The small Andean nation of Ecuador is facing a political crisis as the Congress and the courts turn on each other over new president Rafael Correa's plans for a Constituent Assembly and a "citizens' revolution" to build "21st century socialism" in the poverty-stricken country.
Correa, a self-described socialist and close ally of Venezuela's
President Hugo Chavez, was elected late last year promising to redirect
Ecuador's oil wealth into social spending, increase popular democracy
and limit the power of the traditional political parties. Central to
this platform is convoking a popular Constituent Assembly to rewrite
In February the 100-member Congress, which is controlled by parties
hostile to Correa and his policies, passed a bill allowing a referendum
on the assembly after the opposition Patriotic Society Party (PSP) of
former president Lucio Gutierrez voted in favour. However there was an
immediate dispute over the power that the assembly will have, Correa
arguing for a plenary power enabling it to dismiss not only the Congress
and courts, but also the president.
While the Congress disagreed, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE)
endorsed Correa's statements and announced on March 1 that the
referendum would be held on April 15. In response, a majority of
Congress, including the PSP, voted to sack the president of the TSE. The
court immediately fired back, sacking the 57 members of Congress
responsible and setting up a police cordon to prevent the sacked members
The Constitutional Tribunal has refused to rule on an appeal by the
fired lawmakers until Congress endorses it. Congress, however, is unable
to convene, as it can't achieve the required quorum of 51 legislators.
On March 13, 20 legislators broke through police lines and entered
the Congress before being removed by riot police using tear gas. Correa
blamed the ousted members of Congress for the violence, saying, "These
people want to create chaos because they know they're already out".
The ousted legislators, made up of members of parties with close ties
to Ecuador's financial oligarchy, have threatened to set up a rival
congress in Guayaquil, the country's second major city and base of the
right-wing Social Christian Party.
The Constitutional Tribunal has also warned Correa to obey its
forthcoming ruling on the validity of the referendum, but Correa
disputes the court's power to rule on the matter, and has threatened to
call mass protests to ensure that the assembly goes ahead.
Humberto Cholango from ECUARUNARI, one of the organisations
representing Ecuador's approximately 40% indigenous population, has also
called for a massive mobilisation of all the indigenous and social
movements of the country to defend the assembly.
If the referendum is successful, it will allow the election of 130
people who will have four months to rewrite the constitution. A recent
poll shows that only 17% of Ecuadorians are satisfied with the Congress,
which is regarded as corrupt, while over 75% support the Constituent
First published in Green Left Weekly, March 16, 2007