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Quito, La Carolina

Thoughts/ruminations on life, work, and politics in Ecuador.

Updated: 2016-09-08T00:29:59.879-04:00


Rush to Closure


I haven't written about Ecuadorian politics in months for reason I mentioned back in January (i.e., not wanting to be negative most, if not all, of the time).As well, I've been working hard to keep my little restaurant and hostal business going, and it's been tough, tough struggle on that front, with consequent financial and emotional toll that such struggles take on one over time. Still, we're alive and open, and that counts, I like to think.While this has been going on, the Constituent Assembly and specifically, its majority bloc, Acuerdo Pais under the leadership of Rafael Correa have continued issuing Mandates and developing parts of a draft Constitution intended to replace the present one.June 24 update:Work took me away from this, but then yesterday morning, Alberto Acosta, President of the Asamblea Constituyente, resigned which brings me back to my neglected blog.Acosta has resigned but will remain as member of the AC, since he is the Asamblista mas votado del pais. That said, it's clear that Acosta was forced out of the AC Presidency because he didn't believe that the AC could do an adequate job of developing a new Constitution within the 180 day term initially allotted the AC to do the job. (The enabling statute approved by the Consulta Popular setting up the entire AC process envisions a 60 day follow on period, if necessary, which could take the AC to the end of September.)As has been clear to all observers for quite some time, it is Rafael Correa who's been directing the AC, and a couple of weeks ago, he made it publicly clear that he wants the AC to wrap its work up by July 26. It appears that Correa's public statement on the AC timetable spelled the end of Acosta's tenure as AC President, and yesterday, he resigned. His resignation, which came as a surprise to nearly all political observers including most of his colleagues with the majority Acuerdo Pais bloc, was accepted by the bloc last night.Acosta had hoped to convene a plenary session yesterday afternoon to discuss/explain his resignation, but the AP bloc went into caucus by itself with the Political Bureau (how Soviet!) of AP to discuss the implications of Acosta's resignation; it's presumed that the Buro will direct AP members to accept Acosta's resignation. Early news reports this morning (June 24) indicate that Correa will meet with the bloc today in Manabi to discuss next steps.Acosta held a press conference last night at the AC surrounded by opposition members of the AC and no one from the AP, to explain his resignation. He came across as a "good soldier" type, bowing to the leadership of the AP (Correa) and vowing to continue participating in the AC process. He said that he felt more time was needed for the process to ensure "full social particpation" in developing the Constitution, but that Correa feels that if the process continues beyond July it would be "political suicide", and so he's out as AC President.As noted, Acosta will stay on the AC, but the Presidency will apparently pass to Fernando Cordero, the AC's Vice President, the second most voted Asamblista and a person who's been vocal in asserting that yes, the AC CAN complete its work by July 26. It's not clear whether that's possible or not, but it does appear that hundreds of articles of the new Constitution remain to be debated and approved. Commentators/analysts believe that in order to do that and finish by the July deadline, the AC will have sit in session six days a week for all remaining weeks and work eight to ten hours a day every day. We'll see if they can do it.Aside from the sheer workload, the question also arises as to whether the AC should select a new VP (its by-laws never envisioned resignation of the AC President, so there are no provisions regarding selection of a replacement VP) and if so, who that person might be.The question at the moment is whether the AP will maintain its internal discipline which has served it well up to now, or whether divisions resulting from (possible) struggle for the AC VP position will emerge. Given that Correa has prevailed over Acosta, [...]

For A Change of Pace: Barack Obama


.... I haven't posted for quite a while because when it comes to writing about events with respect to politics in Ecuador, I recall my mom's admonishment: If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. Ok, that's probably being a little too harsh on Ecuador; in fact, some of things Correa and the Asemblea Constituente have done are not all that bad, but.... well, readers of this blog already have a sense of how I feel regarding political developments to date. The large anti-government demonstration a couple of weeks ago in Guyaquil and the smaller one here in Quito are causes for hope, but I'll address them in a separate post.NOW, for a change of pace, just a few short thoughts on Barack Obama: I'm an Obama man, to be clear from the get-go. Assuming readers here follow political developments in the States, you know that today, Tuesday, February 5, 2008, is what's known as Super-Tuesday. Today is the day in which 22 States, from MA to CA, from AK to OK and lots of places in between, hold their party primaries. Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee from the GOP aside (and they literally are on the margins as we go into today), we appear to be down to the final four, Clinton and Obama on the Democratic side, and McCain and Romney over in the GOP. The Republicans, in the person of George Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress (for most of the last seven years) have done such an absolutely awful job in virtually any subject area you can name (e.g., foreign affairs, health, education, fiscal discipline, distribution of incomes, environment, and on and on) that I fully expect to see a Democratic President in the White House and stronger Dem control in both Houses of Congress, come next January 20. On that premise - that the Dem Presi candidates are the only ones worth mentioning right now - I just want to say that I really hope that Obama wins that Party's nod. Some word differences come to mind when I think of Obama and Clinton: He inspires, she manages; he leads, she directs; he has the vision, she has the plan; he emphasizes the future, she touts the past (her experience); he talks about what "we" (the people) can do for the country, she talks about what "she" can do for the country; he's made mistakes (youthful drug issues) and apologized for them, she's made a much bigger mistake (Iraq) and has failed to acknowledge it, let alone for apologize for it; he talks about the way things should and can be done, she talks about the way things are (i.e., have always been) done; he's got the excitement and she's got.... well, she's got those plans again, and all the excitement they bring with them. Thinking of Clinton, I believe Richard Cohen says it well in today's Washington Post: She'd make a great Chief of Staff for Obama when he's in the White House. (My own pick position for her in the Obama administration would be Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, because she's done so much study and planning (planning!) work in that area.) I can't think of a person who has prepared him/herself more for the White House job in terms of plans and platforms and in doing the "right" (read politically safe, politically exigent) things in getting elected to the Senate (would she have been able to get elected in her own State of Arkansas? I doubt it.), getting on the right Committees, doing lots of homework, making earnest speeches, publishing the right book, making the right speeches on the right circuits, and again, on and on. In short, she's been doing all the things that an aspiring Presidential candidate "needs" to do, and she's been doing all those things for years, because she's aspired to the job for years (denying it all the time). Over those same years, the American people have been following her activities (not believing for a second that she didn't want to be President), pretty much knowing where her career was going and why. And those same American people knew as well, that she'd never vote against the crowd on controversial issues, that she'd always vote in the[...]

Dayuma to Montecristi and Back (Or, The Rules Apply to You, But Not to Me)


Things appear to have gotten out of control pretty quickly in Dayuma, reading the papers and watching telenoticias. At this point, the Army together with the police, has arrested 22 residents in the community including the Prefect of Orellana, Guadalupe LLori (Ecuador's version of an elected State governor; Llori is from Lucio Gutierrez's party, the PSP). Looking at photos in this morning's El Comercio, it appears that soldiers and cops were none too gentle in grabbing people. Articles quote detainees as having been punched, kicked, beaten and robbed, in some cases, and photos show one guy with serious face injuries and other people down in the dirt or stacked in military vehicles on their way to jail.

As I mentioned in an earlier posting, the Catholic Church and various human rights groups have denounced the government's actions and - here's where it gets interesting - appealed to the Constituent Assembly for the release of the detainees and investigation of the entire Dayuma situation.

The government's response has been that the detainees are all troublemakers (in some cases, sheltered by Colombians, not further identified). Correa and his Security Coordinator, Fernando Bustamante, have responded to human rights groups' accusations and calls for investigations by telling the CA that essentially none of the Dayuma affair is CA business. Further, Correa has threatened to resign if the CA decides to look into Dayuma. Correa even went so far as to send 300 of his Alianza Pais people to march on CA offices in Montecristi to demonstrate the "will of the people" (original phrasing) in demanding that the CA keep its hands off of the Correa government and its activities.

News viewers were treated to the spectacle, then, of Alianza Pais folks threatening Acuerdo Pais folks (CA leadership with 80 of its 130 seats under their control) with "direct action" if the CA didn't accede to Correa's demands/threats.

So, surprise, the CA did accede to Correa, expressing that, gosh, even though the CA has plenipotentiary powers (which they used to dissolve Congress and fire a number of Correa's political enemies), suddenly those powers don't exist and/or apply when it comes to defying Correa. As El Comercio columnist Marco Arauz put it this morning, while the CA doesn't recognize any limits to its powers and authorities when it comes to the Constitution and legislation, it will recognize its limits when it comes to following the Correa government's playbook.

Aside from the obvious inconsistencies, if not hypocrisy evident in the CA's actions (taken with the assistance of eight votes from MPD, Patchakutik and surprisingly, the RED), it's also become very clear in this object case, that the CA is controlled directly now by Correa. I had been careful to make a distinction between Correa and the CA's President, Alberto Acosta, if not a difference between them; that doesn't appear to be the case now. The dismissal of the Dayuma complaint in the CA makes it clear that Correa's running the show in Montecristi.

The implications of all of this are clear then: CA is progressively undermining its own credibility and political and moral standing in Ecuador. I have no doubt that Correa's popularity remains quite high and that expectations for positive results from the CA are just as high. But if these sorts of open political double dealings and hypocrisy continue, I expect that Ecuadorians will have lower and lower expectations of both Correa and the CA, and sadly, lower hopes for the political future of this country.......

Controlling the Elected


This morning's El Comercio carries as its lead editorial, a piece titled, "Control of Elected", which echoes my comments about the actions of the Constituent Assembly to date. Let me see if I can do the editorial some justice in English:Control of the ElectedWe hope that the Asemblistas understandlegislating like dictators provokes conflictand splits which in turn incite disobedienceand spreading insecurity."The first sessions of the Constituent Assembly pose the old, unresolved dilemma in democratic systems: The effective control of elected officials. The question pertains when great unease exists with respect to how one can effectively control or establish limits over an entity that, in its rush to an exclusive - and excluding - interpretation of complete power, ignores legal norms that constrain it. And that concern begins with the CA's own enabling statute which should have regulated the CA's organization and installation.We're living in an environment established by the President of the Republic, in which 80 people propose to legislate, in a few weeks, (administration of) taxes, the banking system, and property. The new Constitution itself is discarded as a priority since, according to the CA's first resolutions, "revolutionary" laws will be applied immediately and without reference to Constitutions, past or future.In other words, the principal objective of the process which was to be the drafting of a new Constitution for the Republic, is secondary and of minor importance.In a democracy, representatives, legislators, councilmen, Contitutional assemblymen, etc., are elected with a given mandate covered by applicable laws, save situations such as the birth of a state emerging from a dictatorship, which does not apply in our case.For these reasons, what's happening in Ecuador right now is serious and outrageous since the 80 Constitutional assemblymen have in fact usurped Legislative Powers and suborned the Judiciary and control of the State. For this reason, EL COMERCIO concurs with and supports the editorial protest of El Universo newspaper, and we warn that the CA is going down a road toward political and social confrontation that bring with it unpredictible consequences. We hope that the 80 assemblymen understand, notwithstanding whatever political or ideological imperative, that direct legislation, as happens in dictatorships, provokes grave confrontations, incites civil disobedience and creates an environment of insecurity much worse that any which has heretofore existed."Well.I haven't seen the El Universo editorial, but I'm guessing from this editorial that it's pretty much in the same vein, that is, message to the 80 Acerdo Pais folks: Hey, listen up, you guys, you were not, repeat, not, elected to do anything other than draft a new Constitution which would submitted to the electorate for their approval, y nada mas, no despedidos de enemigos politicos del Presi, ni disolucion de instituciones democraticos (e.g.,el Congreso). Punto, final, me explico?I rather doubt that the AP guys and their allies of the moment (see below for comment on the latest alliance of convenience) will heed the above editorial, but as El Comercio says, they've been warned about the possible consequences of their actions, and I'm glad that the warning has been an early one. I hope the editorial also serves as a wake up notice to readers as to the gravity of the situtation and the need for action. But then, as I'm wont to say, we'll see.....OK, a couple of news items warranting comment:Notwithstanding the above warnings, the AP 80 have drafted language which changes the key section 23 of the statute that enables the CA. Specifically, the AP wants to change the language in section 23 pertaining to the referendum that would approve (or not) the work of the CA. The change reads as follows:Old language: The new Constitution text will be approved "by at least, 50% plus one, of valid votes cast." (This voter base would include all votes cast, yes, no, blanco (bal[...]

Nipping the CA in the Bud


.....There's that old botanical/gardening term, "Nipping it in the bud", which refers to the process of retarding (or eliminating) the growth of a flowering plant.

The phrase comes to mind as I watch the CA busily arrogating all power to itself. Yesterday, the Acuerdo Pais folks, this time with the support (collusion?) of delegates from Pachakutik and the MPD, approved the second part of the governing regs of the CA. This little piece of work says that anything the CA does supersedes the current Constitution and no decision or act taken by any court will abrogate CA acts.

All of this again flaunts the intent of the CA statute, specifically Art. 23 of that act, which clearly says that nothing the CA does can apply until the work of the CA has been ratified by a referendum of the people, subsequent to the conclusion of the CA's work. This is not a matter of asking what part of the statute is it that the AP y don't understand; rather, this is a series of clear and conscious acts of the AP et al to ignore the will of the people and accrue power to itself.

In essence, in my opinion, the CA has declared war on the Constitution and the will of the people. They want change, no doubt about it, and that's why they voted for Correa and that's why the voted for the CA and then for an AP majority in the CA.

However, nowhere, and at no time, did the majority of the people in this country vote for the closure of the sitting Congress, the firing of Correa's political enemies, and the arrogation of all political power and decision making authority to some 80+ (I put it that way, because of the duplicitous acts of the MPD and Pachakutik) people who were elected only, only, to draft a new Constitution, and nothing else.

Already, it's clear, from opinion polls (and reading Ecuadorian blogs, mostly, admittedly, anti-Correa) that most people here are not comfortable with CA actions of the last couple of days. The key question, right now, and early in this quickly deteriorating process, is, what, if anything, can and should be done about these actions?

Well, Alberto Acosta likes to be quoted saying he wants to encourage all kinds of participation, so I'd suggest that Ecuadorians start participating right now, by staging events, strikes, etc., to protest what the CA has done to date.

AP y cia are moving quickly to put us on the slippery slope to another partidocracia (this time, it'll be one big new party, with the initials AP, along with a few little remora parties sucking onto the big shark) that will tell the country what to do and how to do it, and there'll be a ratchet effect to all of this, i.e., once we get along on this process, it'll be extremely hard to reverse it because the AP will make damn sure that they'll stay in control.

For this reason, and right now, people better start speaking up and giving clear direction to the CA and the AP, because later there won't be a chance to nip the process in the bud. Correa y the AP have watched Venezuela and Bolivia closely in order to avoid repeating the mistakes of Chavez and Morales and their allies. The Ecuadorian people should watch those two countries just as closely to make sure that Correa doesn't do a better job of taking this country over and running it like he'd like to: his own "democratic" fiefdom......

The Military and PetroEcuador


.... I hate the comment subjects of some blogs... Boz had posted a comment about Correa's putting the military in charge of PetroEcuador and I wrote long comment over on his blog, only to see it disappear when I went to post it. Oh, well, I should have written something about the same subject here, so here goes.I should say that I approve of Correa's actions on PetroEcuador at the outset. As readers know, I don't particularly care for Correa's personal style and I disagree with some of his stances, but on this one, I'm with him.Several factors have given rise to Correa's actions. In no particular order:1. Disposition of oil revenues. Almost from the start, over 40 years ago, the GOE has extracted oil from the eastern provinces, Sucumbios, Orellana, Napo, Pastaza, y Morona, and its' given very little back to the poor, rural communities in and around the oil fields. Infrastructure and public services to those communities have mostly been poor to nil. Needless to say, resentment against the central government has always been strong, and over all of these same years, there have been repeated strikes, protests, road blockages and outright sabotage of production facilities to demand increased shares of central government oil revenues/benefits to the eastern provinces - and that's what's been happening now in the Orellana community of Dayuma, for the last three weeks or so. There have been acts of sabotage, attacks on the police, road blockages and consequent declines in oil production and revenues during those same weeks. My guess is that the timing of Dayuma incident is not coincidental, as I'll explain below.2. Local governance and political conflict. Orellana is the home province of ex-President Lucio Gutierrez, one of Correa's principal political enemies, and the Prefect (an Ecuadorian Prefect is roughly analogous to an elected state governor in the States) of Orellana is a member of Gutierrez's political party. My guess (and mine only) is that this lady (the Prefect) chose - or was told to - stir up problems at Dayuma just before the Constituent Assmbly started in order to distract attention from the CA and of course, make Correa and Acuerdo Pais ineffectual in face of the Dayuma violence.3. Petro Ecuador. It's an incompetent, ineffective, corrupt mess which is a disgrace to this country. (Am I being clear here? :)) Over the last, god knows, how many years, it's been controlled by its labor union, a corrupt and very powerful political cesspool which has siphoned off millions, if not billions of dollars for illicit uses, and which has resisted attempts by successive governments to bring it under control and increase production/revenues for public use. Think PEMEX or the PDVSA union before Chavez destroyed that oufit. I've always maintained that Correa, if he wanted to, has the political support necessary to do something about PetroEcuador and for that matter, UNE, the teachers' union (again, Mexico and its teacher union comes to mind as a parallel) which is another nest of political patronage and financial corruption instrumental in running the shambles that passes for a public eduation system. PetroEcuador's most recent President, Correa appointee Carlos Pareja never seemed to be able to control or affect PetroEcuador in any way. During his tenure, oil production in Bloc 15, the one seized from Oxy in May 2006, went down as I predicted it would. The PE refinery in Esmeraldas is (in)famous for its poor output. In a widely seen video from earlier this year, Pareja made a unannounced 2:00am visit to the refinery and found the few staff that were present asleep in their office chairs or on the floors; this is all on tape. Later, the union complained that PE staff isn't supposed to make unannounced visits; Pareja said nothing.4. When Correa came into office, he appointed Gustavo Larrea as his Minister of Government. MinGovernment runs the National Police and is responsible for internal [...]

First Things First



We're not off to a good start here with the Constituent Assembly.

The first thing the government bloc in the CA (Acuerdo Pais, with 80 out of 130 seats in the CA) did was to dissolve the sitting Congress and fire the Superintendent of Banks and Insurance (whom Correa did not like) and the Solicitor General of the Republic (with whom Correa got along, but who was sitting on a lot of cases and evidence that could have gotten Correa allies or even Correa himself into trouble somewhere along the line). The Congress and these individuals presented problems of one sort or another for Correa, so they're gone.

Other dignitaries or institutions such as the Attorney General of the Republic have been left alone, either because they're harmless or have been named to their posts by Correa. As well, Correa's bloc has left the Supreme Electoral Tribunal alone (these are the guys that fired 57 of Correa's enemies in the Congress), the Constitutional Tribunal alone (these guys were named essentially by Correa and his allies), and the Supreme Court alone (this is the one truly professional, apolitical tribunal extant; dismissing it would make Correa look obviously and truly bad and also require the dismissal of the CT, which Correa needs), and all of the elected provincial and municipal officials alone.

All of this shows clearly that AP and Correa's first priority is to get rid of real or potential political enemies where they can. At the same time, they're arrogating legislative and regulatory powers to themselves, essentially make the CA the most powerful political entity in country. to be clear, it's the 80 person AP bloc we're talking about, when it comes to firings, etc.; they've all voted for these actions while the 50 person opposition group (definitely not/not a monolithic bloc) voted against all of these actions.

In essence, the AP people have made the CA pretty much like the dictatorial Senate of old Roman times, without the permission of the Ecuadorian people. An opinion poll out today indicates that almost 60% of Ecuadorians polled are not in agreement with the AP's actions (I'll characterize these as AP actions unless oppo folks have voted for the same actions), but at this point, opinions don't matter much to the AP. The AP is very much feeling its political oats and they're going to run things as they see fit, with or without the agreement of other CA Asemblistas. (Note: I shouldn't be surprised if we see this on local t-shirts one of these days: "We're Acuerdo Pais. We don't care, we don't HAVE to care....")

Still, the AP's flaunting of the intent of the CA statute (no action of the CA is valid until it's approved by a referendum, post-CA) is already starting to bother people because these kinds of action are not, repeat not, what the CA states and it's not/not what people had in mind when they voted for change here. Political shenanigans of this sort are pretty much old school tactics which Ecuador has seen before, and people here are wise to these sorts of things.

It's still very, very early in the CA process for sure, but the AP people in particular better be careful; political revenge and power concentration are not what Ecuadorians want. People here want honest, decent, effective governmental institutions and they want jobs and the CA and AP better figure out how to bring those things to pass within a new Constitutional framework.

Acosta: The Gloves Are Off


Well, Alberto Acosta, propective President of the Constituent Assembly, and the Minister of Government, Gustavo Larrea, have come out very plainly on their vision of the CA and its powers: Anyone or any institution that seeks to oppose the CA or interfere with it in any way will be removed from office or shutdown, by force, if need be.

These two guys take the view that the Ecuadorian people have granted the CA plenipotentiary powers to do as they wish. I've said in earlier posts that this position is in direct contradiction to the statute establishing the CA (and approve by the same Ecuadorian people), which says that any and all work of the CA must be approved by Ecuador in a plebescite to be held after the CA has completed its labors. (Question - again: Assuming Acosta and his allies don't try and weasel out of the statute-mandated plebescite, what happens if the Ecuadorian people decide that no, they're not willing to go along with a radical left Constitution?) The logic and safeguard mechanism of that plebescite notwithstanding, Acosta y cia have been clear that they care not one whit for that part of the statute, and that they'll let no one stand in their way.

Since Acosta (and behind him, of course, Correa) his allies (Acuerdo Pais) hold 80 of the 130 seats in the CA, and since most people hold the only entity that's spoken out against their dissolution (the Congress) in the lowest regard, it's clear that there will be no substantive opposition to Acosta and his agenda from outside of the CA.

I put it that way because the Ecuadorian people are so used their poltical elite doing whatever they want (and the elite are now people like Acosta, Correa, and Acuerdo Pais), that they won't do anything.

However, the reason I added the phrase "outside of the CA", is that if any substantive opposition to Acosta and his agenda arises at all, it will come from within the AP group of 80 in the CA. Ecuadorian political figures are famously egotistical, undisciplined, and rancorous, but those same cantankorous qualities might very well help opponents (within the CA) soften or stop enactment of Acosta's agenda of failed ideas (examples: directed credit lines, expropriation of property, "guaranteed" jobs, national government management of education systems oil production, etc.).

Another possible opponent to Acosta, oddly enough, is Correa himself. Quite a few Ecuadorians have commented that Correa's rhetoric and actions differ significantly (a good example has been his threats to reneg on debt service commitments while he's continued making every debt payment to date, without fail). Specifically many people have expressed the suspicion that Correa is actually more conservative in his political thinking than he lets on. I think there's something to that suspicion, Correa's snuggling with Chavez and gring0-bashing notwithstanding. In short, I and others are beginning to suspect that Correa is something of a closet Tory.

If those suspicions prove correct, Correa and Acosta could very well butt heads on a variety of subjects during the CA process. I sure hope they do, and I hope that the AP people revert to normal Ecuadorian political conduct during the CA; it'll help keep Ecuador from repeating failed politico-economic experiments of yesteryear, both here in Ecuador and elsewhere in Latin America.

The Problem with Blogs Is That You Have to Post to the Damn Things


.... And that's most definitely what I haven't done these last six weeks or so. I've been setting up a new business in Quito and man, this one has taken much more time than the last one I did. Still, it's been a real learning experience in many ways, and I expect to use those experiences in doing still another activity which my girl friend has suggested.Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, Ecuador, what's been happening, what's been going on?Well, the Constituent Assembly elections took place almost three weeks ago and it's clear that Correa and his allies have won a large majority of the 130 seats in the Assembly. I phrase it as "large majority" (I'm guessing close to 80 seats) because we still don't have the final results in from all 22 provinces on the September 30 vote. Guayas, the largest province has been extremely slow, as usual, in getting its results in, but slowness notwithstanding, there's no doubt that Correa's group, Alianza Pais and their allies (known in a loose coalition as Acuerdo Pais) will have full control of the Assembly.The big losers in all of this have been the traditional political parties. Together, the Social Christians (PSC), Alvaro Noboa's party (PRIAN), Lucio Gutierrez's party (PSP), Abdula Bucaram's party (PRE), and Rodrigo Borja's party (ID) may have won around 25-30 seats in the CA.Correa et al have called for the dissolution of the current Congress once the CA goes into session (sometime in late November I'd guess, depending on when the final voting results are published). They argue that the Congress, composed primarily of the traditional parties, is simply a nest of corrupt reps of the "partidocracia" and as such, it should be done away with. I and much of the country here agree that Congress is an ineffective entity controlled by political leaders such as Noboa and Gutierrez. There are exceptions to the corrupt/politically controlled paradigm such as Patchakutik and the Union Democratica Cristiana, but they're in the minority, and lately, they've been perceived as falling in line with the "trads" (as I'll call them), a trend which simply lends credence to critics of Congress, especially Correa and his allies.To the question: Can/should Congress be dissolved when the Constituent Assembly convenes? I'd say the answer is clearly no. The statute establishing the CA mechanism clearly says that any actions taken/work done by the CA must be approved by a pleibescite before, repeat, before, they become law (or Constitutional, if you will). That means that all existing governmental insitutions will (or should, anyway) continue to exist until Ecuador approves the CA's work. (Crazy thought: has anyone considered the possibility that the people may NOT approve the CA's product?)On a related theme, Alberto Acosta, an Alianza Pais leader and most voted CA Asemblista (and therefore, the almost certain President of the CA) has said that he thinks that, besides the Congress, certain other institutions (or heads of institutions) should be removed along with the Congress. Interestingly, Acosta has singled out the Supreme Court (probably the best qualified, most apolitical group of all) and the Solicitor General (a lackluster individual selected by the trads, but approved by Correa), but not/not the Constitutional Tribunal (packed with Correa sympathizers), the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (ditto), or the Attorney General (selected by Correa but approved by Congress). Aside from the obvious partisanship of Acosta's comments, the same principle applies in any case: None of the aforementioned entities (or individuals) should be removed until the people have had a chance to see what the CA intends to do in terms of restructuring governmental institutions. Notwithstanding the validity of criticisms leveled, the motivation of Correa, Acosta, et al, in calling for the removal of certain entit[...]

Larriva Case II


Update on my posting of a couple of days ago regarding the investigation of the death of Minister of Defense Maria Guadalupe Larriva in a helicopter crash in January:

Larriva's successor Lorena Esudero resigned as MinDefense yesterday afternoon without any public explanation as of this writing. News reports this morning indicate that she or Correa had planned her departure some time ago. Whatever the facts at this point, it had been apparent for some time that Escudero was not a strong Minister. She certainly never mounted a convincing case for not, repeat not, prosecuting high level military leaders for their (negligent) role in the Larriva disaster.

I saw a wire report saying that Correa had not been in agreement with the results of his own Commission's report and its findings regarding responsibilities and responsible parties in the case. This literally is news to me, since I personally have never heard or seen anything that indicated that Correa was not in agreement with Escudero or his Security Coordinator, Fernando Bustamante who both have steadfastly maintained the innocence of military commanders in the case.

Whatever Correa might be thinking, it's clear that the government was not happy with Escudero's performance, not as clear as to what high level military is thinking. As I said, earlier, though, for sure, Correa doesn't want to rock the military's boat as we move towards the Constituent Assembly, so I don't expect that changes in MinDefense will change the Commission's findings regarding ultimate responsibility for the death of Larriva and others.

Sharks and the Larrea Case: Get the Votes and Don't Make Waves


Forgive the long title, but I wanted to tackle two subjects which relate, in this same post.I've already mentioned the shark issue before. Basically, Correa went "fishing" for votes amongst the Manabi and Guayas fishermen's communities, and I believe he hooked a great many by simply issuing a decree all but removing limits on "incidental" hooking of sharks(accidental by-catch).The infamous Decree 486 has served as a wink-and-a-nod to the fishing community to go ahead and catch as many sharks (for their fins) as they want - and the fishermen have. Since Decree 486 was issued, the shark catch has shot up dramatically and of course shark stocks are headed for the bottom, literally.The National Police, together with an international NGO, Sea Shepherd, seized large amounts of shark fins which were being smuggled out of the country, with attendant publicity, in early August, but their small victory was short-lived. Correa's ex-Minister of Public Works, Trajano Andrade, now candidate for Asemblista from Manabi Province showed up very quickly on the scene and essentially cowed the local District Attorney (Fiscal) covering the seizure into ordering the return of the fins to enraged fishermen/fin smugglers. At the same time, Andrade and his allies got the Sea Shepherd rep, an American citizen, arrested and they would have had him deported in short order until it was discovered that he's married to an Ecuadorian.Since this incident, there have been no more seizures of shark fins, but the "incidental" catches continue to skyrocket. Newspaper and television coverage of the issue was very high at the outset, but that's dropped to nothing over the last two weeks. There have been demonstrations by angry fisherment in Guayaquil and a police-protected demo of fishermen in front of a Quito tv station which featured articles critical of the fishermen, Correa and his Decree 486.Editorial comment and letters to various editors has been savage. Everyone knows that Correa decided to sacrifice the sharks (who don't vote, after all) for the fishermen's votes on the Constituent Assembly, a brutally cynical move if there ever was one, and one that's cost him a few points in opinion polls, but only a few. I wouldn't call Correa a teflon Presi, but on this one, I'd bet that Correa's won more votes than he lost, a shrew move albeit a brutal, cynical one, as I say.The Larrea case is another study in Correa's shrewd but cynical political moves.Briefly, Correa's first Minister of Defense, Maria Guadalupe Larrea, was killed in a nightime military helicopter crash, along with her daughter, and five Air Force personnel.Helicopter night flights are one of the most, if not THE most dangerous night manuevers that any military arm performs (another one being nightime aircraft carrier landings). For perspective, more U.S. Army personnel are killed in nightime helicopter training flights than any, repeat, any other type of night manuever. Even with night observation devices (and actually, because of them), pilots' distance and depth perceptions are negatively affected, and it's just way, way easy for helo pilots to cross rotor disks, which is exactly what happened with these young Ecuadorian Air Force pilots.A Presidential Commision made up of military and civilian members (including a member of Larrea's family) found that crash occurred because of pilot error (for sure) and then blamed a couple of junior/mid-level officers for having set up the flights to begin with.All well and good, but the Commission's findings drew immediate criticism from Larrea's family and press because top level military officers present (and videotaped) with Larrea as she got on the helo were not held responsible for having allowed a dangerous and unplanned flight like this.Criticism died down for a while and then fla[...]

Monthly Post


I call it asi, because, boy, that's what it's become lately, to post. I'm just too busy with my business projects and there's been a certain repetitiveness to political life here in Ecuador.

By repetitiveness, I mean that the barrage of Correa attacks on the press, the banks, the partidocracia and of course, the press, continues unabated, and as I predicted earlier, his popularity ratings have gone down. Only natural, of course. As I commented to a Correa supporter the other day, people tend to get tired of personal attacks, insults, and threats after a while, and people begin to lose sight (or interest, anyway) of the positive potential Correa could - and still does, actually - have for this country.

I read a couple of articles over the last weeks regarding Correa, one analyzing his personality and another analyzing (well, commenting, acutally) his political actions, as opposed to his political rhetoric.

The psychoanalysis comments that there's a possibility that Correa is bipolar (I think this is what used to be known as manic-depressive when I was a kid), to watch him in public, I'd agree with that take. I have noticed that there are times when he speaks and acts in a normal tone of voice, makes reasonable, non-threatening statements and postulates reasonable ideas. Other times, well, as I've said, any emotional intelligence he might have simply flies of the handle, as they say, and he becomes and extremely unpleasant person, and the results are as I mention above.

There's lots more to say regarding Correa's cynical lifting of the "incidental" shark fishing ban, the new banking law, Corrrea's defense of high level military in the Larrea case, and the TSE's professed inability to stop Correa's government from promoting their CA candidates during the Assembly campaign, but I'll address those later...

Tipping Point


...And I don't mean Gladwell's 2005 book about how ideas spread. I'm referring to Rafael Correa's decree of last Thursday, which forbids the dissemination/broadcasting of any video tapes which his government has made, without the permission of the tapers or tapees, if I may invent some new words.Correa's decree came out just as one of the fired PRIAN diputadas, Gloria Gallardo, was going to release long parts of the famous, first "Pativideo" of conversations between Finance Minister Ricardo Patino and some financial consultants (including an ex-Minister of Finance from the Palacio government) regarding the ins and outs of bond market manipulation and how one might benefit from it.In fact, from the parts of the first tape that have already been released, plus public statements of the Patino's Vice(!)-Minister, it's clear that Patino y cia sought to bring down Government of Ecuador bond prices in February by having the VMin say that the GOE wouldn't make interest payments on the bonds. Venezuelan banks then came in bought the bonds at artifically reduced prices and then a few days later Patino said that the GOE would/would pay interest, at which point, bond prices jumped out and the Venezuelans sold out, realizing a nice fat profit in the space of less than a week.Since the first Pativideo came out, a second one has emerged showing Patino with Jorge Cevallos, President of the Congress, discussing exchange of pork projects for Manabi Province in exchange for votes in favor of the Constituent Assembly. In that tape, the two men are almost comedic in their overacted, winking, "I don't know you, you don't know me", style of negotiating political favors. Again, the tape shows Patino engaging in sleazy conversations, this time with a guy who's widely viewed as weak and politically pliable by the government.The media and cocktail chatter is that there are many more video tapes out there, made by Patino and possibly others in the Correa government. It was made clear some time ago that the first two tapes were made without judicial authorization and without the knowledge of the other (non-Patino) participants, which is a crime in this country as far as I can tell.Patino brushes off the legal aspects of video recordings, saying that he himself was trying corrupt bankers and creditors and that the conversations were all hypothical, and besides, he had President Correa's approval to make the tapes. I'm not a lawyer, but my guess is that if I'm right in that the video-recordings were illegal to begin with, Correa's ok of the whole thing makes him an accomplice to a crime.Whatever the legalities of the whole thing, Patino comes across as corrupt and sleazy in the tapes, and his clumsy defense of the tapes show that he's not only corrupt, he's incompetently corrupt.There's also been growing talk, as I say, that there are many more tapes floating around showing other political figures, in government and outside of it, engaging in questionable conversations and/or activities. This whole thing has been simmering for weeks now, and now, just as Congress moved to enjuiciar (impeach, or move to censure) Patino, and Gallardo prepared to release more of the first tape, Correa comes out with his decree that's clearly intended to muzzle the media and his political enemies while protecting Patino and himself.Correa's moves are so transparently motivated that in other circumstances, he simply might be viewed as idiotic and/or amusing. The fact is, though, that he's the President of the country, and the decree represents his first overt move toward censoring the media here. Correa issued the decree last Thursday during a trip to Spain, wherein he took every opportunity to attack the Ecuadorian media as lying and corrupt. That s[...]

Correa's Mouth


One thing I appreciate about Rafael Correa's mouth: He can't keep it shut. I'm guessing that a lot of people in Ecuador are like me in that we look forward to each Saturday morning and the Presi's radio program wherein he pronounces, expounds, fulminates (and fumes), insults, threatens, jokes, and generally makes an idiot of himself.These last couple of weeks, Correa's continued his insults and threats of lawsuits against the press, accusing them, as usual of being corrupt, mediocre, and mendacious. In a new twist, the President has told the people that if they want (real, true) information, they should go to his website and/or read his press releases. No, really, that's what he said.As well, in last Saturday's memorable program, which took place in Cuenca, he called a local lady reporter there a "gordita horrorosa", because he didn't like the questions she was asking. He then went on to characterize the press in Ecuador as "bestias salvajes", although he did try to cover/excuse himself by saying that he was merely using same phrase that PM Tony Blair had used in referring to the media in Great Britain.Over these same last two weeks, things have not gone well for the President and his government in Congress in that two of his proposed laws dealing with the banking system and its policies, and the energy sector, were either rejected (energy) or modified drastically (banking). As I mentioned in my last posting, Correa has not taken kindly to those setbacks and he's said that he believes that the Constituent Assembly, once in session, should disslove Congress.In a further development on the banking law, Correa vetoed parts of the modifed bill sent him, and over the last couple of days, Congress came up with the votes to override his veto. Interestingly, the veto override has been made possible because of votes coming from the "Bloque de Dignidad", the group of roughly 40-50 Diputados (depending on how you calculate the group) who replaced the famous fired 57 in April. Most, if not all, of the Bloque had been viewed as allies of Correa because they had dared to replaced the fired guys, and it was generally assumed that the Bloque would pretty much do Correa's bidding. Well, it hasn't worked out that way, and quite a few of the Bloque people have shown themselves to be capable of defying Correa's wishes. Many of them maintain that they owe their allegiance to their constituencies and their consciences(!), not to Correa. Correa has responded by characterizing all Diputados who voted against him as having sold themselves to the bankers, and he's promised to name all Diputados whom he says have been bought, on his next Saturday radio program scheduled for this morning, as it happens.I've noticed that Correa and his team are absolutely terrible lobbyists, when it comes to negotiating with Congress and its members. The banking law experience is the most recent (but not the only) example of this. Two of Correa's appointees to the Bank Board spent a lot of time on the floor of Congress, but instead of schmoozing with swing voters or trying persuade some of the oppo to come around to their point of view, they engaged in heavy handed, threatening manuevers with mostly Bloque de Dignidad people. I must say that I was surprised at how a lot of the Bloque people stood up to the Correa reps, essentially telling them to get lost; indeed, at one point in debate this week on the veto override, the Correa people were directed to leave the floor so as allow the Diputados to do their job.The net effect of Correa's mouthing off and his heavy-handed, threatening approach to dissent has been to broaden and harden opposition to the man, for which I am glad. Many people have not tak[...]

Random Points Early in the Morning


It's 04h00 and I'm up a bit early before going for a run in quiet, dark Quito. Assuming it's not raining - and it isn't this morning - it's a great time to go out because there's no traffic, no humo, no noise, and when it's clear, stars and maybe a late moon hanging in the west over Pichincha. My novia and I don't know how many other Quitenos have expressed fear that I go out like this, asserting that I could be mugged. Depends on where one goes, I suppose, but generally, I see almost no one during my early morning outings, and best of all, I avoid the crazed, speeding bus drivers that abound later (05h30-06h00 and on) that abound on the streets here, including, btw, SCHOOL bus drivers, who sometimes are worse than the ordinary passenger bus guys. Still, having lived in several other countries in Latin America, Ecuador's not much different from places like Colombia or Panama, where the buseros, or ABUSEROS, as I call them, are just as common.-- But I wander, so on to other points.Correa and the Congress. I've mentioned President Rafael Correa and his Saturday morning radio shows before, and last Saturday, aside from declaring ANOTHER emergency, this time on the prison system (he's declared emergencies before on the Social Security hosptial system, the road system, schools, gas availability, and security, and those are the ones that I can remember), he asserted that once the Constitutional Assembly is sworn in, it can dissolve the National Assembly, or Congress, here.I've read the statute approved in the Consulta Popular (national referendum) last April, as have many other people. Notwithstanding that lots of people can read in this country some Correa cabinet members have floated the idea that the CA can take decisions/actions affecting the institutional structure of the government BEFORE issuing the results of their consitutional deliberations and BEFORE submitting those results to next Consulta Popular mandated to approve those results. Fortunately, reading people here have pointed out that while admittedly, the statute approved in April could have been written a bit more clearly, most of the country does NOT want to have a rogue, uncontrolled CA dissolving the government structure without the populace having a say in the issue beforehand.On this same issue, Correa's done us all a favor by highlighting once again what he thinks the CA (which he hopes to control) can and should do, which is to neutralize any governmental body which doesn't do his bidding, again without letting the general polity approve those actions in the follow on Consulta Popular. Monday, Fernado Bustamante, Correa's securityh advisor, came out the same sort of statements, so it's clear that this just isn't one of Correa's typical, hot-headed comments; it's a thought and directed strategy aimed at bringing down another branch of government (as has been done already with the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and the Constitutional Tribunal).Not surprisingly, Correa's Saturday statements have pissed off a bunch of Diputados who have since made public the same point I just made. The executive branch should not be making comments about bringing down another branch of government under any circumstances and while it's possible that the CA may propose electing a new Congress or something like it, it falls to the people to decide on that, not 60 or 80 of Correa's allies in a CA.Still, I think Correa's statements are helpful, because it shows once again that he's after complete power just like his buddy in Venezuela; I sure hope more and more people here understand that - and disagree with it.[...]

Correa: Coming Out of the Closet


I haven't had a chance to post in a while as I'm in the midst of negotiating the start of two new businesses here in Quito, and now I'm considering a fourth business in Quito as well; I've gone kind of crazy in terms of investing here, lately, threats of harebrained socialist schemes from the Correa government notwithstanding.Still, I've tried to follow events here, and I have to say Rafael Correa has been a real boon for the media even as he bashes the hell out of them.Every Saturday morning for the last, oh, ten weeks or so, Correa has done a radio show with call ins that last roughly two hours (idea for name of the show: Alo, Presidente; I kind of like it). Correa has used the programs to tout various governmental programs and push for various legislative initiatives on subjects ranging from bank and banking reforms to reforms of the tax code to the creation of two new provinces at the expense of the two largest existing provinces.While different subjects are addressed on each program, Correa has used virtually every Saturday program to hammer two consistent themes: 1) Bankers are a bunch of collusive, usurious crooks, who need to mend their ways; and 2) The media, especially the electronic media, are corrupt liars who exploit their workers and parrot the thoughts of their capitalist masters. - and they need to mend their ways too.On the first point, that of the banking system, Correa y cia have implemented a two pronged strategy aimed at taking institutional control of the bank supervision (oversight) system and the Central Bank while he seeks to legislate changes in banking laws, most notably those pertaining to the interest rates, commissions and fees the banks charge.I've said in the earlier postings that then banking community has had a downright wonderful policy ambience here for the last 10+ years (thanks mostly the current Constitution, written in 1998) because it essentially allows the banks to regulate themselves via an entity known as the Superintendency of Banks and Insurance. That mechanism allowed the banks to go on an irresponsible lending rampage in the late 90's that resulted in the failure of several of the largest banks in the country. Heads of some of those banks fled the country and with the exception of a couple of bank presidents, most of the culprits have escaped retribution for having destroyed the life savings of tens of thousands of Ecuadorian. BTW, that same lending splurge (together with other factors like lowered import tariffs) contributed to the inflation explosion that culminated in dollarization of the economy here in 2000.The surviving bankers were not fazed by any of the foregoing events, and they simply went back to their same old practices of lending to at low rates on almost totally unsecured loans to their big corporate buddies (or in some cases businesses owned by their owners; no conflict of interest there!) while charging smaller clients and arm and a leg in interest and commission/fee charges, while requiring 100% or even 200% collateral guarantees on those smaller loans. (In fairness to Ecuador, the banks here are not unique in LA on these practices; I've seen the same sort of shenanigans in pretty much all of the other seven countries I've lived in down here.)Anyway.... Correa's finally come in and he's calling a spade a spade, accusing the bankers of running a cozy, opaque system that really runs in their favor and not that of the vast majority of their clients . So he's come out with a draft law which would control interest rates, prohibit the application of most commissions and fees, and require all banks and S&L cooperatives to post their rates and profits, etc., pub[...]

May 6, 2007


....I'm simply inserting a date for the title of this posting since I can't think of anything snappy to post to the marquee. I suppose I could quote Lewis Carroll, "Curioser and curioser", but, hell, I'll save that one for a later posting, because just when you think things can't get stranger or wackier here, they do.Let's see...Since my last posting, 50 of the famous 57 fired Diputados (seven of the fired guys decided the hell with it, and gave up without a fight) won a complaint they'd placed with the Tribunal Constitucional asserting that they'd been denied due process in being removed from Congress. The TC agreed, by a vote of 6-3, that that in fact, was case, and ordered that the fired folks be allowed to take their seats once again in Congress.Then, in true Ecuadorian tradition, both the President and the people now sitting in Congress refused to comply with the TC ruling, alleging, on legal grounds, that the current TC's term had expired in February 2007 (TC courts have four year terms, and in fact, the term had expired). As well, in refusing to obey the TC order, enemies of the fired 50 claimed that the TC was packed with political allies of the traditional parties (PSP, PRIAN, and PSC), so the whole thing was political, anyway - also true, as far as I can determine.The TC ruling and general refusal to comply with it appear to have signaled the end of organized resistance by the traditionals to Correa and his allies, in both the Congressional and judicial arenas. The TC itself has adjourned and (the new) Congress has asked for candidates to fill the TC slots, in accordance with the Constitution (at least SOMETHING is happening in accordance with the Constitution!).These same events also appear to be the end of traditional political party control over the TC, which is what most political analysts and the public in general, not to mention Correa, had been looking for.It's worth mentioning that the Ecuadorian Supreme Court (which, like the TC, was always filled with political allies of the big parties) went through a similar, longer crisis from November 2004 to April 2005, when then President Lucio Gutierrez and his PSP buddies cut a deal with the Partido Rodolsista Ecuatoriano (PRE) to fire the entire Supreme Court in November and pick a whole new court filled with PSP and PRE cronies. Gutierrez made this deal with a truly bad guy, Abdallah Bucaram, exiled ex-President, and head of the PRE, so that he (Gutierrez) could protect himself from future prosecution at the SC over various wrong-doings he'd committed. In return, he agreed to allow Bucaram to return to Ecuador. When Bucaram did come back in April, the resultant revolt (revulsion, actually), brought down the Gutierrez government and the Supreme Court with it. The consequent vacuum in the SC allowed non-political jurists to take over the nomination process for new SC magistrates, and they did a good job, in my opinion, of putting together a new SC which is professional and pretty much apolitical, at least in the Ecuadorian context. As an interesting afterward to that process, three of the new SC magistrates got caught up in a bribery scandal involving the son of one of the three, and based on the mere perception of inappropriate behavior, the three were fired. The general public approved of this (me too) and it may herald a new era of honest professionalism in the SC (I hope, I hope).I recount the SC story in the hopes that something similar happens in the TC; we'll see, as I like to say.On the Constituent Assembly front, the nomination season has started for the Asemblistas. Correa and his allies, through the Alianza Pais and a[...]

Things to Consider in Coming Weeks


Odds and ends, cats and dogs subjects, loose items to look into or expound on as we move into the Constituent Assembly season:1) At this point, the three major, traditional parties, PSP, PRIAN, and the PSC are in total disarray, with many, if not most of their lead players (who were mostly Diputados fired by the TSE in March) out of Congress, and out of political action (they can't even vote, at least through the election of members of the CA).So, what, if anything, are the survivors/leaders of these parties doing right now? I would think that if there's any will to go on in the parties (right; like any cockroach with its head chopped off, a politico still keeps going), that people like Febres Cordero, Cynthia Viteri, Alvaro Noboa, and various PSP cronies are working their asses off to get candidates up from their parties for the CA itself.2) The Estatuto that was just approved hace dos dias says that members of the CA will be elected on a "proportional basis", drawing members from the 22 Provinces, etc., along the lines I laid out in Sunday's post. What the Estatuto DOESN'T say is how the winners will be chosen from each Province. I'm assuming (thinking like a gringo, here, I'll admit) that members elected would be the top xxx number of vote getters in their Province, e.g., the 14 candidates getting the most votes in Pichincha, for example. That said, this is Ecuador, so it'll be interesting to see what the TSE says about vote counting and winner identification methods in the coming weeks.3) A Commission of.... nine, I believe, retired Constitutional jurists have been at work over the last three/four weeks, preparing a draft document, a draft Constitution, actually, for the CA's initial consideration when it opens up shop later this year. The draft document uses the current Constitution as a point of departure, while, as I understand it, taking into account suggestions submitted by citizens' groups, ngo's, and individuals, intended to "improve things". I use quotes around that last phrase, because Lord knows what kind of suggestions are flooding into the drafting Commission's in box.Reading and listening to interviews with some members of the Commission, I get the sense that they're leaving basic freedoms of speech and assembly, right to private property, political activity, and so on, alone, and sancrosanct, as well as the concept of governmental checks and balances and independent branches (lots of sensitivity to the Venezuelan model, which no longer has independent branchs of legislature and judiciary; all report to Chavez one way or another).4) Subjects that will be hot button items for the CA:--- Authorities/methods for naming heads of control insitutions in this country, including the Controller General's Office (kind of a combo GAO/Inspector General for the GOE), the Fiscal General (sometimes known as the Public Ministry; this is role analogous to that of the U.S. Solicitor, but not/not the Attorney General, who's known as the Procurador General here), and the Superintendencies of Banks and Insurance (Entities) and Companies, which regulate activities of these business entities. Correa is big proponent of changing this to take influence on this away from political parties. Trade off, of course, is if not the parties, then who? (Hint: His initials are Rafael Correa!)--- Determination of the roles of the Central Bank of Ecuador (BCE), indeed, deciding whether there'll be a BCE at all. (NB: The attractive thing - to me, anyway - about the BCE is that it's an independent, repeat, independent monitor/reporting source on economic trends in country, which is probl[...]

On to the Constituent Assembly


Well, initial results are in, per exit polls as reported by El Comercio, and it's 78.1% yes, with the balance no, about 11% and nulos, the rest. El Comercio and EFE quote Correa as saying that he, "discards foreign models (of one man rule), and that he will maintain a dollarized economy during his four years in office". A separate article in El Comercio quotes Correa as saying but that he will, "superar el nefasto (economic) modelo neoliberal".Well. We'll see, I guess.In separate news items yesterday, and a blog today, I note that there has been a $221 million decline in cash in banks (M1) in the first quarter of 2007, and employment has gone down from 48.04% to 44.8% since January, with attendant rises in unemployment from 9.03 to 10.28%, and underemployment from 42.07 to 45.31%. All figures are quoted from the Central Bank of Ecuador (BCE) which is the best tracker of such figures here, and an entity that Correa has said he wants to do away with, criticizing the BCE as a "unnecessary, bloated, bureaucracy". You bet, especially when that bureaucracy comes out with numbers critical of, I guess, a non-neoliberal economic model.OK, returning to the CA for the moment, the next steps are:1) The Supreme Electoral Tribunal has eight days to make the definitive results of the Consulta Popular public.2) As soon as the results are formally published, the TSE will announce the convocation of the CA itself, which signals the start of a 45 day period (those are working days, I believe; the Estatuto doesn't say) during which would-be Asemblistas announce their candidacy and gather signatures equivalent to 1% of the votes cast in last year's Congressional/Presidential elections in the CA candidates' provinces. At the end of this period, the TSE will take 10 more days to validate the signatures of putative candidates, and when the TSE is done, the formal campaign period (another 45 days) starts up.(It's probably worthwhile to note here, how the CA's supposed to set up:-- There are to be 130 Asemblistas. One hundred of them will be elected from the country's 22 provinces according to the Congressional breakdown now used. That means for example, that 18 of the Asemblistas will come from Guayas, and 14 will come from Pichincha, the two most populous provinces in the country, and so on. Another 24 Asemblistas would be elected as at-large, national candidates, i.e., coming from anywhere in the country (there'll be separate slate for these guys, obviously), and the last six Asemblistas will represent overseas Ecuadorians, with two reps coming from Europe, North America, and South America, respectively. Any native born Ecuadorian, 20 years and older, can be an Asemblista.)3) Elections for Asemblistas will be held at the end of the 45 day campaign period, and 10 days after that, the CA will be installed. The CA itself will have a life of 180 days, with an option to extend its ops for another 60 days.4) After the CA wraps up its deliberations, the hope is that it will present the country with a revised Constitution, revised governance framework, etc., all of which will be submitted to another Consulta Popular Nacional. My guess is that by the time all of the foregoing happens, the next Consulta Popular to approve the CA's work will take place somewhere between March and June of 2008, depending on how smoothly things go - and depending on whether I'm right about working versus calendar days in my estimates.Ahora, adding up convocation period, inscription period, campaign time, time to get the CA up and running and then 180-240 days for the CA work itself, that's[...]

Voting "Si", with Fingers Crossed


I've been reading a ton of Ecuadorian blogs, all of which are focussed on the Consulta Popular scheduled for tomorrow. In California, we call this process a referendum, and the Estatuto Popular itself, we'd call an Initiative.Tomorrow's CP poses the simple question: Do you agree or disagree that a Constitutional Assembly should be convened with plenipotentiary powers, to change the institutional framework of the State and develop a new Constitution?The CP itself and the question itself are the work of Rafael Correa and his government, that is, they are the proximate origin of this initiative. Correa had pledged the CP and made it the centerpiece of his electoral campaign this past year, and he has kept his promise to make the CP happen.I say that RC and cia are the proximate cause of the CP because they've engineered the process, but in fairness to them, they've gotten this far because they are an accurate expression of the frustration that most Ecuadorians feel regarding the state of political institutions and affairs in this country, no matter your place on the political spectrum. People here are totally fed up with political and economic (e.g., non-payment of taxes) corruption, non-representative power politics, party control of the justice system, and incompetent governments who fail to provide decent social services, particularly in the areas of health and education.That frustration and the attendant public yearning for change and improvement notwithstanding (I'll define improvement in a bit), a large number of people here - and I'll go out on a limb and say the majority - are wary of Correa and the degree of change he might bring to the country. Specifically, folks here are well aware of what's happened in Venezuela and the fact that Chavez took advantage of similar frustrations over corrupt politics as usual, and has taken control of the country for who knows how many years, all with the blessing of the electorate there.It gets down to the old saying of "moderation in all things": People want improvement defined as tax, justice, health and education systems that work well and honestly (and jobs too, but that's another story), but the most Ecuadorians sense that you don't want to give your freedoms and liberties away to a dictator in exchange for the aforesaid improvements.Venezuelans appear to have done just that - voted for modest improvements in social services in exchange for a soon-to-be one party system of government which wants to stay in power for the next 20-25 years. That same government is working hard now to marginalize, reduce, or outright eliminate (depends on what sector of the economy and polity you're talking about) private initiative and/or anti-government sentiment in Venezuela.I don't think Ecuadorians want the Venezuelan arrangement, much less a Chavez wannabe, but they do want, as I say, improvement in the overall scheme of things here.And that's the dilemma: How do you bring about change for the better in Ecuador, right now, with someone like Correa in power without running the risk of selling your electoral soul to a would be dictator?Correa and his initiative hold out the possibilty of changes for the better and in fairness to him, he's expressed some good ideas regarding improvements in tax administration, administration of justice, health and education systems, as well as opening up the incestuous and usurious banking system.At the same time, though, his statements regarding the media, political parties in general, anyone/anyone who disagrees with him ("corrupt oligarchs", "defen[...]

New Congress, New Political Game


Per postings earlier this month, democracy and specifically, the legislative branch of government here in Ecuador have been in complete disarray, what with the firing of 57 of the Ecuadorian Congress' 100 Diputados by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE; see three most recent postings for details on how/why this happened).Since President Rafael Correa's National Police force would not allow the fired Diputados to return to Congress (claiming that they were merely enforcing a legal decision taken by the TSE), Congress had remained in recess (or moribund, depending on your point of view) since March 7, leaving the country without a legislature and without any focal point for the three major opposition parties, the Social Christian Party (PSC, Leon Febres Cordero/Jaime Nebot), the Party for Renovation and Independence (PRIAN, Alvaro Noboa), and the Patriotic Partnership Party (PSP, Lucio Gutierrez).Yesterday, March 20, collaboration between three small parties sympathetic to Correa (Pachakutik, the Izquierda Democratica, and PRE (Abdullah Bucaram), the Correa government (specifically, Gustavo Larrea, the Minister of Government, who heads the National Police), and 21 Diputados Alternos (Diputados Suplentes, or backup Diputados, all legally elected in this role last year) who were willing to defy their PSC, PRIAN, and PSP leadership, resulted in the convention of a new, reconstituted Congress consisting of non-fired Diputados (31 of the 43 surviviors only; no idea where the other guys were) and the aforementioned Alternos.The Correa allies worked out a deal whereby the TSE would certify the Alternos as legal alternates to the fired Diputados, and based on this, the President of the Congress, Jorge Cevallos (a PRIAN survivor, btw; he didn't vote to fire the TSE President earlier this month, and so escaped the massacre) swore in the 21 Alternos as legal reps.The Alternos (nine from the PSP, nine from the PRIAN and three from the PSC) are basically party defectors considered turncoats by their leaders. The Alternos have decided to call themselves the Bloque de Dignidad, and they claim that they're absolutely independent of any political influence. More than one comentarista has noted however, that anyone who sneaks into Congress under Correa police protection at 5:00 in the morning can hardly call themselves dignified, let alone independent of the Correa government.In any event, the Alternos and the survivors consitute a quorum of 52 pro-government reps and so Congress is back in business. For the moment, it appears that Correa and his allies have neatly neutralized the old Congress and the "partidocracia" of the three principal, old line political parties (although the PSP, a Gutierrez creation, was only five years old) recasting the Congress to Correa's liking, and marginalizing the old liners from political dialogue - at least for the moment.This is Ecuador, after all, and more one political ghost has arisen from the (politically) dead in the past, so it's premature to call the game for Correa. Several of the fired Diputados have filed complaints with the Constitutional Tribunal alleging that their removal was unconstitutional; the TC has yet to opine on these complaints, so remote possibility exists that the TC could reverse the firings (NB: Just to make things interesting, some TSE members have threatened to take out the TC too, if it dares contravene the TSE during an election campaign; the TSE avers that it literally, constitutes the SUPREME decision making body during the run up to th[...]

Bordering on Chaos


....With apologies to Andres Oppenheimer, I think Ecuador now holds claim to this state of affairs.

As of this hour (13h45), Congress, which tried to fire the President of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) only to see the TSE fire 57 of its own Diputados (see my last two posts), and then see its own building closed off (to the fired Diputados only), attempted to meet in two different Quito hotels this morning, but failed to gain a quorum, so it's now milling around in much confusion, amidst recriminations, threats, and accusations against President Rafael Correa of attempted dictatorship.

Right now (and I mean for the next hour maybe, because I have to believe the PSC/PSP/PRIAN opposition is cooking up some more substantive response; they're not going to take effective closure of the Congress lying down), it looks like Correa's in the driver's seat. He has lots of public backing because of general disillusion and cynicism regarding Congress, the traditional rightist political parties and the political system in general and he's got lots of backing with respect to his proposed pleibescite (Consulta Popular) proposing a Constituent Assembly to change the political structures of the country.

That said, there's growing unease at what appears to be an escalating confrontation between the leftist Correa and his backers, and the traditional (right-wing) parties and their backers. The country is becoming increasingly polarized along political and regional (the coast versus the sierra, once again) lines, and aside from handwringing on the part of some pols and political analysts, there does not appear to be any group or individual at this point, who is willing or able to cool things down. When Congress (or some of its members, anyway) attempted to meet a second time at a second hotel after the first, failed try, demonstrators/provacateurs from extreme left wing student groups attacked some of the Diputados, injuring one, before the cops chased them off. I hope this is not a taste of things to come, but right now, things seem to be spiraling out of control.....

So, How Do You Feel About Being Fired by the Guys You Fired?


....Or, who the hell's in charge here? That's what a lot in inquiring minds want to know here in Ecuador, today, Thursday, March 8. To recap: At this point, we've got about 350 cops surrounding the Ecuadorian Congress this morning, with the mission of keeping 57 Diputados fired from their jobs by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) after/after the Diputados fired the President of the TSE from HIS job. The Diputados maintain that they really didn't fire Jorge Acosta, the TSE President, they merely voted to send in a substitute President after Acosta voted with three other TSE members to approve a national pleibescite on the Constituent Assembly proposed by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa. The (ex-) Diputados from the three traditional, conservative parties, the Partido Social Cristiano (Leon Febres Cordero, Jaime Nebot, y Cynthia Viteri, leaders), the Partido Sociedad Patriotica (ex-Presidente Lucio Gutierrez and his brother, Gilmar), and the Partido para Renovacion Nacional (Alvaro Noboa) voted to dump Acosta, not because he voted for the pleibescite, but because he voted to approve the language on the pleibescite supplied by the Corrrea government, which asks voters to approve a Constituent Assembly with virtually unlimited authorities to restructure the Constitution and Government of Ecuador. The PSC, PSP, and PRIAN fear, with good reason, that fully empowered Assembly could very well disolve Congress and write up a new Constitution which would revamp the political power structure so as to marginalize the traditonal, power parties. The TSE had given the Congress a chance to opine on Correa's Constituent Assembly idea in early February, when Correa first passed his Assembly proposal to the TSE for their clearance. The TSE elected to duck the issue at that point by passing the Correa proposal to Congress for their comments (but not approval). Congress (the three traditional parties plus some small allied groups) promptly re-wrote Correa's initiative so as to narrowly circumscribe Constituent Assembly authorities and protect all traditional institutions (Congress, the Court system, the TSE, etc.) from the Assembly's ability to change anything; in essence, seeking the maintain the political status quo, while allowing the pleibescite and the National Assembly idea to continue, albeit in a castrated state.Congress sent the rewritten pleibescite language back to the TSE expecting that that body would approve their language since all seven members of the TSE were named/approved by the political parties (NB: The parties' control of the TSE is one of the major problems that Correa hopes to resolve via the National Assembly). To the surprise of everyone, though, the Correa government sent a new version of its proposal directly to the TSE, and even more surprisingly, the TSE President, Jorge Acosta (appointed to the job by the PSP, although not a PSP member himself) voted along with three members of the TSE sympathetic to Correa, to approve the new, revised Correa language which Congress had not seen, and definitely did not accept.Acosta and his allies on the TSE (and the Correa government, of course) now take to position that in electoral matters such as the pleibescite, the TSE has full authority to manage the process from now on out, independent of the Congress, and that any attempt by governmental officials (including Diputados) to interfere with the TSE in fulfillment of its mandate constitutes grounds for dismissal. When th[...]

...And the Cat Fight Goes On


OK, it looks like the promising blog (well, it was promising for me, anyway) (part II) isn't getting off the ground, so, hell, I'LL say something about what's been going on lately.Starting from today and working backwards, just to the beginning of this month:The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (a group of seven magistrates selected by the Ecuadorian Congress, and empowered to oversee electoral processes for the next two years, or next election - including the pleibescite on the Constituent Assembly, see below) came out today saying that they're contemplating firing 52 Congressional Diputados for having approving the firing of the TSE's President, Jorge Acosta yesterday. Acosta was fired yesterday by 52 guys and gals from the three largest political parties in Congress (Lucio Gutirrez's PSP, Alvaro Noboa's PRIAN, and Jamie Nebot's PSC) because he cast the deciding/decisive vote (four to three) for the TSE in approving the pleibescite for the Constituent Assembly, and fixing the date for the Pleibescite for April 15. Correa's Minister of Economy and Finances has already set aside funds for the Pleibescite (about $20m) and administratively, at least, the thing's on track to happen. Politically, though, it's another matter, because the statute approved by Acosta and company on March 1 contains all the wording approved by President Rafael Correa and his supporters, and ignores the wording approved by Congress in late February.3) What's the big difference in the wording? Without going into all the details regarding who members of the Constituent Assmbly can be and how they can get there (more later on this), the big point of contention is the authority of the Assembly to mandate changes in the system of government here. Correa asked for (and the TSE approved) a blank check approach giving the Assembly and its members plenipotentiary powers to do just about anything they want in terms of deleting/changing/establishing governmental institutions (including Congress itself, the entire court system, the TSE, etc.). Congress, not surprisingly, approved a much narrower concept, empowering a Constituent Assembly to make changes, just as long as they made no/no changes to the Congress and the other institutions of government - in essence mandating no change of exactly the kind that Correa y cia posited in their campaign to power. At this point then, there appears to be the classic train wreck coming up of an immovable object standing up to an irresistible force. The traditional political parties in Congress (the PSP, PSC and PRIAN, plus assorted allies) are doing everything they can to block, delay, or derail the Constituent Assembly process, or failing that, geld the CA such that it will be unable to produce any substantive changes in the way politics are done, particularly in Congress, and during elections. In doing this, of course, the traditional parties (the "partidocracia" as Correa calls them) are giving more and more credibility to Correa and the points he makes about them being corrupt, unscrupulous types who mean to keep control of principal governmental (non-executive branch) institutions. Those same institutions - the courts, the TSE, the Contralor de la Republica (chief auditor of the entire government), the Fiscal General (kind of like the Solicitor General of the U.S. but not the Attorney General, which is controlled by the executive branch) have all been controlled/manipulated by t[...]

Just Checking In With the New Year


I've been so busy the last six weeks, I haven't had a chance to post anything. It's been a hell of a month, with a surprise ending for my venture (well, my first venture, anyway) in cacao and chocolate. Since I don't have any time to do more than check in, I'll leave it at that for the moment, with all readers (all two of us!) in suspense for the moment - or as much suspense as those two readers can be in, knowing that they already know what happened in December.....