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ECUADOR
Roadmap for social change
Luis Ángel Saavedra*
10/3/2008
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New constitution is approved with 64 percent of the vote.

Ecuadorian voters have elected an ambitious new direction for their country with their approval of a new constitution. The charter, Ecuador´s 20th, establishes a new economic and social model that defends a harmonious relationship with nature as a base for national development. But the same document calls for the continuation of natural resource extraction.

The new constitution was overwhelmingly approved with 64 percent of the vote in the Sept. 28 referendum, handing a major win to President Rafael Correa´s political project. The new charter, which was written by an assembly controlled by his political allies, was the centerpiece of his government since he took office in January 2007.

Correa said the country needed a new constitution that puts human beings ahead of the free market, and scraps norms that gave economic security to the financially powerful and replaces them with social investment. More than 80 percent of the 130-member assembly is allied to Correa´s government.

The Constituent Assembly drafted a charter that passed in July that seeks to base a new social structure partly on Ecuador´s indigenous roots and cultures.

It also recognizes environmental rights, makes water a human right and calls for free universal education, even at the university level. The constitution says all citizens, including the unemployed and those who work at home, are eligible for social security and bans foreign military bases.

While natural resource exploitation will continue, the constitution states that the government must receive a majority share of the revenues.

Nevertheless, mining and oil concessions may increase, and the constitution does not guarantee native communities´ right to decide whether they want these industries operating on their lands. The Amazonian province of Napo rejected the constitution and the jungle province of Orellana ended up with a stalemate.

Greater state powers
Despite the government´s promise to push forward a more democratic charter, a major point of contention on the document was the amount of power the constitution gives the executive branch, with increased control over the economy, such as power over the currently-autonomous Central Bank, giving the president control over interest rates.

Jaime Nebot, mayor of the port city of Guayaquil, and Correa´s fiercest political opponent helped bolster the rejection of the charter in his city, albeit by a small margin – 47 percent in favor, and 45.7 percent against.

Nebot, with the support of the Catholic Church in Guayaquil, campaigned against the constitution, saying, for example, that it promoted abortion.

Nevertheless, the constitution was approved — only 28 percent voted against it, and 7 percent cast spoiled ballots. Upon the release of the results, Correa said that the campaign against the draft constitution “lied, cheated and tried to convince us that the new constitution is pro-abortion, centralist” and created a “dictatorship.”

Correa called for national unity to support the processes for the constitution´s implementation.

“The Ecuadorian people selected a roadmap with their approval in the referendum,” Correa said in one of his first statements since the results were released. “I now invite everyone to unite on that path, including those that voted against it, for ideological reasons.”

For his part, Nebot said he will defend Guayaquil´s decision to reject the constitution.

“The constitution is for everyone, but respect the local victory that says that our model works; don´t touch it,” Nebot said. “Guayaquil will do what it has to do defend its development model.”

The confrontation continues
Correa and Nebot´s statements indicate that deep political divides will continue after the electoral campaign. Elections for president and the entire legislature are expected within the first three months of 2009.

But the referendum was a resounding victory for Correa, and despite objections from other opposition politicians such as former Vice President León Roldós, who argued during the referendum campaign that the draft constitution included changes that were not approved, or the left-wing Democratic Pole party led by former priest Eduardo Delgado, that said that the constitution is still a neoliberal project, only 7 percent spoiled their ballots, the same as in other Ecuadorian elections, giving Correa ample backing to push forward his reforms.

But some warn that this will concentrate too much power in Correa´s hands, giving him control over monetary policy and the ability to put his allies in once-autonomous institutions. Others complain that the charter does not ensure indigenous rights.

The Correa-controlled assembly is now tasked with naming new members of the judiciary.

“The new constitution presents big advances, but also risks: now getting the Ecuadorian people on the route it selected is in the hands of the president and his political circle,” said assembly member Mónica Chuji.
—Latinamerica Press.


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