The New York Times
April 15, 2007
Ecuador, April 14 — The past few weeks have been unkind to Ecuador’s
Congress. A court fired 57 of the legislators. Mobs beat some of the
expelled lawmakers in the street. When Congress finally convened this
week, someone lobbed a tear gas canister near its chamber, forcing
lawmakers to flee.
future looks dimmer still for Congress, one of the most reviled
institutions in chronically unstable Ecuador. If President Rafael
Correa gets his way in a referendum on Sunday, his supporters will soon
start rewriting the constitution to weaken congressional power and
enhance state control of the economy.
of Mr. Correa, who has been emboldened by a 70 percent approval rating
and his alliance with President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, call the move
a power grab. But Mr. Correa is a political newcomer lacking Mr.
Chávez’s control over abundant oil revenues, and he faces an array of
challenges that make amassing much greater authority daunting.
is trying to fix a mistake with another mistake,” said Ramiro Crespo,
president of Analytica Securities, an investment bank based here. “His
lack of respect for political institutions is troubling, but Ecuador’s
internal conditions may prevent him from getting too far.”
other oil-exporting countries, Ecuador is not benefiting greatly from
high oil prices. Economic growth in the last quarter of 2006 slowed to
2.2 percent, well below the 4 percent growth in the previous quarter,
after output declined in oil fields seized by the government last year
from Occidental Petroleum of Los Angeles, which was Ecuador’s largest
over Mr. Correa’s economic policies has also unsettled investors, with
banks lending less to builders and other companies. Mr. Correa, 44, an
economist educated in the United States and Belgium, has criticized
Ecuador’s use of the dollar as its currency, a policy adopted in 2000
to halt a plunge in the value of the previous currency, the sucre. And
he signaled a desire to restructure the country’s foreign debt.
talk, however, looks more like bluster since Ecuador recently met its
obligations with foreign creditors. Mr. Correa said a new constitution
would not reverse current monetary policy. And while Mr. Correa opposes
a far-reaching trade agreement with Washington, he favors preferential
treatment for exports to the United States like flowers and tuna.
has shown flashes of moderation and pragmatism,” said Michael Shifter,
vice president for policy at the Inter-American Dialogue, a policy
center in Washington. “He’s also been adept at appealing to a widely
felt grievance against corrupt politics and disgust with the political
sentiment existed, of course, in Venezuela and Bolivia, other Andean
countries that convened assemblies to rewrite their constitutions after
populist presidents were elected. Analysts contrast Mr. Chávez’s
success at consolidating power in Venezuela with the troubles faced by
President Evo Morales in Bolivia, where a constitution-writing assembly
has been stalled by fractious delegates and regional power struggles.
Correa, hampered by slowing economic growth and entrenched business
interests in Guayaquil, a city on the coast, could face similar
challenges if the vote to rewrite the constitution is approved. But
just three months into power and lacking a solid base in Congress, Mr.
Correa has little choice but to move forward with the plan while
support among voters is high.
this month put support for a “yes” vote on convening a
constitution-writing assembly well above the majority needed for
approval. But heavy spending on advertising by business groups opposed
to the measure created doubts on the eve of the referendum on whether
it would pass with a wide margin.
right-wing parties tried linking Mr. Correa to Mr. Chávez with the
slogan “No to 21st-Century Socialism,” an allusion to Venezuela’s
experiment with nationalizations, state cooperatives and efforts to
curb American influence in the developing world.
Ecuador is an important front in Mr. Chávez’s ambitions to lift
Venezuela’s regional influence. Venezuela has offered help to refine
some of Ecuador’s crude oil and has supported Ecuador’s plan to return
to OPEC, which it left in the early 1990s after it fell behind in
Ecuador has loudly supported a plan to create a regional development
bank called Bank of the South, which would be backed mainly by
Venezuela and used to blunt the influence of the World Bank in Latin
America. Brazil, which has been slow in supporting the bank, said on
Saturday that it would become a member.
of Mr. Chávez’s policies here, like a vague proposal by Mr. Correa to
“regulate” news organizations, have raised concern in some quarters.
Still, Mr. Correa, while opposing the renewal of an agreement allowing
the United States to maintain a military base in Manta, a coastal city,
has also adroitly resisted the Venezuelan largess offered to countries
like Bolivia and Nicaragua.
is a disproportionate image of Chávez’s influence on him,” said Adrian
Bonilla, director here of the Latin American Faculty of Social
Sciences. “He is more autonomous.”
Carla D’nan Bass contributed reporting.