News Analysis

It would seem that formal democracy, which began in Ecuador nearly 30 years ago, and which has been much bragged about by fans of “Western Hemispheric representative democracy,” has definite limitations.

The country is still marginalized by transnational capital and exploited by U.S. corporations, and 70 percent of the population continues to live below the poverty line. In the face of this poverty, and in the absence of authentic due process, Ecuadorians have overthrown three constitutional governments in the past 10 years.

But things are changing. Rafael Correa, who ran on a program emphasizing national sovereignty and social justice, was elected president in 2006 with 57 percent of the vote. He now has a 73 percent approval rating.

Correa recently called for a constituent assembly, or constitutional convention, to restructure the government in a way that would more directly benefit Ecuador’s people. His first step was to ask for a public endorsement of his call.

He brought the proposal to the appropriate government bodies, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and the Congress of the Republic. The latter responded affirmatively, but added a restriction: that if and when a constituent assembly is convened, it cannot remove the current members of Congress and certain other officials from public office.

This arbitrary attitude is explained by the fact that the parties that oppose the president’s plan hold the majority of congressional seats. They do not want such an assembly, because any modification in laws that concern private property, sovereignty, natural resources or the just distribution of wealth, along with access for all to health, education and judicial redress, goes against the interests of their patrons — the ruling elite, or oligarchy, that has lived it up for the 180 years since independence from Spain.

The birth of a new order — more equal, more just — provokes resentment by the old, whose representatives resist losing their privileges.

Not accepting the congressional restriction, Correa held a “Convocation for a Popular Consultation,” which was approved by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. The convocation resolved that the constituent assembly would have unrestricted powers.

In response, Congress approved a resolution removing the president of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal from office and initiating a process of removing three members of the body who had approved the convocation.

A power struggle ensued. On the one side was Congress, determined to obstruct the convocation and the constituent assembly itself, and on the other, Correa and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, fully exercising the powers that the present constitution gives them. In fact, the country’s Electoral Law gives the Supreme Electoral Tribunal authority to enforce its rulings and to punish those who violate the law. On this basis, the tribunal punished 57 deputies by removing them from office.

The parties of the left, who are in the minority in Congress, have sought to restore the legislative body’s functioning by calling on the other parties to name replacements for their removed deputies. Steps have been taken to install the substitute deputies during the week of March 25.

The oligarchy’s press in Ecuador, which also serves the hegemonic interests of the United States, as well as the U.S. media, presents the current situation as “a crisis of democracy in Ecuador.” But this press never issued a word of repudiation when the fascists of General Augusto Pinochet massacred the constitutional government of Chile, led by Salvador Allende, in 1973 with the blessings and pay of the principal “free” and “democratic” power in the world, the U.S.

The list of violations of democracy in Latin America does not stop there. But perhaps this time, the people of Ecuador will choose their destiny well and emerge as a true participatory democracy in the community of nations.