Ecuador Passes Constitutional Referendum

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The following COHA release, authored by COHA research associate Lauren Nelson, was commissioned by the forthcoming issue of Interconnect, a publication for grassroots movement-building and sharing of resources within the U.S. – Latin America Solidarity Community. To receive the entire issue of Interconnect, visit their website.

On September 28, an estimated 63 to 69 percent of Ecuadorian voters opted in favor of a new constitution for the country. As promoted by President Rafael Correa, the constitutional referendum gave the executive branch increased authority to cast forward an agenda of political, economic, and social reform. President Correa previously had asserted that if the measure to enact a new constitution failed, he would not seek re-election; now, due to the passage of the referendum, Correa will be eligible, if re-elected, to hold office until 2017.

Correa’s most staunch opposition came from the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s economic powerhouse, commercial center and most significant port. The President claims that the new constitution will wrest power from the nation’s often corrupt elites, who over past decades have wreaked havoc upon the country’s political legitimacy and hobbled its social welfare programs. In return, Correa’s critics insist that the new constitution permits him too much influence over the economy and threatens the orderly development of democratic institutions.

Correa has been an outspoken foe of economic neo-liberalization, rejecting the Washington Consensus model of development in favor of increased economic control by the state. The new constitution allows the Ecuadorian government to oversee the central bank and redistribute idle lands to the poor, as well as appoint a majority of pro-government judges to the courts. Correa has asserted that Ecuador’s foreign debt payments may be suspended in the future if domestic issues require more immediate attention; yet, the approval of the new constitution raises the possibility of real political, economic, and social reform, as well as a redistribution of power to the country’s poor and indigenous.

President Correa is a self-proclaimed proponent of “21st century socialism” and a stalwart of the Latin American political left. Like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, he has sought to induce reform through the approval of a new constitution. However, Correa limited the influence of Chavez and Morales on his domestic political agenda, displaying his willingness to govern independently of Latin America’s leftist political bloc.

Though Correa has refused to renew the U.S.’s lease of its air base at Manta, Washington continues to applaud the Ecuadorian president’s efforts at drug eradication. Ecuador maintains official diplomatic ties with the U.S., and has made no mention of any efforts to nationalize its electric and telecommunications sectors, as has been done in Venezuela. Correa has not attempted to draw Ecuador closer to Russia, and the new constitution specifically mentions the protection of private property as a key goal of the Ecuadorian government.

Though Correa’s socialist rhetoric has roused negative sentiment among Ecuadorian elites, his policies up to now have been enormously popular among the country’s poor. In a country that has functioned under 20 different constitutions and ousted three presidents from power in the past 10 years, Correa offers a new approach to achieving stability and progress.

Interconnect is published quarterly by Grassroots Interconnect, Inc. Its purpose is to encourage dialogue on movement building among 1,850 U.S.-Latin America solidarity groups and to share resources. Free but contributions are appreciated. Your reactions and comments are important. Past issues available.