures, such as restructuring the foreign debt, which appeared to be largely designed to strengthen the electoral fortunes of his congressional allies. The AP’s failure to win an overwhelming majority in the congressional contests complicates issues, particularly since Gutiérrez’s PSP is the second largest, and very antagonistic, power.

Even though the AP fell far short of the two-thirds majority it enjoyed in the constituent assembly, it still remains the largest party in the assembly. If it can build alliances with smaller leftist parties it might still be able to control the decisions. Such alliances are sure to be fragile. Nevertheless, the new constitution significantly strengthens executive power at a cost to the assembly, so losing congressional control may not prove so much a liability to Correa who could still rule through decrees and referendums.

Traditional parties such as the Partido Social Cristiano (PSC) continue to lose support. In fact, all the parties that largely defined the return to civilian rule in 1979 and actively contested power over the last 30 years the PSC, the Izquierda Democrática (ID), the Democracia Popular-Democracia Cristiana (DP), Partido Roldosista Ecuatoriano (PRE) -– have now largely disappeared.

The PSC did not run a presidential candidate, instead focusing its energies on congressional and municipal elections. In the coastal commercial port city of Guayaquil which has long been a bastion of opposition to Correa’s left-populist government, the conservative PSC mayor Jaime Nebot easily won re-election.

Even in Guayaquil, however, political allegiances fall out along class lines, with poor people strongly supporting Correa, including many of those who voted for Nebot as mayor. Reflecting deep-seated regional divisions, the AP’s Augusto Barrera easily won election as mayor of Quito.

Indigenous Movements in Opposition

Much of Correa’s support comes from urban professionals. Despite his seemingly leftist credentials, Ecuador’s leftist Indigenous movement has moved deeply into the anti-Correa camp. Because of his support for a new mining law that advocates resource extraction, Indigenous activists have criticized Correa for ruling with a neoliberal agenda. Furthermore, under Correa’s governance Indigenous movements have become increasingly fragmented, with militants accusing the president of attempting to destroy their organizational capacity.

The largest and best known Indigenous organization is the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), founded in 1986 as an umbrella group of regional Indigenous organizations intended to represent all Indigenous peoples in Ecuador. CONAIE emerged on the national scene through a 1990 uprising for land and Indigenous rights that shook the country’s white elite to its core.

Perhaps the most militant Indigenous organization in Ecuador is CONAIE’s highland regional affiliate Ecuarunari, the Confederation of the Peoples of the Kichwa Nationality of Ecuador. Ecuarunari has consistently run to the left of Correa, challenging him for his failure to make a clean break with Ecuador’s neoliberal past. These organizations continue to press their agenda in a variety of ways, including with a proposed water law to conserve and protect water resources.

At an April 2 assembly, CONAIE made its position crystal clear in a resolution which stated that “Correa’s government was born from the right, governs with the right, and will continue to do so until the end of his time in office.” They condemned the government for creating organizations parallel to CONAIE, and stated that they would evict anyone from their organization who occupied positions in the government or worked with Correa’s electoral campaign due to “their lack of respect for our organizational process.”

In particular, CONAIE targeted Correa’s extractive policies, and especially large-scale mining and petroleum exploration efforts “because they go against nature, Indigenous peoples, it violates the constitution, and threatens the governance of the sumak kawsay.” They were eager to use Correa’s constitution as a tool to combat what they saw as his abusive policies. (“Resoluciones de la asamblea ampliada CONAIE 2 de abril del 2009,” www.conaie.org/es/ge_comunicados/2009/0402.html)

CONAIE stated that as an organization they would not support any presidential candidate, despite earlier conversations the leftist Martha Roldós. Refusing to support a presidential candidate is an explicit reversal of a policy in previous elections to support a candidate because otherwise campaigns would prey on rural communities to gain the Indigenous vote.

In 1995, CONAIE helped found Pachakutik as a political movement for Indigenous peoples and their allies to contest for electoral office. A short-lived alliance with Gutiérrez in 2003, however, was such a horrific experience that CONAIE and Pachakutik remained very shy of entering into another such similar alliance. Nevertheless, they did urge support for local and congressional candidates running under the Pachakutik banner.

Historically, Pachakutik has fared much better in local races. In this election, however, they suffered significant losses to the AP, and barely survived with only one seat in the national assembly.

In addition to CONAIE and its regional affiliate Ecuarunari, two competing Indigenous organizations are the National Confederation of Peasant, Indigenous and Negro Organizations (FENOCIN) and the Council of Evangelical Indigenous Peoples and Organizations of Ecuador (FEINE). FENOCIN has its roots in the Catholic Church’s attempts in the 1960s to draw support away from the communist-affiliated Ecuadorian Federation of Indians (FEI).

FENOCIN broke with the church and became much more radical in the 1970s, assuming a socialist position. Today it is allied with Correa, and some of its principle leaders including president Pedro de la Cruz serve as AP deputies. FEINE tends to be much more conservative, and recently has allied with Lucio Gutiérrez.

In the past, the three organizations (CONAIE, FENOCIN, FEINE) have sometimes collaborated to advance Indigenous interests, and at other times bitterly competed with each other for allegiance of their Indigenous base. Currently they are perhaps as fractured as they ever have been.

Twenty-first Century Socialism

Correa has been very eager to speak of socialism of the 21st century, but has never been very clear what he means by this term. During a January 2009 trip to Cuba, Correa rejected the “dogmas history has defeated” including “the class struggle, dialectical materialism, the nationalization of all property, the refusal to recognize the market.” (“Correa attempts to define modern socialism,” Latin American Weekly Report, WR-09-02, January 15, 2009: 3)

Discarding key elements traditionally associated with socialism while failing to identify alternative visions raises questions as to what exactly Correa means by 21st-century socialism.

Hugo Chávez in Venezuela has faced similar criticisms. At the 2005 World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil where Chávez first spoke of the Venezuelan revolution as socialist, he said that new solutions must be more humanistic, more pluralistic, and less dependent on the state. Nevertheless, both Chávez and Correa have relied on strong governmental control in order to advance their political agendas.

Indigenous intellectuals and their close allies such as economist Pablo Dávalos argue that once one looks beyond the rhetoric of socialism of the 21st century, regional integration, and the Bolivarian dream of a united Latin America, the reality on the ground often looks quite different.

Yes, there has been state intervention in the economy, most notably in important areas such as health and education. But the basic economic model remains capitalist in its orientation. Not only does Correa continue to rely on extractive enterprises to advance Ecuador, but he uses the repressive power of the state to attack anyone who dares to challenge his policies, including presenting dissidents with charges of terrorism.

In one of the most high profile cases, Correa sent the military into Dayuma in the eastern Amazon in search of “terrorists” who had opposed his extractive policies. The environmental NGO Acción Ecológica also faced a threat of removal of legal status, seemingly because of their opposition to Correa’s petroleum policies. When faced with a massive outcry, Correa quickly backpedaled, claiming that the government was simply moving its registration to a different ministry where it more logically belonged.

Although AP managed to liquidate the previous political system and emerged with a leftist discourse, Dávalos argued that “in reality it represented a continuation of neoliberalism under other forms.” This is clear in its themes of decentralization, autonomy, competition, and privatization.” Correa continued to follow traditional clientalistic and populist policies far removed from what could be reasonably seen as radical or as a socialist reconstruction of society.

Dávalos concludes that in no sense is Correa a leftist, nor could his government be identified as a progressive. Rather, he “represents a reinvention of the right allied with extractive and transnational enterprises.” (Pablo Dávalos, “Alianza Pais o la reinvencion de la derecha,” http://alainet.org/active/29776).

After Correa’s victory, Luis Fernando Sarango, rector of the Amawtay Wasi Indigenous University, criticized the president’s talk of radicalizing his programs. “What socialism of the twenty-first century?” Sarango asked. “What about a true socialism, because we have seen almost nothing of this of the twenty-first century.” Instead, Sarango proposed “a profound change in structures that permits the construction of a plurinational state with equality, whether it is called socialism or not.” (Boletin Digital Universidad Intercultural Amawtay Wasi 12, May 2009: 2)

CONAIE leader and 2006 Pachakutik presidential candidate Luis Macas criticized Correa for pursuing a “citizen’s revolution” as part of a fundamentally liberal, individualistic model that did not provide a fundamental ideological break with the neoliberal past. In contrast, Indigenous movements pressed in the 2006 electoral campaign for a “constituent revolution” to rewrite the structures of government to be more inclusive.

Correa stole the thunder from Indigenous militants in also pressing for a new constitution, and even going one step farther in granting CONAIE their long-standing demand to have Ecuador declared a pluri-national country. It is not without reason that CONAIE resents Correa for taking over issues and occupying spaces that they previously held.

At the same time, Correa holds those to his left hostage because criticizing him plays into the hands of the oligarchy who are equally anxious to attack him from the right.

At the World Social Forum

In January 2009, Correa joined his fellow leftist Latin American presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Evo Morales of Bolivia, and Fernando Lugo of Paraguay in a meeting with representatives of Vía Campesina, an international network of rural movements, at the World Social Forum (WSF) in the Brazilian Amazonian city of Belém.

Of the five, Correa was the president with the weakest links to civil society. Lula and Morales, of course, were labor leaders before becoming president. Lugo was a priest, influenced by liberation theology, who worked in rural communities. Chávez rose through the military ranks and used that experience to cultivate his popular support.

Correa, in contrast, comes out of the academic world, but of the five presidents at the forum he presented the deepest and most serious analysis of the current economic crisis. He began with a challenge to neoliberalism and the Washington Consensus. “We’re living a magic moment, one of new leaders and governments.”

Correa noted that capitalism is commonly associated with efficiency, whereas socialism emphasizes justice. Nevertheless, Correa argued, socialism is both more just and efficient than capitalism. Latin American countries need national development plans in order to advance, and Ecuador’s new constitution was part of that process.

He appealed to support for Indigenous cultural projects, the Pachamama (mother earth), and repeated the now common call for the sumak kawsay, to live well, not better. We need to be responsible for the environment, Correa said, and conserve resources for the next generation.

Capitalism is in crisis, Correa argued, and Latin America is in search of new models, one that would bring dignity to Latin American peoples. Even though Ecuador has resisted joining Venezuela’s Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), for which Chávez publicly chided Correa at the forum, Correa still called for Latin American integration, for a United States of Latin America.

“We are in times of change,” Correa concluded. “An alternative model already exists, and it is the socialism of the twenty-first century.” Much of his rhetoric echoed that of the dominant discourse at the forum that has fundamentally shifted sentiments away from neoliberal policies.

Correa also seemed to be the most eager of the five to employ populist discourse in order to identify himself as with “the people.” Correa spoke favorably of Indigenous movements and the history of exclusion that Afro-Ecuadorians have faced. All this came in the face of his increasingly tense relations with social movements, particularly over his determination to build Ecuador’s economy on resource extraction.

Correa has not responded well to criticism, condemning what he terms as “infantile” Indigenous activists and environmentalists. At the closing of the Indigenous tent three days after the presidential presentations, longtime leader Blanca Chancoso denounced the “nightmare” that they were living with Correa who was undertaking resource extraction “at all costs.”

Perhaps the only current Latin American president broadly identified with the left who would have received more vigorous denunciations at the forum is Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega, who in particular has engaged in pitched battles with women’s movements.

Many Lefts

Following Chávez’s lead in Venezuela, Correa has sought to build his popularity on the basis of “petro populism,” which uses income from oil exports to fund social programs. But the fall of the price of oil threatens to put those programs at risk. At the same time, a growing inflation rate threatens to undermine some of his government’s accomplishments.

Although Correa talks openly of embracing a socialism for the 21st century, he has made no move to nationalize industries. Building his government on economic development without proper concern for the environment and people’s rights has cost him support, while gaining him the label of “pragmatic” from the business class.

On the other hand, Correa does follow through with enough of his policy proposals to assure his continued popular support. He promised not to renew the U.S. Forward Operating Location (FOL) lease on the Manta airbase when it comes due this fall, and it appears that Washington is proceeding ahead with his wishes to withdraw.

Last December, Correa defaulted on more than $3 billion in foreign bonds, calling the foreign debt illegal and illegitimate because they had been contracted by military regimes. Many people rallied to his defense, saying that he is defending the country’s sovereignty. In addition to tripling spending on education and health care, Correa has increased subsidizes for single mothers and small farmers. These steps played very well with his base.

Despite Correa’s attempts to mimic Chávez’s strategies, his policies are not nearly as radical as those of his counterpart. Of the many lefts that now rule over Latin America, Correa represents a moderate and ambiguous position closer to that of Lula in Brazil or the Concertación in Chile rather than Chávez’s radical populism in Venezuela or Morales’ Indigenous socialism in Bolivia.

The danger for popular movements is a populist threat with Correa exploiting the language of the left but fundamentally ruling from the right. It is in this context that a mobilized and engaged social movement, which historically in the Ecuadorian case means an Indigenous movement, remains important as a check on a personalistic and populist government. If Correa follows through on any of the hopeful promises of his government, it will be due to this pressure from below and to the left.

Correa continues to enjoy an unusually large amount of popular support in a region which recently has greeted its presidents with a high degree of good will only to have the populace quickly turn on its leaders who inevitably rule against their class interests. Chávez (and, to a certain extent, Evo Morales in Bolivia) have bucked this trend by retaining strong popular support despite oligarchical attempts to undermine their governments.

Correa is a charismatic leader, but in the Ecuadorian setting charisma does not secure longevity. José María Velasco Ibarra, Ecuador’s classic caudillo and populist, was president five times, but was removed from four of those when he failed to follow through on his promises to the poor. In recent history, Abdalá Bucaram was perhaps the most charismatic leader, but he lasted only seven months in power after winning the 1996 elections. Charisma alone does not assure political stability.

In the wake of Ecuador quickly running through ten chief executives in 10 years, Correa appears positioned to remain in power for 10 years if he can maintain his current coalition to win reelection in 2013. Correa has also said that it will take 80 years for his “citizens’ revolution” to change the country.

In quickly moving Ecuador from being one of Latin America’s most unstable countries to maintaining a strong hold over executive power, Correa appears to have been able to mimic Chávez’s governing style. Whose interests this power serves, and particularly whether it will be used to improve the lives of historically marginalized subalterns, remains an open question.

Ecuador: A Philosophical Analysis December 23, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador Politics, History, Government, Culture, Ecuador Writing, Ecuador: A Philosophical Analysis.
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 (My political writing, I freely admit, has a schizophrenic character.  When I am attempting to place an article in a mainstream publication, I have no choice to try to “lay it between the lines.”  My major achievement in this respect was the oped piece of mine on free trade published by the Los Angeles Times in October of 2005.  In writing to “family and friends,” I am much more free to be explicit about my political revolutionary socialism, but I tone it down there as well – don’t want to turn people off with Marxist terminology [sadly, and for reasons which are too complicated to go into here, this is the reality].  However, I often write for the Marxist-Humanist periodical, “News and Letters,” and it is here where I feel under no compulsion to censor myself.  See for yourself the difference in style and content in these various efforts.)

 

ECUADOR ANALYSIS (June 2003) for News and Letters

 

What is occurring in Ecuador today is a classic example of the fate of philosophically rudderless progressive political movements.  It is characterized by the confusion and bickering within the ranks of the governing coalition (the Patriotic Society Party, organized by Gutiérrez, and Pachakutik, the political wing of the Indigenous movement,), but, above all, by the opportunism of the Right and its capacity to exploit philosophic debility through cooptation.

 

Colonel Gutiérrez’s dramatic and decisive electoral victory of November 2002 was nothing less than an expression of massive popular discontent with the neo-Liberal status quo.  His position as a viable presidential candidate in the first place arose directly and exclusively from his support of the aborted popular coup d’etat of January 2000, that was the culmination of decades of intense political organizing within the Indigenous communities.  The uprising was in response to a government that had overseen a major banking collapse which caused the loss of capital equal to the nation’s annual GNP and that was in the process of accelerating the implementation of the IMF’s economic plan for the country.  The demands of the movement (which was lead by the Indigenous and campesino communities but included the support of labor and other progressive social organizations) included a moratorium on payment of the external debt, and end to privatization, freezing utilities costs, fundamental restructuring of the nation’s political institutions through popular assemblies, and the reclaiming of sovereignty over the military base at Manta, which is in the hands of the U.S. military.

 

Both Pachakutik, which was in formal electoral coalition with Gutiérrez, and the Marxist-Leninist backed Movement for Popular Democracy (MPD), which backed the Gutiérrez candidacy, based their support on written and signed agreements that reflected the demands of January 2000.

 

Gutiérrez’s drift to the right began immediately after his stunning victory in the first electoral round (the pundits had him coming in fourth or fifth).  As with so many progressive politicians who begin to taste real power, he felt the immediate need to “assure” the investing community that had nothing to worry about from a Gutiérrez presidency.  Many of his supporters, with the naiveté that is a product of philosophical vagueness, saw this as a necessary “tactical” maneuver.  They should not have been surprised, however, when his first act as president was to worship at the shrine of Bush and the IMF.

 

Five months into the Gutiérrez presidency, both the government and, to a degree, the Indigenous and social movements, are in a state of disarray.  There have been scandals, nepotism, corruption, ministerial resignations, and a total of thirty-one strikes and work stoppages that have included teachers, public health workers, civil servants and oil workers in the public sector, and workers in agriculture and transportation in the private sector.

 

The advancement of the neo-Liberal economic agenda and the alignment with Bush and Uribe on the Colombia question are now fixed policies.  The pathetic ideology that Gutiérrez employs to mask his treasonous adventure speaks of including all Ecuadorians in the sharing of power, again a traditional approach when so-called progressives take power (e.g., Papandreou in Greece, Mitterrand in France, the NDP in Ontario, Canada). Thus he has given the socially oriented ministries (education, health, social welfare, etc.) to the progressives and the economic ministries (finance, international trade, etc.) to the Right (the chief of whom is Mauricio Pozo, Minister of the Economy, longtime Central Bank functionary and neo-Liberalism true believer).  Guess who has all the power, influence and budget.

 

There has been some bitter sweetness to all this.  Nina Picari of Pachakutik, a prominent and respected Indigenous leader, is Secretary of State, to my knowledge the first Indigenous woman ever to hold such a position anywhere.   The sweetness is to see an Indigenous person in traditional dress, representing a nation on the international scene, where she is taking leadership on the question of human right for Indigenous peoples.  She is no Colin Powell.  The bitterness comes from the fact that she lends credibility to a corrupt government that is certain to taint her own credibility in the future and contribute to disunity within her own movement.  The same can be said of long time Indigenous leader and fighter, Luis Macas of Pachakutik, who as Minister of Agriculture is making attempts to stop the flow of communal lands to agribusiness; and Wilma Salgado, who, as head of the banking insurance entity, is taking concrete steps to bring a degree of justice to those who lost their life savings.

 

Those who integrate themselves with apparently progressive governments or popular fronts usually do so based upon the naïve believe that they can do more “good” from within than from without.  What they end up achieving is confusion and conflict within the movements they represent.  They fail to recognize that it is the masses in motion, not leaders from above, that initiate fundamental social change.  In effect, they separate themselves not only from their initial base support, but also from libratory philosophy.

 

Marx spoke to this in his scathing critique (Critique of the Gotha Program) of the unification of the two German socialist tendencies (one of which was considered to be Marxist) based upon bourgeois and reformist principles with respect to the questions of labor, nationalism and the state; Marx re-enunciated the essential themes of true liberation from the oppression of capital: “the need to uproot the state machinery, the state form, to pose an international not a national viewpoint, the vision of the nonstate to be, ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,’ and the inseparable relation of theory and organization …”[i]  The adoption of

 

programs of contradictory and incorrect principles render such tendencies which adopt them at

best irrelevant and at worst counter-revolutionary.

 

Pachakutik has recently reaffirmed its support of and participation in the Gutiérrez government. 

It is doubtful, in the light of those who have the real power within the government, that this will be

sustained much longer.  However, the longer it is, the greater the damage to popular movements.


[i] Gogol, Eugene, “The Concept of Other in Latin American Liberation: Fusing Emancipatory Philosophic Thought and Social Revolt,” (Lexington Books, 2002) p. 363.  I highly recommend this important book by the former managing editor of News and Letters.  It takes a sweeping view of the Latin American scene, and speaks to the various dead end paths taken by failed revolutionaries, from Cuba to Nicaragua to Central America, etc.

 

 

 

Wayward Allies: President Rafael Correa and the Ecuadorian Left November 4, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Latin America.
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www.upsidedownworld.org Written by Daniel Denvir   
Friday, 25 July 2008

 

Outside of Ecuador, most progressives consider President Rafael Correa to be a Leftist champion of social and economic justice. Inside the country, however, conflicts between Correa and the social movement Left—the indigenous movement, environmentalists and unions, among others—have become increasingly heated. On June 23, Constituent Assembly President and long-time social movement ally Alberto Acosta resigned his post after high-profile disagreements with Correa over issues of procedural democracy and indigenous, economic and environmental justice. Acosta headed the legislative body charged with writing a new constitution.

The new magna carta was approved by the Assembly on July 24, sending the text to a popular referendum this September. While social movements have been sharply critical of Correa, it is expected that they will join the “yes” campaign in support of the new constitution, fearing a right-wing resurgence if it fails. Critics within Correa’s Alianza País party and Leftist members of the indigenous party Pachakutik unanimously voted to approve the text. Leftist Martha Roldos, a member of the Ethical and Democratic Network (RED) abstained, citing a top down process.

To the degree that it exists, popular perception in the U.S. and Europe has been colored by Correa’s stance against U.S. hegemony in the region, along with his forceful rejection of Colombia’s March 1 attack on a FARC camp on Ecuadorian soil. The mainstream media has simplistically lumped him in with the Spanish-speaking “axis of evil” stretching from Bolivia and Venezuela to Cuba. The Left media has, on the other hand, under the assumption that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, championed him as a man of the people. Greg Palast, a well-known progressive journalist, wrote an article in terms so emphatically glowing that it is clear he spoke to no one except the President and his spokespeople when he parachuted into the country. A five-minute conversation with any social movement leader would have significantly complicated his analysis.

I myself arrived in Ecuador this past January excited about being excited about Correa, assuming (or hoping?) that he was part of this social movement propelled Left tide sweeping across the region. For Ecuadorian social movements, however, the doubts and uneasiness were present from the beginning. In 2006, Patchakutik, the electoral arm of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), decided to run CONAIE leader Luis Macas for president. The CONAIE and other social movement groups only decided to endorse Correa in the second round where he faced right-wing Institutional Renewal Party of National Action (PRIAN) candidate Álvaro Noboa. A conservative Christian banana magnate and Ecuador’s richest man, Noboa represented everything that is socially and economically retrograde in the country.

Correa is a U.S. and Belgian trained economist who, before running for President was relatively unknown and had almost no history working directly with Ecuadorian social movements. As his dark horse candidacy gained steam, however, and he made it into the second round, he picked up some long-time social movement demands, including opposition to a Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. and a pledge to close the U.S. military base in the port city of Manta. He proclaimed a “citizen’s revolution,” promising to convene a Constituent Assembly to write a new constitution and to put an end to the “long night of neoliberalism.”

When Ecuadorians approved a referendum convening the Constituent Assembly in September 2007, social movements were cautiously optimistic. It was perceived as a chance to make gains on pressing social, economic and foreign policy issues. Social movements saw the election of economist and long-time environmental and social activist Alberto Acosta to the Assembly’s presidency as a particularly encouraging development.

Meeting just a few miles away from the soon to be closed U.S. military base in the town of Montecristi, the Assembly has been a mixed bag of progress, stasis, retreat and confusion. On the one hand, the Assembly has broken with the neoliberal model by increasing state participation in the economy, enshrining the right to education and healthcare and, in a historic move, forcing rich people to pay taxes. It has also taken some important steps for the environment, recognizing that natural ecosystems are themselves the subject of rights.

Many indigenous, women’s, labor and campesino leaders, however, feel that this was a missed opportunity to confront historic injustices and embrace a more social and sustainable economic model. In addition, social movements have not viewed this as a particularly participatory process. Few Ecuadorian have a solid grasp on what is going on in Montecristi and many proposals were generated from the top down. Most glaringly, Correa has exercised near total control over the majority Assembly Members from his Alianza País party. There is a sense that Correa has taken over a process of change that other people—namely social and indigenous movements—have painstakingly built over the past decades.

According to Ivonne Ramos, a leader of the prominent environmental organization Acción Ecologica, the social movements’ sense of cautious optimism has descended into an open conflict.

 
“There have been different currents in the Constituent Assembly, some defending capitalism and neoliberlism, and others pointing to a new model. We see that many of the proposals aiming to undermine social movements’ demands are coming from the President,” says Ramos. “The mining debate highlighted these different positions. The main power struggle isn’t between the President and the Right. It is between the President and the Left, including within his own party.” Acción Ecologica has close ties to the CONAIE and works with communities resisting mining and oil exploitation.

Economist Pablo Dávalos, who served under Correa when he was President Alfredo Palacio’s Finance Minister, says that Correa’s Leftist discourse conceals a developmentalist and neoliberal economic policy based on natural resource extraction. Dávalos has long argued that the forajidos, a new sector of the middle class created by dollarization, have been Correa’s base since the beginning.

 
“I think that the Correa government’s intention is to put the country in harmony with the new currents of global capitalism, particularly with regard to the exploitation of natural resources, the IRSA [multimodal infrastructural integration project] and territorial privatization,” says Dávalos. “Correa is doing everything possible to integrate Ecuador into this new global division of labor as a provider of primary materials, commodities and energy.”
 
The media often contrast Correa internationally with right-wing leaders like Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and nationally with characters like Jaimie Nebot, mayor of the Ecuadorian coastal metropolis of Guayaquil. In Ecuador and abroad, this leads to an inaccurate, black and white, Right versus Left framework.

The Ecuadorian Right, whose pricey clothing and snow white skin stuck out in the Assembly, has been weakened and discredited, having corruptly presided over decades of disastrous free market economic policies. The main criticisms of opposition parties like the Social Christian Party (PSP), PRIAN and the Patriotic Society Party are that Correa is trying to turn Ecuador into “another Cuba or Venezuela,” supports abortion and is centralizing power. The first two charges are patently false, while the question of authoritarianism is more properly a complaint for social movements than the Right, whose fall from power can only be blamed on its own incompetence and unpopularity.

Dávalos has persisently argued that Correa’s “citizen’s revolution” is focused on what he calls the “moralization of politics.” Rather than fundamentally change Ecuador’s economic model, Correa and his forajido supporters, who have risen up through what they perceive to be a free and fair market, are focused on making the government more transparent. One social movement activist told me that, “Correa just wants to formalize everything. If someone sells you bubblegum on the streets, he wants to make sure that taxes are paid and that you get a receipt.” But the disgrace of what is widely referred to as the “partidocracy,” tainted by decades of corruption, lends Correa support far beyond his middle class base.

While Correa was elected and has consolidated power through a Leftist discourse prioritizing socio-economic justice and national sovereignty, he has increasingly moved to break ties with organized social movements. Many analysts say that Correa, buoyed by high approval ratings, is intentionally demonstrating that he need not depend on any organized body. Seeing alliances with the CONAIE, environmental and labor movements as restrictive, Correa is building an institutionally unmediated and populist relationship to voters, allowing him to be the country’s sole decision maker.

Correa, long known for lashing out against opponents on the Right, has increasingly made verbal attacks against social movement activists and Leftist politicians. On June 7, Correa made some particularly harsh comments on his weekly radio program, stating that enemies of oil and mining are not part of the Alianza País led process of “revolution.”

“I hope that the Leftist radicals who do not believe in the oil companies, the mining companies, the market or the transnationals go away,” said Correa.
 
Ecuadorian sociologist Natalie Sierra noted that Correa’s “is a government that has declared itself anti-neoliberal, but I always thought that the main anti-neoliberal struggles were those against the extractive model.”

His revolution has, to the Left’s dismay, remained one comprised of individual citizens and not organized movements. Correa has explicitly discarded relationships with organized social movements and relied on high levels of personal popularity to push through policies.

Repression in Defense of Oil and Mining Megaprojects

Correa’s government has consistently demonstrated that it is willing to use the police and army to repress social movement resistance.

The Correa government’s first major act of repression took place in November 2007. The President declared a state of emergency in the Amazonian town of Dayuma after protests blocked oil operations. Residents set up roadblocks to a number of oil fields, angry about the government’s failure to follow through on promised infrastructural improvements in the town of poor mestizo settlers (colonos). Violent repression followed and 23 people were arrested, many of whom were dragged from their homes at gunpoint. Shocked social movement and human rights activists demanded an investigation of the abuses and amnesty for the arrested protesters.

Correa initially threatened to resign if government’s handling of the protests was investigated. In the end, Correa relented and the Assembly declared an amnesty for the arrested protesters along with hundreds of other jailed environmental defenders and social justice activists. The Assembly also determined that police had used excessive force against Dayuma residents. The repression in Dayuma put Ecuadorian activists on notice that Correa was committed to an economic model based on natural resource extraction and was willing to use force to defend it.

It was at this point, when his commitment to an economy based on oil and mining became clear, that activists and Leftist intellectuals increased their criticism of Correa. Critiques began to focus on the shift from U.S. and European foreign investment to the penetration of state companies, particularly from Brazil and China. The centerpiece of this realignment is the Multimodal Megaproject Manta-Manaos, referring to the cities in Ecuador and Brazil, respectively, that will be the multi-modal transportation and trade project’s two central hubs.

Unions have also criticized Correa’s economic policies, which they say are a continuation of the neoliberal, privatizing model. Oil workers union leader Fernando Villavicencio says that while he at first tried to believe that bureaucrats or functionaries misinforming Correa were causing problems at state oil company Petroecuador, it is now clear that these policies come directly from the President.

 
“The leader of the País Movement has consciously pushed an illegal project of privatizing oil…leading the public company Petroecuador to be dismantled,” says Villavicencio. “These policies benefit the same old mafia groups and some new ones…They are doing what the Right and the partidocracy could not accomplish over the past 25 years.”

The government has also repressed anti-mining blockades in the southern highlands, calling protesters “antipatriotic” troublemakers, “carried away by their ideological obsessions.” Protesters claim that mining will ruin their land and poison their water. It appears that conflicts over mining will increase over the next few years. Correa and Canadian mining companies have mounted a large-scale advertising campaign linking increased mining to better jobs and a strong economy. With many communities prepared to resist mining operations, a battle is on for the sympathies of the broader public.

Most recently, on July 8, the National Police arrested 10 protesters in the Ecuadorian canton of Chillanes for opposing the concession of a nearby river for the construction of a private hydroelectric dam. The villagers had peacefully occupied community land in protest over the last six months.

The conflict with Colombia has also led to heightened accusations of ties between Colombian guerrillas and Ecuadorian social movements. On May 6, Ecuadorian police arrested five members of Ecuador Indymedia, accusing them of maintaining ties to the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group in Colombia.

Conflict with the Indigenous Movement Comes to a Head

The CONAIE made it clear early on that its top priority for the new constitution was the recognition of Ecuador as a “plurinational” state, meaning a state made up of many nations. Rather than a hollow symbolic gesture, plurinationality would ensure land, cultural and economic rights. Social and indigenous movements have, in particular, demanded that the principle of “free, prior and informed consent”—requiring communities to approve any resource extraction projects on their land—be enshrined in the new magna carta. Indeed, prior consent is not only about community control, but about a larger debate over whether large-scale mining is a sustainable path for economic development.

While the concept of plurinationality has been included in the proposed constitution’s text, prior consent was not. The text instead requires “prior consultation,” meaning that communities cannot decide whether oil and mining projects take place on their land. “Prior consultation is rather paradoxical,” according to Ivonne Ramos. “If I come and ask you if I can come and mess up your house, you say “no”, and I still go ahead and do it anyways. It doesn’t make much sense.”

Plurinationality and prior consent have created divisions within Alianza País, as well as between Alianza País and the CONAIE’s political party, Pachakutik.

On May 12, the CONAIE broke communication with the Correa government, accusing the President of continuing neoliberal economic and racist social policies. Later that month, most of Ecuador’s prominent social movements signed a letter backing the CONAIE and articulating other problems with the government.

The most recent insult to the indigenous movement has been the rejection, at Correa’s urging, of a proposal to make Kichwa an official language alongside Spanish. In response, Patchakutik’s four Assembly Members walked out in protest. They were joined by Alianza País Assembly Member Monica Chuji, an Amazonian Kichwa long affiliated with the indigenous movement. Many have criticized Correa for showing off his basic knowledge of Kichwa on the campaign trail while rejecting indigenous movement demands. On the second to last day of the Assembly, CONAIE President Marlon Santi called Correa a “racist.”

At 2 a.m. on the Assembly’s second to last work day, a compromise proposal was approved. It declares Spanish the “official language of Ecuador, while Spanish, Kichwa and Shuar are official languages of intercultural relation. Other ancestral languages are for official use for the indigenous nationalities in the zones that they inhabit and within terms determined by the law.” Shuar is an indigenous language spoken in the Ecuadorian and Peruvian Amazon.

Chuji says that the included text maintains the rights established in the 1998 constitution—which were in danger of being eliminated—but does not necessarily constitute a step forward. She considers the phrase “official languages of intercultural relation” to be profoundly vague, but says that there is space for improvements when the constitutional text is elaborated into law by a future legislature. One analyst told me that Correa’s allies inserted Shuar at the last moment to undercut Kichwa, which spoken by two million Ecuadorians and the only indigenous language that could function as a national language. Indigenous activists were forced to accept the compromise, as they could not argue against the recognition of Shuar.

In an interview, Chuji criticized the Assembly’s failure to support indigenous rights, but nevertheless considers the new constitution a step forward. “While my analysis is overall positive, we’ve made very little progress on the topic of indigenous rights…but that Ecuador is a plurinational state has been included, even though it doesn’t include all of the content that it should, it is at least a first step and opens doors for future discussions.”

A majority of Assembly Members initially supported the proposition to make Kichwa an official language. But last week, Correa and the Alianza País executive committee pushed against it and succeeded in excluding it from the proposed constitution. Ecuarunari, the Kichwa federation of Ecuador, denounced Correa, saying “We, the indigenous peoples and nationalities, do not ask for a right just for ourselves. Rather, we demand that all of Ecuador assume and recognize its own historical, cultural and social value. To continue to not recognize the indigenous peoples and nationalities’ languages means the continuing displacement of indigenous cultures as tourist objects or as simple elements utilized to decorate the discourses at government inauguration ceremonies, for the inauguration of little infrastructure projects and political rallies. Kichwa is spoken while its legitimate representatives are insulted.”

The CONAIE sees language rights as central to preserving indigenous communities and cultures and criticizes opposition to Kichwa as motivated by racism. Just a few minutes before writing this sentence, I overheard someone in the Assembly pressroom make the linguistically improbable claim that Kichwa could not be included because it “does not have a grammar.”

In an interview on the Assembly’s second to last day, Pachakutik Assembly Member Gilberto Guamangate noted that gains on plurinationality and the rights of nature had been achieved but criticized the failure to recognize Kichwa as an official language. “We consider the fact that they have declared Ecuador a plurinational state” but not made Kichwa an official language “is basically making a body without a mouth.” He also emphasized that prior consent, while not achieved in the Constituent Assembly, could be fought for in the proposed National Assembly. Moreover, Guamangate noted that regardless of any political decision, stopping mining and oil projects would always be decided at the local level through community decision making and resistance.

Acosta’s Exit

Alberto Acosta’s resignation as President of the Constituent Assembly marks a break between social movements and Correa, leading to a major drop in the body’s approval ratings. Correa forced Acosta out after he insisted that the Assembly needed more time to finish the constitution, refusing to cut debate time.

While Alberto Acosta’s resignation as president of the Constituent Assembly was proximately caused by this procedural dispute with Correa, his departure reflects deeper divisions over economic and environmental policy within Alianza País. As disagreements over economic and environmental policies were building up between the two leaders, Acosta’s demand for an extension to finish the Assembly’s work infuriated Correa and led to the forced resignation. Acosta insisted that something as important as a new constitution should not be rushed. Correa, in contrast, thought that delaying the constitution—which will be sent to voters this September—would entail impossibly high political costs.

With three days to go until the end of the Constituent Assembly, Correa’s allies are rushing to fix a series of errors that the Editing Committee, in its hurry, missed. Instead of accepting responsibility for this predicament, Correa has attacked his own Assembly Members for allowing “barbarities” into the text and claimed that the errors were all made during Acosta’s tenure.

Acosta’s strong support for procedural democracy and refusal to engage in ad hominem attacks on his opponents has led to curious gestures of sympathy from the opposition Right and the conservative media, event though the Assembly’s former president is significantly to Correa’s left. Fernando Cordero, the Assembly’s new President, has aggressively limited debate and rushed to put the final touches on the proposed text.

As an Assembly Member, Acosta has been freed from his administrative and mediatory duties, speaking in favor of recognizing Kichwa and opposing cuts to teachers’ pensions. Correa has counterattacked, calling Acosta and other Leftist members of Alianza País “infiltrators” who should leave if they do not agree with the majority.

Chuji responded in a statement on Wednesday July 23, the Assembly’s second to last day, reminding Correa that Ecuador’s entire process of social change did not begin with his leadership. She emphasized that agreeing with the President was not the litmus test for Alianza País membership and that it was her responsibility to be faithful to her principals. She said it is strange that “they call us infiltrators or accuse us of having a right wing agenda for supporting human rights, social security, freedom of expression, the environment, justice, communication, the women’s agenda, campesino rights and the indigenous movement’s aspirations.”

As Ivonne Ramos notes, a strong disagreement over Correa’s proposed agricultural law was also a deciding factor in Acosta’s departure. The Assembly initially was debating and passing an Agriculture Law that would support food sovereignty and small farmers. It included the free circulation of seeds and government credits to small farmers.

 
“The President then launched a campaign pushing his own Agricultural Law,” which “favors the importation of agrochemicals, it favors subsidies to an agribusiness model. Those who will benefit from this are the importers of agrochemicals, producers of agrochemicals, the sellers of agrochemicals, the massive companies that own monoculture crop export operations, and the people who control the circulation of food in this country,” says Ramos. “This was in many senses the breaking point that led to Acosta’s resignation.”

The Agricultural Law, in its vision of development through active government support of national and transnational corporations, encapsulates Correa’s social and economic programs. While the increase in the state’s economic role is a break with neoliberal orthodoxy, Correa supports the basic contours of the current economic model, prioritizing “growth” through the exploitation of natural and human resources.

Intensive efforts by The National Federation of Campesino, Indigenous and Black Organizations (FENOCIN) and the CONAIE led to significant changes in the Agricultural Law. A shift towards supporting small farmers instead of agribusiness garnered Acosta and Pachakutik’s support, leading to the proposal’s overwhelmingly approval on the Assembly’s second to last day.

The mainstream media in Ecuador has tended to focus on these procedural issues instead of the social justice demands dividing Correa from the Left. I would guess that this is because it is one of Acosta’s only positions that the Right supports. But it’s not just Acosta’s legitimate demands on procedural questions, but “a fundamental difference over the model of economic development that Ecuador should follow” that, according to Ramos, has caused ruptures in the Constituent Assembly.

 
“Acosta was supporting a model that was friendly to people and the environment,” says Ramos. “What we’re seeing now is a model totally capitalist and that favors the large groups of power. We see this in two ways. First, from the presidential decrees directly from Correa and second, in his direct interventions into the Assembly’s work.”

The Constituent Assembly legally possesses what is known as plenos poderes, or full powers. Plenos poderes makes the Assembly the country’s highest power and replaces the former Congress, which was declared “in recess” for the Assembly’s duration. But Correa and Alianza País’s executive committee’s forceful interventions have undermined the Assembly’s work and reputation. As progressive journalist and Correa chronicler Kintto Lucas put it, “The impositions of power are not agreements.”

CONAIE Vice-President Miguel Guatemal argued that Acosta’s resignation was just one of Correa’s many strong-armed interventions into the Assembly. “There was an ideological and political conflict. While Acosta defended our proposals, the President has opposed them. The National Constituent Assembly, with its plenos poderes, should be above the President. But this is not happening. The President decides whether something passes or not. The Assembly is just a technical group.”

Ramos, however, emphasized that under Acosta’s leadership the Assembly was at times able to exercise its plenos poderes. “We saw Alberto Acosta’s presence in the Constituent Assembly’s presidency as an assurance that crucial issues would be addressed, issues like the rights of nature, plurinationality, water, food sovereignty, transgenics, protected areas and collective and environmental rights. Some of these have been incorporated. Especially in the case of amnesties for arrested environmental defenders, we actually saw the Assembly exercising its plenos poderes.”

In an interview on the Assembly’s second to last day, Acosta said, “I have a certain bittersweet feeling. While I’m happy with what we’ve done I’m not happy with how we are finishing our work. There are too many topics that were very rushed, without a clear idea of how we can respond to so many outstanding issues. We should have taken a few more weeks.” But he went on to say that there were innumerable achievements—in areas such as education, healthcare and national sovereignty—that make a “yes” vote on the constitution the right choice.

While all of the Left is expected to come around to supporting the “yes” campaign, it is unclear what is next for Acosta and his followers.


Social Movement Demobilization and the Upcoming Referendum

Correa’s meteoric rise and high approval ratings have put social movements and the Left in a complicated position. In previous fights like those against Free Trade Agreements and the U.S. military base, social movements were able to clearly define themselves against conservative governments. Correa’s Leftist discourse and occasionally progressive policies have demobilized the Left, who now face the September referendum without a coherent strategy.

According to Ramos, social movements must take stock of the good and the bad in the new constitution. In addition, the political costs of not supporting the proposal must be evaluated.

 
“There is the question of public sympathy, which is complicated when you have a president with such high approval ratings. Any action that a social movement takes can be read, understood or publicized as an action in support of the Right, since this government is supposedly a Leftist one,” says Ramos. “This has produced a climate of uncertainty over what positions to take, what actions to take.”

According to Dávalos, social movements have not articulated a united position because they have all been waiting until the final moment to see if the Assembly will support their priorities. 

 
“The only united opposition right now is from the Right, which more than anything helps the government,” says Dávalos. “This opposition allows the government to legitimize itself, to position itself against the Right, because the Right has little support and is so discredited.”

The president’s break with the social movements should not be read as accidental. As Davalos points out, “Correa is trying to form a solid center-left block and marginalize the radical left and take on the right-wing—Jaime Nebot and Lucio Gutierezz. Neither of whom will win. This is his calculus, which isn’t bad. It is within the possible.” Correa will go on a publicity campaign for the “yes” vote, banking on his personal popularity to compensate for the Assembly’s falling support. And he does not need to win by a large margin. Correa just needs to marginalize the Left and take on a weak Right. He has no one who can beat him in upcoming elections if the Constitution is approved.

And it appears certain that these conflicts between Correa and the social movements will only increase over the coming months. At the Assembly’s closing ceremony, the President attacked “infantile environmentalism” and “infantile indiginism” as obstacles to Ecuador’s development. Verbal attacks will not make social movements, built through decades of struggle, disappear.

While a “yes” vote may be necessary to ensure the Right’s defeat, Dávalos argues that the Left needs to get back to what it does best: organizing. “I think that the Left needs to recuperate political space, space that has been co-opted by Alianza País, and generate its own proposals.”

Daniel Denvir (daniel.denvir [at]gmail.com) is an independent journalist from the United States in Quito, Ecuador and a 2008 recipient of NACLA’s Samuel Chavkin Investigative Journalism Grant.  He is the Editor-in-Chief at www.caterwaulquarterly.com and reluctantly blogs at www.glocalcircus.blogspot.com

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