REFERENDUM: the after math


Gerard Coffey

01 October 2008

On the morning after the referendum the streets of Quito, the Ecuadorian capital, are normal enough: the sun is shining, shops are opening, smoke belching buses thunder down crowded streets. Only on the paper stands is it possible to see that something important has happened: Yes vote wins, says the headline of the El Comercio, the Capital’s major newspaper. ‘Socialism Under Way’ shouts “La Hora’ the main opposition daily. As for the people themselves, it is hard to discern much emotion. Certainly there is nothing close to the river of elation that flowed through the city after ‘la Liga’, a local football team, was crowned champion of South America.

The previous night crowds gathered outside the headquarters of the governing party of President Rafael Correa; they were jubilant but relatively sparse. It rained intermittently but that’s normal enough here and not enough to keep people away if they really feel like celebrating, or protesting. It seems that most stayed at home after voting; the television channels predicted victory of the YES campaign at around five in the afternoon.

But people are interested. The man who sells me the paper tells me he is for the new constitution. “The only ones against it are the fat cats” he says. But while there may be more than a grain of truth in that, it’s not the whole story. A friend stops me on the street and tells me he voted ‘nulo’. “The President is an animal he says, I wouldn’t vote for him. I wouldn’t vote for the opposition either. But anyway, you know that in this country Constitutions come and go and most of them are not worth the paper they’re written on.”

He is right. Ecuador has had many constitutions since it first declared independence in 1809. Most have been relatively short lived and often treated as inconveniences to be adapted to the needs of the country’s various ruling parties and power groups[i]. Most referendums are also votes of confidence, or otherwise, in the ruling party or its leader. In the case of voting for or against something as complex as a new Constitution , about which few are more than dangerously half informed, trust plays a huge part.

Despite the feelings of my friend and those like him, Rafael Correa the ex-economics professor evidently enjoys the confidence of the population; the results of the referendum reflect a healthy majority in favour of the new Constitution. Voting is mandatory and of those of voting age sixty four precent were in favour and twenty eight percent opposed. One percent was spoiled.

The campaign for a null vote, lead in Quito by left wing ex priest, Eduardo Delgado, found an echo in just over seven percent of the voters, a not inconsiderable tally. The majority were cast by people like my friend who can’t abide Correa’s confrontational style or those who are disillusioned by his brand of 21st Century Socialism. Apparently many are still waiting for the ‘real thing’.

If the null vote is counted as a protest against the President rather than opposition to the Constitution itself, which is a fair guess, then the approval figures would have reached into the seventy percent zone[ii]. A better figure than some observers, including myself, would have guessed before the vote. As is often the case a fair number of No votes were also cast on a personal rather than political basis.

In the local shop the owner tells me she voted no because her god isn’t in the constitution’. I had to admit to being surprised. She is not a person I would ever have considered religious, at least not in the ethical sense. God wasn’t in the last Constitution either, but for the faithful of whatever stripe that’s irrelevant, what counts is the pious opposition of the monsignors and bishops of the Church hierarchy.

According to formal agreements between the state and the church, the latter is not supposed to interfere in political matters, but while not running a formal campaign its pulpit pronouncements about the document being ‘pro abortion’ and ‘pro gay marriage’ were a clear call for a no vote. In the final count the Church’s flimsily disguised campaign probably backfired, helping to secure its passage. In matters of faith the church probably has the trust of the population, but when it comes to earthly concerns few are impressed by its self-righteous disregard for the poor.

The only places in the country where the NO vote did prevail were the Amazonian province of Napo, where ex president Lucio Gutierrez has his power base, and the city of Guayaquil, the last bastion of the once powerful right wing Partido Social Cristiano (PSC ). Napo is not irrelevant, Gutierrez is always capable of making a nuisance of himself, but the major problem is doubtless Guayaquil, the country’s financial centre and major port and its largest city.

Taking the bus down to the coast from Quito it’s obvious that the major battle over the constitution was centred here, principally in the Province of Guayas. Competing signs are still visible even a few weeks after the vote. A quick glance at the slogans painted on every available wall, especially along the roadside, seems to confirm that the NO campaign was more ‘inventive’: no more atheists, no to poverty, vote no for freedom, say no for the dignity of women, are some of the more amusing slogans still on display.

The vote in Guayas Province went to the YES side, while in the city the NO vote edged the YES by a slim one per cent. Neither side managed more than 50%, both claimed the null votes as theirs. The PSC’s Jaime Nebot, the mayor of the city and a three time losing presidential candidate, is the last of the line of a once powerful political lineage whose national influence was slowly but surely eroding until finally imploding when Rafael Correa arrived on the scene. Before the vote, Nebot claimed that if the YES vote won he would not run for another mayoral term in the February elections. He managed to save face, but only just.

He may have only scraped home but Nebot is likely to provide a bit of a headache for Correa. Very popular in the city, it would be difficult to find a candidate with enough credibility to unseat him in the coming election. The added risk is that a Nebot victory over a Correa heavyweight candidate would give the opposition a tremendous boost. The government’s short term strategy is likely to consist of undermining him without resorting direct confrontation. Nebot is also unlikely to openly defy the new constitution. His options centre on opposing Correa’s economic and social policies and on a continued push for autonomy for the city. The PSC have long advocated independence for Guayaquil, their dream being to turn what they optimistically call the ‘Pearl of the Pacific’ into another Singapore, with them at the helm of course. While the current international economic reality has probably dampened enthusiasm for the project even amongst the city’s most hardened free marketeers, there seems little doubt that Nebot and his people will form the nucleus of whatever right wing opposition there is to Correa. They may even have US support in mind.

3.

Back in Quito, on the grungy walls that fence an unfinished and abandoned high rise building close to where I live, I can still see the remains of posters promoting the YES vote. One is particularly appealing. ‘Pardon the inconvenience’ it says, ‘this is a Revolution’. It’s clever, and captures the mood, but it’s not totally truthful.

Despite what the poster and some of the more elevated members of the ruling party say, this is not a Revolution. Correa and his companions are not, as they are wont to claim, the heirs of Ché Guevara. For some, the only real experience of left is the way off stage. But it all makes good listening, and if you are conscious that your strings are being pulled then there’s little harm done. The Constitution is undoubtedly not a Revolution in the Cuban mould, but it’s not a dinner party either. Things are being done in a country where for at least the last fifty years nothing much has been done for anyone other than the rich. Besides, it all depends on perspective. For Sendero Luminoso, Ché Guevara’s revolution was bourgeois, while at a conference in London a young, rather bourgeois looking Bolivian Senator from the ruling party MAS explained that for him Correa’s Revolution was not valid because it did not come from the ‘people’. It all depends on context.

And in the context of recent Ecuadorian political regimes the new government in Quito represents a radical shift, no matter how you brand it. There are of course no guarantees that the promises contained in the new constitution will become reality. The new Constitution and the Revolution will cost money. Much will depend on political will, but perhaps to an even greater degree on the price of oil. Ecuador is an exporter and has benefitted from the sky high prices of the last year or so and the policies of free operations in state hospitals, of free education up to and including study at state university, of rising salaries etc, were drawn up in times of plenty. With the price of oil falling like a stone, financing the new mandate is not going to be a simple as it appeared a few months ago.

The likelihood is, and Correa has been up front about this, that some of the reforms will take time to implement. What he has not said, is that in the present economic climate perhaps some changes will never become a reality. Next year’s budget is still up in the air and will not be published until the global economic crisis settles, presuming that it does, and the results of any OPEC production/price stabilization cuts are clear.

Yet, despite the difficulties, there is a generalized hope that the Constitution marks a turning point, and that however things work in practice, the country has entered a different more equitable phase. The power and the politics behind the new Magna Carta, the form in which it was deliberated, and the general political climate in the region have lead many to think that this time things really will be different. After two years people are still in love with Rafael Correa. At a recent cultural event the audience broke into spontaneous applause when his name was mentioned.

The politics of this government are those of a social democrat regime whose calling card is efficiency. They will make the trains run on time, which would not be an inconsiderable achievement. The norm is also confrontation with those seen as enemies of the regime’s plans, no matter from which side of the political spectrum they may hail. The result has been the creation of divisions within the individuals and organizations that would normally have given wholehearted support the types of policies the government is proposing, and to some degree already carrying out.

The once all-powerful indigenous movement is a case in point. Divided and weakened by the machinations of previous governments, World Bank programmes that hand money out depending on ethnic origin[iii], and by internal political rivalries, the movement has been divided since, and by, Correa’s candidacy. The President has not been kind to the indigenous people, branding the national organization CONAIE as a spent force. It was a pre-emptive strike against a group that could at some point pose a threat, but at the same time a blow aimed at the environmentalists (who Correa has branded as ‘Infantile’) who in their fight against large scale open pit mining are supported by a number of indigenous organizations and high profile leaders.

The movement still supports Correa, with reservations, but the coming presidential and parliamentary elections may change that, at least superficially. All the political parties, particularly those allied in any way to the government now need to find some space for manoeuvre. CONAIE and its political arm, Pachakutik, have chosen natural resources and the Amazon as their battle ground, accusing the government of running an extractivist economy which has negative implications for native people. They are right, but in the government’s defense it’s hard to imagine how, in the short term at least, that can be changed. While the falling price of minerals and the tightening of credit markets may stall many of the proposed mining projects, oil will no doubt continue to be the major pillar of the economy.

The indigenous campaign is also partly for internal consumption, designed to promote cohesion within the movement and recover lost political ground. Whether that can be achieved during Correa’s mandate is debatable, and the risk is that any opposition to projects which will raise living standards of the majority, or are posed as such, will shear away much of the middle ground support the native people enjoyed during the nineties, and to some degree still do. The indigenous movement isn’t going to go away any time soon, but there’s little doubt that they are on shaky ground and that Correa and his people are more than willing to confront them.

The other major split is more philosophical: ends versus means. On the one hand are the Pragmatists[iv] who argue that politics is dirty and to win it is essential to use the same tactics as the right. People get tired of losing and are consequently willing to take something less than the ideal while they wait for the second coming. On the other are the Idealists, who believe that in the long run process is as important as, if not more important than, the results. It is hard not agree if you are looking at the longer term. Alberto Acosta the President of the Assembly that designed the New Constitution, is an idealist.

An economist like Correa, Acosta is the great nephew of José María Velasco Ibarra, five times President of Ecuador[v]. A brilliant orator with a long association with social organisations and the indigenous movement, Acosta later founded the now governing ‘Alianza Pais’ party together with Correa and a small number of collaborators. Elected to the Assembly as the leading government representative, he received the most votes of any of the elected ‘Asambleistas’. During his time as President he was clear that from his perspective the process of political education through constitutional debate was as, if not more, important than the Constitution itself. It’s doubtful that Rafael Correa and his group of pragmatists were in complete agreement[vi].

Clashes between Acosta and Correa became more frequent as time went on, and on…. Clauses were included in the new document that were clearly not to the liking of the Government[vii], and Acosta was finally ousted. His Vice President, the less idealistic and more pragmatic party man, Fernando Cordero, took over and finished the job in record time, while saluting vaguely in the direction of process. Acosta had also become a problem because as President of the Assembly his visibility was higher than that of the President himself. Within the ruling party elite he began to be seen as a possible future threat.

There was a more pragmatic reason for forcing Acosta to step down, one which goes back to the means and ends debate and in which both sides could easily claim to be right. For Acosta the purpose of the Assembly was to write a well thought through, widely consulted and lasting Constitution, and shortening the process would clearly damage the final product. He was clearly right. For Correa and his circle the Assembly had already overrun its temporal mandate and was in danger of becoming an electoral liability rather than an asset. It was. From a purely pragmatic point of view it is easy to see why they felt they needed to pull the plug. They did.

Whatever the internal politics of the situation, Acosta campaigned wholeheartedly for the YES vote.

The new constitution came into force a few weeks ago, after being published formally in the official gazette. One of the most important elements is the possibility of Presidential re-election. After already serving two years, under the provisions of the new constitution Correa is now eligible for two more four years terms. He could be around for ten years, the longest serving premier since Velasco Ibarra.

The prospect of having to put up with both Correa’s in your face style and the social policies being implemented by his government have led many opposition figures to call Correa a dictator, but that’s hardly a logical conclusion. It would be somewhat closer to the truth to call him authoritarian, and there is a fear in some sectors, both left and right, that power will become increasingly concentrated in his hands. But no matter what the opposition might like to imagine, he is a democrat, and the positive aspect of his mandate is that are is that the country finally has a principled, intelligent President dedicated to improving the living conditions of the majority of the population. In contrast to previous Ecuadorian heads of state, that President also has a solid working majority in Congress, and the possibility of getting things done. It is not perfect, and there is a real need for voices to be raised to make sure the administration stays on track, but it is certainly a major advance on corruption, inefficiency and lack of sovereignty of previous regimes.

For decades the proliferation of small parties and ‘movements’ in Congress and consequent shifting alliances, and corruption, led to legislative stagnation, which was used by one economic group or another to further its own interests. Many commentators laid the blame for the country’s lack of ‘progress’ on this lack of ‘governability’. What we have now is not dictatorship but the very ‘governability’ so long desired by many of those who now malign it.

[i] In 2001 when President Jamil Mahuad was deposed by an indigenous/military uprising, the ruling Congress, meeting in Guayaquil, called the event outrageously unconstitutional. It clearly was. Rebellions or revolutions generally are. But when the Vice President was installed, little was made of the unconstitutionality of his appointment. At the time Mahuad was still in the country and legally still President.

[ii] It is hard to be precise but a good percentage of No votes were undoubtedly influenced by the President’s style rather than any concrete objections to the Constitution itself.

[iii] The practice of funding nationalities has meant that many groups on the verge of disappearing altogether have re-emerged. Whatever the merits of this resurgence, it can hardly have helped unity.

[iv] Some call them right wingers, but this is a misnomer. A more apt description would be ‘pragmatic’ or even Machiavellian, but according to its actions it is difficult to see how Correa and his government could be called right wing. The danger is more one of centralisation of power and dependence on the personal power of one person; unless institutionality is strengthened, once Correa leaves the scene the whole project could collapse.

[v] Of his five Presidencies Velasco Ibarra only managed to complete one (1952 -1956), the other four were brought to a premature end by the army.

[vi] Claims have been made about the manipulation of the final document. Articles approved by the Assembly plenary have apparently been removed. Kintto Lucas, advisor to Assambleista Paco Velasco, has stated that a clause related to not ceding legal jurisdiction in disputes between foreign companies and the Ecuadorian state has been eliminated. Kintto Lucas. ODEBRECHT Y LA CONSTITUCIÓN. 20 Oct 08

[vii] The fear exists that as it interprets the Constitution, the newly installed Constitutional Court, now the country’s highest legal authority, will use its power to make some of the provisions more agreeable to the government. The new Court is the old Constitutional Tribunal re named, and self proclaimed, a fact which has led to criticism on all sides of the spectrum as the transitional regime for the implementation of the new constitution laid down a specific procedure for its formation.

 

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ECUADORIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS: APOTHEOSIS?

There are always surprises, but probably not this time

13 February 2013
Hugo, Chavez, South America´s best known politician may, or may not, recover from what is obviously an extremely serious illness. But even if he does manage to recover, it seems unlikely that he will be able to maintain the political rhythm he and his followers have become accustomed to. Whether dauphin Nicolas Maduro or any of the other ‘pretenders’ could steer Venezuela as successfully as Chávez is an unknown, they have had plenty of time to prepare, but that does not always make it any easier, as others in similar situations have become painfully aware.

The larger question related to Chávez is his influence outside of his home country. He is the undoubted leader of the more radical brand of ‘twenty first century socialism’ and although the oil keeps flowing, the most prominent critic of United States influence in the region, although the Brazilians and the Argentineans , while not receiving the same attention in US media outlets, are in practice very little behind the Venezuelan leader. Who will inherit the Venezuelan leader’s legacy is therefore an important question for the stability of the region and its continued fight to free itself from the political and economic interference of the United States.

Heinz Dietrich, inventor of the ‘twenty first century socialism’ concept, has publicly speculated about who could possibly take Chávez’ place on the international stage, if that should prove to be necessary. Dietrich´s conclusion was that Rafael Correa, the Ecuadorian President, was the most obvious candidate, while warning that “Ecuador does not have the necessary clout that would enable Correa to fill the void that Hugo Chávez is leaving” . And while Correa himself has declared a lack of interest, there is little doubt that given his charismatic personality and evident ability to communicate, that welcome or not, he could easily find himself receiving increasing amounts of international media attention over the next few years.

There is a small problem however. The Ecuadorian president´s mandate runs out this year and the post Chavez debate will hardly concern him if he is not reelected in next Sunday’s (February 17th) presidential elections. Correa has never lost an election, and the opinion polls do in fact predict a win, with possibly enough votes to avoid a second round run-off. Unfortunately, the pollsters’ research is generally considered to be unreliable, lending the process a slight air of doubt, and there is at least a slender chance that another candidate might upset Correa´s apple cart, and set the pundits scurrying to find another ‘successor’ to Hugo Chávez.

The magnificent seven

Of the seven candidates challenging Rafael Correa, only two, the banker Guillermo Lasso and Alberto Acosta , the candidate for the left wing front, Unidad Plurinacional, appear to have any real chance of springing a surprise. The other five are in the race to position themselves for future electoral races (Mauricio Rodas of SUMA, although this could also apply to Lasso); consolidate a new party (Norman Wray, Ruptura); or to preserve their party´s seats in the National Assembly (Ex President Lucio Gutiérrez, Sociedad Patriotica, and Nelson Zavala of the PRE). The last of the eight, the curiously comic banana magnate, Alvaro Noboa, appears to be running in response to a battle over taxes, using the campaign in a rather futile attempt to take some measure of revenge on Rafael Correa.

While Lasso and Acosta may have to be given some sort of chance of forcing a second round of voting, for this to happen the pollsters would have to be making dramatic errors. With only a few days to go before election day, Correa is apparently riding high. In a poll carried out by ‘Perfiles de Opinion’ the incumbent had a voting intention of more than 60%. Others are not so generous, but no one gives him less than the 40% he would need to secure a victory in the first round. Acosta´s campaign people put him at 15% and growing, but even that, or Lasso´s 20%, would be far from enough to take either of them into a second round.

Guillermo Lasso´s numbers also probably represent the limit of his popularity. The banker likely has a high negative vote given that he acted as a chief economic advisor to ex President Jamil Mahuad, in exile since a financial meltdown threw the country into chaos in 2000; the destructive effects of that period have not been forgotten. Perhaps understandably, Lasso has been notably absent from the political field in the intervening years. The financier´s recent resurgence is due in part to the right´s need for a challenger who is not Lucio Gutiérrez, the very same colonel who led the military-civilian coup that toppled Mahuad, and who, despite finishing second in the last presidential election, is not viewed with much enthusiasm by the country´s right wing elites. Lasso’s campaign has also been helped by the financial resources at his disposal, and the fact the bank of which he is the major shareholder (Bank of Guayaquil) provided a convenient pre campaign promotional vehicle.

But the avuncular Lasso´s links with Mahuad have quite understandably been a problem for his now apparently stalled campaign. He is too easy a target and his presence as a major candidate speaks volumes about the lack of options on the right. The economy is another factor. The financial elites are doing quite well thank you very much; the country´s economy is rolling along at a healthy rate (last year GDP grew at slightly less than 8% and is projected to grow at around 4 to 5% in 2013) and are understandably ambiguous about fixing something that is evidently not broken.

The country´s economic health and Rafael Correa´s use of the available resources to bolster investments in Education and especially Health, an area where the results are more immediate and more than evident to those with little money have brought him high levels of approval throughout his mandate. The middle classes meanwhile have their salaries and expanding opportunities as well as a much improved highway system and a new airport. Overall social spending has, in fact, risen substantially, although in percentage terms the rise is not quite as impressive and Ecuador remains in the mid-lower ranks in terms of social spending as a percentage of GDP.
The fact that corporate power has grown under the present government is one of the major reasons cited by followers of Alberto Acosta (Unidad Plurinacional or Plurinational Front) for their opposition to Correa´s re-election. And while it is evident that with a healthy economy the wealthy are bound to do well, even consolidating their power through the proliferation of economic groups and a concentration of resources , the lack of change in the productive matrix (recognized by Correa himself) and the very slow reduction of the inequality index lend weight to left wing claims. The weakness of the reforms is a problem in another sense: without deep roots any transformation will be easily overturned by future right wing governments.

Magic Socialism

Ecuador´s governing Alianza País may not be economically right wing, but what has become clear over the years is that even in Venezuela or Bolivia Twenty First Century Socialism is not socialism at all, at least not in any recognizable form. This too is a sore point with many one time supporters of the ‘Citizen´s Revolution’, although it is hard to believe that there was ever much evidence that Rafael Correa himself was anything other than a very strong willed social democrat with a church based philosophy of ‘helping the poor’. Strong willed may be putting it too mildly. There is less talk today of dictatorship, a term promoted by the right and unfortunately adopted by the left, but there is no doubt that discipline is the order of the day. A series of punish and pardon exercises has been used to squash opposition to government policies or extraction schemes and to tame the right wing press and avoid situations such as the present standoff in Argentine where the media group Clarin and President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchener have locked horns. But the opposition press is not the only political force on the government´s list, and in fact, anything that looked vaguely as if it might comprise a political threat to Correa has been systematically attacked. The indigenous organisation CONAIE (Confederation of Ecuadorian Indigenous Nationalities) has been a major target for that very reason.

Despite having lost a lot of its political clout in recent years after a devastating alliance with Lucio Gutierrez that fractured the organization and resulted in a loss of credibility, this indigenous group is still a force in Ecuadorian politics. CONAIE and other indigenous organizations are one of only two social sectors with any real ability to put together a healthy political campaign outside the parliamentary system . And the fact that many of the major mining and oil exploration projects are also located in indigenous territory has lead to heightened tensions and conflict.

As a consequence indigenous leaders have been branded ‘terrorists’, arrested and jailed for short periods , and while apparently none are presently in jail a many of the charges are still pending : a time tested tactic for shutting people up. The trend is worrying, to say the least. The most recent and most serious case involves the Luluncoto 10, a group of young people arrested while planning a protest against the government as part of the mass demonstration of March 2012. Supposed members of the Group of Popular Combatants (GCP) none of the ten had committed any crime. The evidence against them consists of pictures of Ché Guevara, pamphlets, left wing books and more seriously, a manual for producing a bomb, a fact that while evidently not admissible as proof of intent, does raise serious concerns .

The major charge against the ten is that they belong to the GCP , something which the state has not been able to prove, and that that group exploded a number of pamphlet bombs in November 2011, also a supposition. The ten were held without trial until only recently, a period of approximately ten months. Seven men were granted bail before Christmas but two women are still being held; the trial has now been interrupted and will not conclude until after the elections. The Attorney General is quoted as saying that the group “planned to destabilise our democracy …… there are mobile phone messages which clearly show that their intention is to take power by force of arms”. But in the circumstances that seems laughable, and, all in all, it is difficult to see the case as anything other than a bad dose of paranoia.

The episode has produced an extensive but relatively low key response in the mainstream press (the GCP is hardly looked on with great sympathy). But on the left the issue has been roundly criticised and has become a cause célèbre; the issue of class is also important here. An interesting comparison could be made with the case of a communication sent to clients by the directors of four large banks. The e-mail suggested that a proposed tax increase on their profits, levied in order to increase welfare payments to the country´s poorest sectors, could have an impact on client´s savings. While the action produced a lot of noise from the government side, and whose results could have been extremely serious, much more so than a supposed pamphlet bomb, the only action taken was to fine eight directors of the four banks involved.

The constant campaigner

These events, concerns and forces (apart from the bankers) have found a voice in the Acosta campaign which is presently running well behind Rafael Correa. There are always surprises, and there may be some hidden support for Acosta in provinces whose indigenous populations are higher, but it seems more likely that the real battle will not be for the presidency but rather for control of the National Assembly. Here the left wing front lead by Acosta may have more success, although one of the major problems is that the alliance’s principal candidate on the national level, Lourdes Tiban, can only generously be described as being on the left and who does not generate much enthusiasm in the general population.

Another problem is proportional representation. The method used to take into account minority voters has recently been changed, with the result that Alianza País candidates are likely to fare better in the final count, and could possibly be elected in large numbers. Two recent polls do in fact predict that Correa’s party could end up with a large majority in parliament.

A third factor is the efficiency that has become one of the hallmarks of the present government. The political arena is clearly part of the tendency and the constant campaign strategy already visible in governments in other parts of the world has now been instituted here in Ecuador. In the short term it seems virtually impossible for any opposition movement to overcome the electoral deficit, in particular against a President as popular as Rafael Correa. In the long term the result almost certainly signals the need for a reorganization of existing political organisations, something the new Constitution aimed at but which can now be seen to have been only partially successful given that 12 parties are registered officially for the February elections.

Correa´s way of doing politics is likely to become the norm, and given that no other presently existing electoral force has the capacity to mobilize resources and propaganda in the same way, any future challenge to Correa´s green machine will involve changes. What might that mean for the hard left, whose parties are generally small and operate with severely restricted financing? The options seem to be three: to operate even more marginally than at present; join forces with other less radical parties in a broad spectrum alliance; or leave the electoral scene all together. The right, with its financial resources, presently appears far better positioned to deal with this new state of affairs.

The consequences of victory.

On the electoral front, the Unidad Plurinacional will likely have some time to sort itself out after the elections are over. It is possible to win losing, however, and the positive side of this electoral exercise is that there is, in practice, a left wing front that, if the process can be maintained in the face of personal and organisational agendas, may be able to position itself well for the post Correa era. The big decision is whether that should be as an electoral force.

On the social front, nothing short of victory will be enough for the left wing opposition, the post oil economy proponents, the indigenous leaders or the organizers of anti mining protests. In Correa´s lexicon legitimacy is equivalent to victory at the ballot box and, as a consequence, if you do not win then you have no right to protest and impede the agenda, and if you do, then you had better watch out. And while a higher than expected vote for Alberto Acosta might have some momentary impact and strengthen the resolve of that opposition, in the longer term it is unlikely to have any great impact on the economic plan. It can be said of Correa and his agenda that ‘this man is not for turning’. The implications are a greater likelihood of mobilisation and confrontation over oil, mining and water projects and, on the part of the government, greater use of the police and armed forces and attempts to ‘convince’ local leaders of the value of these projects for their people as well for as the wider community. This local–national/rural- urban debate is in fact one of the two that underlies almost every issue, the other being how to avoid the trap of an extractivist economy and what that implies on every level.

Rafael Correa clearly falls on the National Urban side of the divide, and whether or not you agree with his methods, there is no doubt that he and his team are excellent strategists. They will be hard to defeat in any arena, including the political. As for the candidate himself, it seems likely that he will be reelected either in the first or second round of voting. And given the increasing sense that, if he lives, Hugo Chávez will no longer be the force he was, as President of Ecuador once again, Rafael Correa will be called upon to play a greater part in the ongoing battle for the soul of South America. It is a battle he clearly believes in, and an arena in which he will have the support of the majority of the regions leaders. The internal politics of his country look somewhat more complicated.

 

NOTES

[1] A Cold War has apparently developed between Argentina and the US. The most recent events in the standoff are the cooperation between Iran and Argentina to investigate the bombing of  a Jewish bank in Buenos Aires in 1994 in which 85 people died, http://www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.aspx?ID=301716&R=R1  and the  ruling by an Argentinean appeal tribunal that ratifies an embargo on the assets of Chevron oil company due to a ruling in an Ecuadorian court that awarded damages against the company of US$19,000 million. http://www.eluniverso.com/2013/01/30/1/1356/corte-argentina-mantiene-embargo-activos-chevron-causa-ecuador.html and the dispute with the IMF over official financial data.  Brasil has just refused to recognize the Apple Iphone trademark. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-21449890

[2] http://www.el-nacional.com/politica/Heinz-Dieterich-imposible-Chavez-Presidente_0_110390343.html

[3] International recognized economist and ex President of the Constitutional Assembly which wrote the 2009 constitution.

[4] Partido Roldosista Ecuatoriano, PRE, was founded after the death of President Jaime Roldos in an air ‘accident’ in 1981, the year in which President Omar Torrijos of Panama also died in similar circumstances. The PRE’s de facto leader is the deposed and exiled ex president Abdala Bucaram who presently resides in Panama.

[5] With his wife Anabella Azin as his Vice-Presidential nominee,

[6] If is, if he wins 10% more than the second place finisher. Otherwise he would need 50% +1 to avoid a second round.

[7] Mahuad who now teaches at Harvard University was recently, and not so coincidentally, the subject of an Ecuadorian request to Interpol for his arrest and subsequent deportation. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the request failed.

[8] According the Economic Commission for Latin América and the Caribbean, ECLAC, Ecuador’s social spending amounted to 9.3% in 2011, up from 7.5% in 2007 but down from 9.5% in 2010. The economy has of course grown substantially and the amount of constant dollars spent has therefore increased in proportion, by (a dramatic) 28.5% in 2009, 4.8% in 2010 and 6.2% in 2011. In terms of public spending Ecuador at 36% of GDP  in 2010 was amongst the highest in Latin  America. (Panorama Social de América Latina. ECLAC, January 2013 p173.  Cuadro IV.1 AMÉRICA LATINA Y EL CARIBE (21 PAÍSES): GASTO PÚBLICO TOTAL, GASTO PÚBLICO SOCIAL Y GASTO PÚBLICO NO SOCIAL, 2008 A 2011

[9] There is another side to the story.  Major increases in public service pay scales – teachers, police, armed forces and state bureaucrats – have also been a major feature of this government.

[10] Even though Ecuador is now amongst the least unequal countries in the region (headed by Venezuela and Uruguay) its Gini index is still just under 5. (Panorama Social de América Latina. ECLAC, January 2013.  P 91. Gráfico II.2 AMÉRICA LATINA (18 PAÍSES): DESIGUALDAD SEGÚN DIVERSOS ÍNDICES, AÑO MÁS RECIENTE.

[11] Correa´s variety of politics was recently branded ‘Magic Socialism’ by the Quito based journalist Roberto Aguilar

[12] Rafael Correa is a practicing Catholic.

[13] The other being the National  Teachers Union, UNE, whose political expression is the Marxist Leninist party, the Movimiento Popular Democrático, MPD. The union has successfully resisted attempts to divide it, but rising salaries and better conditions have weakened its core support.

[14] A new round of oil exploration concessions has been advertised and offers will be declared in March of this year. The 13 blocks, of 200.000 Ha. Each, are located principally in the south eastern –Amazon area of the country, and have been rejected by indigenous and environmental organizations http://pachamama.org.ec/?p=4473 .

[15] Recent conflicts include oil exploration around Sani Island and the Mirador and Fruta del Norte mining projects. http://www.salon.com/2013/02/10/to_get_the_gold_they_will_have_to_kill_every_one_of_us/

[16] Prominent amongst these is Pepe Acacho, ex President of the indigenous Shuar Federation, who was arrested in a combined Police and Armed Forces operation and taken by Helicopter to Quito. He was charged with terrorism and sabotage in connection with a September 2009 protest against proposed water legislation in which one person died. He was held for 7 days before the charges were thrown out as invalid. He was also charged with being an accomplice to the murder of Bosco Wizuma the man who died in the protests, and those charges are still pending despite the fact that the murder has never been resolved. Acacho is now a candidate for the National Assembly. El Comercio Pepe Acacho, preso en el ex penal García Moreno  02 febrero 2011. http://www.elcomercio.com/mundo/Pepe-Acacho-preso-Garcia-Moreno_0_419958104.html

[17] “Según informes de organismos de derechos humanos y de la Defensoría del Pueblo del Ecuador, en el 2011 existían 129 defensores de derechos humanos judicializados por el gobierno y por empresas privadas, así como 31 activistas políticos que tiene juicios en su contra o están sentenciados”  Safiqy.org En Ecuador hay presos políticos que necesitan la solidaridad y compromiso de todos y todas. 22 June 2012  http://www.safiqy.org/perspectivas/la-politica/8549-en-ecuador-hay-presos-politicos-que-necesitan-la-solidaridad-y-compromiso-de-todos-y-todas.html

As of December 2012 47 social leaders were facing charges for terrorism. Lunes, 10 Diciembre 2012 ECUADOR: 47 DIRIGENTES AFRONTAN JUICIOS POR TERRORISMO. Agencia Ane http://radioequinoccio.com/inicio/item/3458-ecuador-47-dirigentes-afrontan-juicios-por-terrorismo.html

[18] The presence of the manual on how to produce a bomb raises questions about who knew about the manual, and about whether this was a serious plan to produce a bomb (in all likelihood a pamphlet bomb designed to attract attention and spread propaganda) and finally at what point the police or the authorities in general should intervene, if at all, if there is a suspicion that a pamphlet bomb could be made and could be used.

[19] The implicit accusation is that this group is the armed wing of the Ecuadorian Marxist Leninist Party, although no arms were found in the raid.

(20) “pretendían desestabilizar nuestra democracia… Hay mensajes de celular que claramente determinan que su intención es tomarse el poder por las armas.” Quoted in  LOS DIEZ DE LULUNCOTO ¿TERRORISTAS? por Ramiro Ávila Santamaría.Lalineadefuego.info 29 January, 2013 http://lalineadefuego.info/2013/01/29/los-diez-de-luluncoto-terroristas-por-ramiro-avila-santamaria/

[21] Bank profits have been taxed in order to pay for an increase in welfare payments to the poorest sectors

[22] Market and Santiago Perez.

[23] The entire process of re-inscription of political parties was plagued by irregularities, principally the use of false signatures by all organizations involved, including the governing party.