On November 29, Ecuador's new constituent assembly sat for the first time, beginning the process of rewriting the country's constitution as part of self-described socialist President Rafael Correa's project of refounding the country through a "citizen's revolution".
One of its first acts was to suspend the existing Congress without
pay until the assembly process was completed — taking control of the
country itself for the duration. While this move drew protests from the
right-wing opposition parties, who refuse to recognise the assembly's
authority, Correa submitted his resignation (which was refused) to the
assembly, a symbolic move to emphasis the placing of the future in the
The 130-member body now has six months, with the possibility of a
60-day extension, to draft a new constitution that will then be put to a
national referendum next year. If this is accepted, new elections will
The assembly, presided over by Correa's former adviser, Alberto
Acosta, has already agreed on a set of by-laws and created 10
commissions of 13 members each to address fundamental areas of reform,
including development, fundamental rights, territorial order, work and
production, and the new legislative model.
Elected in November 2006 on a pledge to "refound" the country, Correa
has initiated what he calls a "citizen's revolution" to overcome the
massive exclusion that marks Ecuador, where over 50% of the population
lives in poverty.
A former lecturer in economics, Correa was finance minister briefly
in 2005, before being forced to resign after prioritising social
spending over repaying the foreign debt.
Correa was elected after more
than a decade of instability in the small Andean nation, which has seen
eight presidents in the past 10 years — three of whom were overthrown by
popular uprisings — and a massive economic crisis in 2000, when the
local currency was replaced with the US dollar.
The demand for the constituent assembly has its roots in the various
Ecuadorian social movements, including the powerful national indigenous
federation CONAIE that represents the country's 40% indigenous
population and played a significant role in overthrowing several
In April, a national referendum on the assembly passed with more than
80% support, and Correa's party, Country Alliance — which refused to
run for the highly unpopular Congress — received over 60% of the seats.
For Correa, however, the rewrite of the constitution is only the
beginning of his project. At his inauguration in January, Correa
explained the five basic "planks" of his proposed "citizen's
revolution", consisting of five separate but related "revolutions" in
Firstly, a "political revolution", to transform the formal,
"plasticine" democracy, which excludes citizens from the democratic
process between elections, into the participatory kind where people will
have the right to recall elected officials.
Secondly, an "economic revolution", to do away with the neoliberal
economic model that has caused massive poverty and exploitation, and to
replace it with a system that prioritises social needs over profits.
Thirdly, an "ethical revolution" against the bureaucracy, corruption
and non-payment of corporate taxes that are rife and which have cost the
economy billions of dollars.
Fourthly, a "social revolution", to recover public control over
education, health care, and housing; to increase state spending in the
social, cultural and environmental sectors; and to prioritise a healthy
environment and encourage greater cultural diversity.
Finally, a "revolution of sovereignty", deepening the process of
Latin American integration to challenge US domination. Two central
projects in this integration are already well underway — The Union of
South American Nations that was officially formed in April with its
capital in Ecuador; and the Bank of the South, which is a project to
provide low interest credit to developing countries in opposition to the
World Bank and International Monetary Fund and is due to be inaugurated
on December 8.
Ecuador, the fifth-largest oil producer in South America, also
returned to OPEC on December 5, and began arguing that the body should
start using a stronger currency than the US dollar.
However, Ecuador's economy is not as strong as Venezuela's — which
has embarked on a similar process of transformation. Ecuador suffers
from declining oil production from decrepit infrastructure, and the
destructive effects of a "dollarised" economy.
Recent oil protests in
Orellana province by locals demanding better infrastructure reduced
overall production by 20%. In response, Correa removed the head of the
national oil company, as well as interior minister Gustavo Larrea, for
not heading off the crisis.
To counteract this, Ecuador has signed an energy integration accord
with Venezuela that involves the construction of a refinery in Ecuador,
enabling Ecuador to refine its own oil and export it at higher prices.
In early October, Correa increased the state's share in windfall oil
profits, from 50-99%, and on his weekly radio program on December 1,
announced a proposal to raise taxes on higher incomes, luxury items, and
Despite its reliance on oil, Ecuador is also pursuing an ambitious
policy with regards to the environment, asking developed nations to
subsidise Ecuador not to drill for oil in the fragile yet oil-rich
Yasuni national park. Acosta has repeatedly stated that the new
constitution should ban open-pit mining.
Like Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Correa describes the aim of
this project as building a "socialism of the 21st Century", which will
be different from the bureaucratic "socialism" of the Soviet Union.
Instead, Correa says, this socialism must be participatory, democratic,
and without dogmas.
Like in Venezuela, the opposition to the process from the elite has
been initially weak and splintered, increasingly relying on corporate
power and misinformation in the private media to hinder the process of
change. The assembly in Ecuador has come under the same media attacks as
similar reforms in Venezuela as well as Bolivia — where elite
opposition to a similar constituent assembly process has sparked a
To counteract this imbalance, Ecuador's first nationally-owned
television station, Ecuador TV, was opened on November 29. Ecuador's
ruling class, made up of around 100 families, has relied upon its
control of the country's seven television channels, and other media, to
dictate public opinion.
Correa argued that for the ruling class,
"Democracy is good until the danger arises that it will … redistribute
the nation's wealth. At that moment, the press becomes aggressive."
First published in Green Left Weekly, December 7, 2007.