Ecuador Political Reviews
With the largest majority in the National Assembly in history and high turnout in the presidential election, Rafael Correa can launch a new development model in the Andean Republic. Falling oil prices and social conflict still challenge welfare measures and the reduction of social inequality.
Since Rafael Correa won the presidential election in the fall of 2006, the president and his party Alianza País (AP) have implemented a political “citizen revolution”, underpinned by a new constitution from 2008 seeking a new development and redistribution model. The changes have occasionally faced major political, social and economic challenges, but have also repeatedly been legitimized through elections and referendums in recent years. In February 2013, President Rafael Correa and the AP won a historic victory in the presidential and parliamentary elections. They received as much as 57 percent of the vote in the presidential election and a majority in the National Assembly for the first time in Ecuador’s democratic history, with 100 of 137 seats. Thus, the government has a sufficient majority to implement legislative decisions, including constitutional amendments that require a 2/3 majority.
The opposition was weakened by the 2013 election, after failing to overcome its ideological and geographical dividing lines at the national level. They now control only 32 seats in the National Assembly. In the spring of 2014, however, the opposition took an important victory in the local elections, following several controversial national and local political issues for the government. Mauricio Rodas of the Conservative Party Sociedad Unida Más Acción (SUMA) won the mayoral office in the capital Quito, and the opposition gained power in several major cities. It is also interesting that AP’s victory was relatively scarce in the provinces where social mobilization against natural resource extraction has been greatest. It has proved increasingly difficult to keep the president’s alliance in the National Assembly, which has become evident in the treatment of reform of the Ecuadorian National Insurance.
Today’s National Assembly is historically in the sense that as many as 40 percent of its members, including the presidency of the National Assembly, are women. “The revolution has a woman’s face,” Correa has said, referring to the new president of the National Assembly and Correa’s possible future heir, Gabriela Rivadeneira. It is also interesting that the number of Indigenous people has increased from 5 to 8. The number of African-Ecuadorian representatives has also increased from 1 to 7, all members of the AP.
Correa’s change project
The political debate in Ecuador is very polarized, and there is little room for compromise in areas where the opposition and social movements are at odds with the government. At the same time, it is clear that the reign has in fact brought increased material welfare and not least significant improvements in the country’s infrastructure. Although Correa’s change project has threatened some of the traditional elite’s accrued privileges, the government has brought years of stability and a kind of predictability to the country, after years of unrest no one longs for. In the summer of 2013, Correa went so far as to put the armed forces’ significant financial resources under civilian control, an unthinkable project just a few years earlier.
The government’s long-term economic policy aims to reduce oil dependency and diversify the economy. It is committed to improving the country’s infrastructure to contribute to increased value creation and improved productivity. Part of this overall policy is also a formidable investment in, and reform of, education, with the knowledge city of Yachay and the public sector capacity building project Prometeo, foremost.
Until the next presidential election in 2017, there is tension as to whether any constitutional amendment will open for re-election of the president. Despite the fundamental questions related to this, the struggle will probably be determined by whether the relatively good economic development also continues with low oil prices.
The good life
Ecuador’s 2008 constitution gives legal rights to nature. The idea is that a traditional Andean worldview, together with a strengthening of the state’s role in the economy, will create a sustainable development model. Having historically based its development on commodity exports, regardless of the negative environmental effects, the costs had reached the pain limit. The result was the development concept sumak kawsay – “the good life”, based on a goal of “collective well-being”. Although equality and difference are two contradictory concepts, but rather constitute a two-part dimension of social justice, where one strives for a mutually beneficial coexistence between the individual, her society and the environment of society.
The strategy emphasizes that economic growth should not be a goal of development, but rather a guided instrument. The hope is to secure economic growth and industrial production that do not harm the environment or degrade people’s quality of life. In practice, the authority ensures that the most stringent environmental standards will be used as a basis for further extraction of natural resources. They have therefore launched a target with the requirement for «responsible mineral extraction». At the same time, a new mining law from June 2013 made it more attractive to invest in large-scale mining, with planned start-up of several Chinese projects by 2017.
According to Countryaah, Ecuador has 15 nationalities, 18 indigenous peoples and 15 indigenous languages, of which the Kichwaog Shuar of the 2008 Constitution is considered intercultural. The Constitution establishes indigenous territories as independent entities in which own authority and legal systems are partially recognized. However, the Constitution only recognizes Spanish as the official language. It recognizes the right of indigenous peoples to be consulted in accordance with ILO Convention 169 on the rights of indigenous peoples, but does not accept the right to free and informed consent, as indigenous organizations require.
Prior consultations on projects involving indigenous peoples, on the other hand, are not regulated by any separate law in Ecuador, but depend on the individual sector’s consultation requirements. This has made the implementation of several extraction projects very challenging, with social and political conflicts related to access to, use and utilization of natural resources.In national development projects, investment in the extractive industry has been prioritized over the indigenous peoples’ territorial rights.
Today, several cases are pending in the Ecuadorian justice system related to recovery projects, such as oil recovery in the vulnerable areas of the Yasuni National Park in the Amazon. Indigenous organizations such as CONAIE have repeatedly shown their dissatisfaction with the processes related to water rights. In southern Ecuador, major mining and oil projects such as “Condor-Mirador” and “Panantza-San Carlos” are planned. The start-up of the Condor-Mirador extraction, in Shuar territory, has met local and national criticism, linked to the Chinese mining company’s Ecucorrient’s failure to address social and environmental challenges with the mine’s waste pool. It is likely that the government will still have to deal with significant social conflicts related to interventions in the natural and local environment in the future.