On September 30, Ecuador went to the polls for the fourth time in under a year and gave supporters of left-wing President Rafael Correa a massive majority in the new Constituent Assembly.
The assembly is a project of Correa — a 44-year-old left-wing
economist and former finance minister — who came to power this year
promising a "citizens' revolution" to overcome the country's massive
poverty and to build "socialism of the 21st century".
Final results won't be known until late October, however preliminary
results indicate that Correa's party, Alianza Pais, won around 70% of
the vote, giving it some 80 of the 130 assembly delegates. Correa can
also expect support in the assembly from representatives of the
Socialist Party of Ecuador — Broad Front, the Movement for Popular
Democracy and indigenous party Pachakutik — Nuevo Pais.
The outcome was a huge blow to the right-wing opposition, whose
traditional parties all scored pitiful votes. The Social Christian
Party, the country's largest party, scored less than 4%. The
"anti-corruption" PRIAN of Alvaro Noboa — Correa's opponent in the
presidential election run-offs last year and Ecuador's richest man —
scored around 6%.
The Patriotic Society Party of ex-president Lucio Gutierrez (now led
by his brother Gilmar) was the most successful opposition party, winning
some 8% of the vote — less than 15 seats.
During general elections last year, Correa refused to stand
candidates for the national congress, which is widely considered to be
inept and corrupt. Instead he called for a constituent assembly with the
power to dissolve congress and re-write the constitution.
Declaring victory in the assembly elections, Correa claimed that the
"Ecuadorian people have won the mother of all battles". He called for
the assembly, which will convened on October 31 for six months, to
dissolve the unpopular congress, which is controlled by opposition
parties, and to call for fresh elections for both the presidency and a
new national legislature once the new constitution is approved by
two-thirds of voters by referendum.
The opposition, too weak and unpopular to resist the reforms in
Ecuador, is calling on the Organization of American States and European
Union to pressure Correa not to dissolve congress while it tries to find
a way of bogging the debate down, like Bolivia's right-wing has done
with the similar process in that country.
In response to Correa's call for a "socialism of the 21st century"
the opposition has accused Correa of trying to impose a "Venezuelan
model" on Ecuador, referring to the democratic project to overcome
poverty being led by Venezuela's socialist president, Hugo Chavez.
Correa rejects the claim, saying on October 1 that "every country must
decide according to its own realities".
On September 26, Correa addressed the UN General Assembly,
criticising the much-vaunted Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as
inadequate in aiming only for a minimum standard of subsistence.
Instead, said Correa, the world should be focusing on achieving "social
maximums" — not only providing a decent livelihood, but also time for
contemplation, leisure and artistic creation.
Correa also criticised migration law, declaring that there are no
"illegal" human beings and contrasting "the free flow of goods and
capital searching for maximum profits" with "the punishment people
receive for using their freedom to travel globally in search of a better
life". "This cannot be tolerated", he said.
Correa also criticised the MDGs for defining development in terms of
consumption and economic liberalisation. "We view development in a
different way", he said, "as a way to create welfare for all, peace and
harmony with nature and fostering measures to prolong human lives".
Correa's government has also placed environmental issues centre stage
with a unique initiative for the Ishipingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT)
reserve in the Ecuadorian Amazon, one of the most biologically diverse
areas in the world.
The ITT sits atop oil reserves equivalent to 920 million barrels. In a
world-first, the government has declared that it will leave the oil (an
industry that accounts for half of Ecuador's foreign exchange) and the
fragile ecosystem untouched in return for contributions from the
Ecuador is also pursuing foreign oil-giants Texaco and Encana for
extensive pollution causing cancer and birth defects. On October 4,
Correa signed a decree announcing that Ecudaor will increase its share
of profits with foreign oil companies from 50% to 99% of windfall
profits, with the revenue to be spent on social welfare and
Over the past decade, Ecuador has seen three out of eight presidents
overthrown by mass protests, crippling foreign debt, environmental
destruction, and a poverty rate of over 60%.
According to political analyst Felipe Burbano, the victory for Correa
"reflects the collapse of the old structure of power in Ecuador".
"There is an old power that's being knocked down", said Correa. "If
they're scared, they should take a Valium."
First published in Green Left Weekly, October 6, 2007