9 October 2008 Edition
International : Ecuador
‘Citizens’ revolution’ gains momentum
BY EMMA CLANCY
THE people of Ecuador have voted overwhelmingly to endorse a new constitution to ‘refound’ the country. The new constitution has been the centrepiece of the political project led by left-wing President Rafael Correa, elected in late 2006 on a platform of reclaiming national sovereignty, empowering the people of Ecuador and redistributing the nation’s wealth to meet social and environmental needs.
The constitution, which was drafted by an elected constituent assembly over eight months, was ratified on 28 September with 64 per cent voting in favour and 28 per cent against.
The resounding enthusiasm for the new constitution is a strong step forward in what Correa has termed a ‘Citizens’ Revolution’ and follows the example of his Venezuelan ally, President Hugo Chávez, who has based the popular process of reform in his country on a similar constitution ratified in 1999.
Bolivia’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales, is also currently engaged in a battle to hold a referendum on a new constitution aimed at redressing the legacy of exclusion of the impoverished indigenous majority.
The new Ecuadorean constitution enshrines a number of legal rights for individuals and communities – and it makes Ecuador the first state in the world to recognise the rights of nature and eco-systems.
It recognises national diversity in a country where 40 per cent of the population is indigenous. While 60 per cent of Ecuadoreans live in poverty overall, among indigenous people this figure is 87 per cent.
The universal right to free healthcare is established in the new constitution, as is free education up to third-year university level. Compulsory military service is abolished.
One article recognises unpaid domestic work, largely done by women, as being valuable to the economy and guarantees Government payments to those who perform it. Same-sex civil unions will be legalised and have the same rights as heterosexual marriages.
The opposition media and international conservative press, dismayed at the vote, claim that the referendum was a “power grab” by Correa, pointing to the article which raises the limit on consecutive presidential terms from one to two.
In reality, the new constitution aims to decentralise political power to the grassroots level by recognising participative democracy and collective rights and extending popular control over the nation’s resources. The content of the constitution itself was drafted through a process involving thousands of community meetings in neighbourhoods, schools and universities across the country.
A referendum in April 2007 to establish the constituent assembly won a resounding 82 per cent of the vote and Correa won another electoral victory in September 2007 when his party, Country Alliance, won more than 60 per cent of the seats in the new assembly.
A key article of the constitution establishes “national sovereignty”, declaring: “Ecuador will not permit the establishment of foreign military bases nor foreign facilities with military aims. It is prohibited to cede national military bases to foreign armed or security forces.”
This is bad news for the US, which maintains a deeply unpopular military air base in Manta on Ecuador’s coast. The lease is up next year, and Correa has pledged not to renew it.
The sovereignty article is also viewed as asserting Ecuador’s national rights against the Colombian Government of President Álvaro Uribe, who ordered the bombing of a FARC camp in Ecuadorean territory in March this year, killing 21 people. News emerged following the attack of US involvement.
The constitution also aims to restore healthcare, education, water and the financial sector back into public hands. It recognises “strategic” sectors of the economy vital to the well-being of society, which the state has the right to administer or regulate. These include energy, telecommunications, mining and transportation.
More significant public spending will be required to meet the rights enshrined in the constitution to overcome poverty and improve living standards. Ecuador is the fifth-largest exporter of oil in Latin America, and most of Correa’s progressive reforms to date have been funded by oil revenue.
Correa’s election platform included a promise to renegotiate contracts with foreign oil and mining companies. In October last year, Correa increased the Government’s share of windfall profits – profits gained from unexpected increases in oil revenues and above prices fixed in contracts – from 50 per cent to 99 per cent, with the extra income going towards social spending and infrastructure.
Oil giant Chevron has been lobbying the US Government to cancel trade deals with Ecuador over a court case in which it is accused of dumping 18 billion gallons of toxic oil waste into the Amazonian jungle in what has been called a “rainforest Chernobyl” that caused thousands of birth defects and cancer and disease-related deaths.
The case was initiated in the US in 1993 on behalf of more than 30,000 (mainly indigenous) affected residents. The editor of the Ecuador Rising news website (ecuador-rising.blogspot.com), Duroyan Fertl, wrote:
“Chevron spent 10 years arguing it should be heard in Ecuador, renowned for its institutionalised corruption. Having succeeded, however, they are now stuck in an Ecuador where Correa has pledged to root out all corruption.”
Newsweek reported in July that a Chevron lobbyist in Washington put the company’s position to the US Government:
“We can’t let little countries screw around with big companies like this.”
The new constitution will establish a firm legal basis for the independent rights of nature and eco-systems:
“Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.
“Every person, people, community or nationality will be able to demand the recognition of rights for nature before the public institutions.”
Correa has also launched a project for the oil-rich yet untouched rainforest of the Yasuni-ITT National Park, one of the world’s leading centres of biodiversity, where international donors would pay Ecuador to prevent drilling there.
While most of the opposition to the new constitution comes from the hundred or so wealthy families that have previously dominated Ecuador’s political life and economy, there is also criticism from indigenous organisations of the limitations of the new constitution.
In May, the powerful indigenous CONAIE federation, which was the driving force behind the ousting of three presidents in the past decade, declared its opposition to the Government after a number of violent confrontations over mining.
While the indigenous communities affected by mining will be consulted about projects beforehand, they had demanded the right to veto such projects. Another significant criticism is the failure to grant equal status to the indigenous Kichwa language, spoken by 40 per cent of the population.
As Ecuador’s ‘Citizens’ Revolution’ accelerates, like Venezuela and Bolivia it can expect to come under increased right-wing sabotage and propaganda attacks from its own elite and from the US. The inclusion of the indigenous movement in the broader Correa-led movement for change is likely to be crucial to the defence and sustainability of the reform process – and the ability of the Government to break its dependence on foreign mining and oil companies in the next period will be crucial to forging this unity.
An Phoblacht Magazine
AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:
- Don't miss your chance to get the second edition of the 2019 magazine, published to coincide with Easter Week
- This special edition which focuses on Irish Unity, features articles by Pearse Doherty, Dr Thomas Paul and Martina Anderson.
- Pearse sets out the argument for an United Ireland Economy whilst Pat Sheehan makes the case for a universally free all-island health service.
- Other articles include, ‘Ceist teanga in Éirinn Aontaithe’, ‘Getting to a new Ireland’ and ‘Ireland 1918-22: The people’s revolution’.