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ECUADOR
Indecision ahead of constitution vote
Luis Ángel Saavedra*
9/4/2008
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Draft charter falls short of providing a pro-indigenous line its writers promised.

Ecuador´s draft constitution includes breakthrough legislation on the protection of the environment and indigenous rights, issues that were omitted from the country´s past constitutions, but for many falls it short in providing concrete laws to make them a reality.

Now the charter, which the country´s 130-member Constituent Assembly completed on July 19, will be put to a nationwide referendum on Sept. 28, when voters decide whether to approve the document.

“What is for some a triumph, for us is just one point in a new struggle,” said indigenous assembly member Carlos Pilamunga.

Extraction-based development model
The draft constitution increases protection of economic, social and cultural rights. It proposes free universal education, including that at the university level, social security, even for housewives, and establishes water as a human right, prohibiting its privatization.

But despite these clauses, the constitution still supports a development model based on extractive industry-based development.

Despite its distancing from neoliberal models, such as shying away from privatizations and increasing the state´s role in the economy and planning, as well as the prohibition of company outsourcing in some cases, the extraction of natural resources remains key in Ecuador´s economic development, despite the potential for ecological disasters.

But specific mining regulations did not make into the draft, although the text included protection of ecological cycles.

Large-scale mining had been a point of contention during the assembly´s term. The assembly, which had the power to legislate after it sent the Congress into recess when it first met last November, revoked 80 percent of the country’s mining concessions.

The executive branch will present a new law that will allow some large mining companies to operate in Ecuador to a legislative commission of assembly members that will meet if the constitution is approved, before a new Congress is elected early next year.

The state is expected to play a strong role in the sector under the new law, and will have control over mining revenues, but some assembly members are not convinced. Leftist assembly member Diego Delgado said that the government´s plan is to continue “the long night of neoliberal [policy] that favors the same multinational companies, only now on behalf of the citizens´ revolution.”

Plurinationality weakened
Both mining and oil drilling issues are heavily tied to Ecuador´s “plurinationality.”

The new constitution establishes the Ecuadorean state as “plurinational,” recognizing the existence of multiple nationalities, characterized by their social and judicial organization and vision of development.

This concept also implies that these “nationalities” have the right to approve state or private use of their lands, but after a previous consultation on this, a commonly accepted measure to achieve community approval.

However, as Pilamunga states, “not only the consultation but the consent is what is important for the survival of our peoples.”

The draft constitution requires this consultation for extractive industry projects adding that it must be “a previous and informed consultation,” meaning that it is conducted before the projects are approved and after the communities have been informed about the proposals´ possible environmental and social impacts.

But the constitution does not state whether these consultations will be binding even if they go against state-sponsored projects. The final decision will be left up to the central government, weakening a main principle of the “plurinational state” — the protection of indigenous lands.

“Our indigenous compañeros must understand that it is the executive that must decide on the state´s resources,” President Rafael Correa said.

The draft also failed to establish Kichwa— Ecuador’s most widely spoken indigenous language — as an official language alongside Spanish. Indigenous judicial systems´ relation to Western systems were also not addressed.

“A state is not plurinational if it only takes the folkloric aspects into account but doesn´t revise its development model,” said former priest Eduardo Delgado, a director of the Democratic Pole, a left-leaning party, that is pushing for the constitution´s rejection in the referendum because it continues a neoliberal system.

Ambiguity in the draft are the product of ideological clashes between Ecuador´s weakened rightwing parties — that have lost the last three elections — and left-leaning parties, some of which represent business sectors which, despite being nationalists, need the state give them strategic resources.

So even though the draft charter addresses some social issues and apparently gives support to the country´s many indigenous communities, walls have not been broken down when dealing with concepts that question liberal democracy.

Mario Unda, a political scientist who studies social movements, says that Ecuador´s political landscape includes social movements that have developed the ability to push the limits of the current democracy.

Through their actions, these movements have “discovered more highly developed democracies than liberal democracy.”

These new models, he says, are represented by the indigenous world view, which “little by little, will be gaining a place in the future constitutions of Ecuador.”

If approved, the constitution will be Ecuador´s 20th, and will require the election of a new Congress and president in early 2009. 
—Latinamerica Press.


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Ecuador´s draft constitution weakens protection of indigenous lands.
Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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