Ecuador: Fighting for the constitutional referendum

President Correa won the Presidency with 56.8% of the November 2006 vote, as leader of Alianza Pais (AP). Yet AP ran no congressional candidates, being a political alliance based principally on the Ecuadorian Socialist Party. Correa’s central aim was to quickly build a new Constitutional Assembly. Defeating a determined effort to prevent it happening, a 15 April referendum approved the establishment of a 130-seat Constitutional Assembly to draft a new constitution. 5,354,595 people voted ‘yes’, 81.72% of the ballots cast. The victory clears the way for elections to the new body in June 2007.

Correa is fighting the corrupted and ‘dollarised’ political classes that have seen seven presidents rejected by mass protests in ten years. The President is hugely popular amongst the poor. His policies centre on meeting their needs: reclaiming the country’s oil from foreign corporations; objecting to draft US trade agreements and closing the US military base at Manta. Correa rejects IMF formulae, expressing solidarity with his partners in the new Banco del Sur, saying that it would end the region’s subjection to IMF and World Bank control: ‘...they don’t need aircraft carriers or bombers, only dollars’.

Correa’s reactionary opponents held 50 of the 100 Congress seats, and he did not have reliable support among the other 50 representatives. On 18 March 77 of them opposed Correa’s proposal for a referendum on a Constitutional Assembly. The opposition tried to impeach four of seven Electoral Tribunal members to halt the referendum. The Electoral Tribunal in turn removed 57 members who voted against the proposal. Opposition demonstrators then tried to force their way into Congress. Congress was suspended for two weeks.

21 substitutes were sworn in on 22 March, and 20 more by 24 March, so, with 58 representatives present, Congress could continue to discuss the matter. More than 1,000 police surrounded the Congress building in Quito to prevent the sacked legislators from disrupting the session, 24 of whom were then accused of sedition for impeding a meeting of the Congress. The motion for a referendum was then passed following an agreement with minority parties. Most opposition members walked out before the vote.

At least 11 of the sacked MPs fled to Colombia, pleading political persecution when warrants were issued for their arrest. On 23 April the Supreme Court declared the dismissals unconstitutional and reinstated 50 of the representatives. Police surrounded Congress to prevent disturbances. The majority in Congress retaliated by sacking the Court’s nine top judges. The struggle in Ecuador is advancing.

Alvaro Michaels

FRFI 197 June / July 2007


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