Ecuador celebrates new constitution

“Today Ecuador has decided on a new country.” — President Rafael Correa

President Correa had promised to resign if voters failed to approve Ecuador’s new constitution in the Sept. 28 referendum. That evening celebrations filled city streets as 64 percent of Ecuadorians affirmed the document, completed in July after eight months of deliberation by a constituent assembly. The no vote totaled 28 percent. Observers from the European Union, Andean Parliament, Carter Center and Organization of American States indicated that balloting by 10 million citizens — 165, 000 of them living in 47 foreign countries — unfolded peacefully and efficiently.

Heading up the ad hoc Alianza Pais coalition, Rafael Correa won Ecuador’s presidency in 2006 by a 57 percent majority. With a 40 percent poverty rate, Ecuador has had eight governments in 12 years. Popular uprisings have removed three presidents since 1997.

Prior to the vote, two million copies of the proposed constitution were distributed and discussions took place nationwide. The government had gained support through salary increases and public assistance programs funded by oil revenues. It also denied the U.S. military use of the Manta air base and seized 200 businesses owned by the Isaias corporation, responsible for the 1999 banking crisis.

Observers agree that the constitution, 444 articles long, fits with Correa’s version of socialism for the 21st century. It guarantees health care, social security and education, establishes a “multinational” society and augments state control over the economy and natural resources. Appropriation of idle land is authorized, foreign troops are banned, and nature has the “right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles.” Two indigenous tongues joined Spanish as official languages. A niche was found for indigenous judicial proceedings.

The Constitutional Assembly will establish a National Electoral Council that within 30 days will announce national elections. Meanwhile, the Assembly will serve as the national legislative body. Once re-elected — as expected — Correa will be allowed to run for one more four-year term. He and other elected officials face the possibility of recall referenda.

Opposition came from business interests, the media and conservative sectors of the Catholic Church. Evangelicals joined Catholics in condemning the constitution’s supposed tolerance of abortion — which was not mentioned — and authorization for same-sex civil unions. Resistance centered in the commodity-exporting coastal regions, particularly the city of Guayaquil. Even there, however, and in surrounding Guayas province, the constitution was rejected by the slimmest of margins.

Guayaquil mayor Jaime Nebot of the conservative Social Christian Party has spearheaded opposition to President Correa. Nebot is associated with a Guayaquil separatist movement supported by wealthy classes and, allegedly, by Washington. He reportedly has ties with rightwing separatists in eastern Bolivia.

On the left, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) has a record of ambivalent support for the government, although it backed the new constitution. Leader Marlon Santi has charged that mining operations in southern Ecuador infringe upon indigenous communities and land rights. CONAIE is staging a meeting Oct. 13 in Cuenca to discuss the mining industry, attacks on indigenous people and the organization’s posture toward the government.

Just before the vote, Correa warned that established forces, their privileges threatened, “are going to keep on by other routes, by other methods, trying to destabilize.” Anticipating a disinformation campaign, Correa asked the Organization of American States to endorse the results. Two days later, Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza testified to the “decisive support that the Ecuadorian people have given to their political project.”

On Oct. 1, President Correa joined the presidents of Venezuela, Brazil and Bolivia in Manaos, western Brazil, to discuss the world financial crisis and Latin American integration. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez boasted to reporters there that these four anti-imperialist states made up “the great northern arc of South America.” Speaking earlier in anticipation of Rafael Correa’s victory, Chavez recommended to U.S. citizens a government “of, for, and by the people.” He explained: “I would do the same as Ecuador, I would undergo a constituent process to advance a new democratic mode.”