Saturday, October 6, 2007

Ecuador: Landslide triumph for the left

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 international community.

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 infrastructure.

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

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