Tuesday, December 11, 2007

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.......

Saturday, December 08, 2007

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 Elected
We hope that the Asemblistas understand
legislating like dictators provokes conflict
and splits which in turn incite disobedience
and 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."


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 (ballots not marked), and nulo (ballots defaced.)

New proposed language: The new Constitution text will be approved "by at least, 50% plus one, of the sufragantes." (Sufragantes are understood to be those voting either yes or no on the Constitution; this ballot count base would not include votos in blanco or in nulo.)

In essence, the AP wants to reduce the voter base to exclude blancos and nulos (these have always been counted in all elections which I've observed here over the last six years, and they've been included in the overall vote basis when it comes the calculating the 50% cutoff) so as to make it easier to achieve the 50% plus one goal within a smaller vote base. Nifty, huh?

This time, the AP isn't just usurping legislative powers (again) it's seeking to change the rules of the game so that it's easier for them to win approval of their work, in direct contravention (modification I should say) of the statute that set these guys up in the first place. This is not only wrong, it's pure chutzpah and an insult to the electorate that placed their trust in the AP. (For reasons not clear to me, an Izquierda Democratica guy, Diego Borja, has said that this is cool with him and he's supporting this wrong headed initiative. There's probably some quid pro quo for this duplicity/act of political convenience, but I don't know what it is at this point.)

Anyway, the AP continues to push its unethical and un-Constitutional agenda (I say un-Constitutional because I maintain that the 1999 Constitution still exists and pertains), and we'll have to wait and see if any meaningful resistance to all of this appears.

On another front and posting, I'd expressed approval of the military takeover of the PetroEcuador, and I still do. Unfortunately, the military effectives tasked with keeping the peace in the Dayuma area of Orellana have been charged with arresting and torturing 22 Dayuma residents, which has brought the wrath of the Catholic Church's human rights group and other hr goups down on the heads of the military, and rightfully so. While I still hope the military can clean up PE itself (and peacefully so, I'd hope), these guys clearly need to control themselves in detaining local rioters.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

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......

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

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 security affairs. When the Dayuma affair broke out, Larrea was in charge of the cops charged with keeping the peace. His best efforts at doing that didn't work. Worse, for reasons not clear to me, Larrea and Pareja gave Correa the impression that they had gotten things under control in and around Dayuma when in fact things were headed south, as they say.

5. Correa finally got clear on what was going on mid-last week, and Thursday he moved in and fired Larrea and Pareja and appointed a Rear Admiral Zurita to take over management of PetroEcuador. As well, he had the military send in 500 regular troops to take over from the frazzled cops. At this writing, violence is still going on, with three dynamitings of production facilities reported today. Still, the local press reports that the government says that oil production is returning to normal.

6. As I said at the beginning of this post, I agree with Correa's actions on this whole mess. He needs to get the violence under control and if the military prove to be good managers (always a big if in a situation like this), that's fine with me. If Zurita and company can really take charge of the PE (and they're not corrupted themselves in the process), then I'd hope that they will clean out the Augean stable that passes for PE staff and union. There are several corrollary issues extant, like what to do with an elected Prefect who's not been helpful, to say the least, and there's also the issues of making the cops more effective and the chronic problem of not getting oil revenues to the very areas that produce the oil - but one or two things at a time, I say.

Finally, in response to Boz's implicit concern (I THINK he's concerned about it) about military involvement in PE and oil business, I can understand it. We've all seen the true military-industrial complexes at work down here in LA, and those arrangements still exist here in Ecuador in some areas, and I'm not a fan of the arreglo myself. Still, in the case of PE, I think we'll need some uniforms in there to show the union that Correa's not messing around. I'll go further and say that I think that Correa and the boots should crush the union and start building a new PE that's honest and competent. A tall order, I admit, but that's what I think needs doing.....

Sunday, December 02, 2007

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.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

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.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

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 entities/individuals is obvious. They view these groups as potentially troublesome opponents who might cause trouble regarding certain proposals that could come out of the CA process, and they want them out of the way.

Correa y cia have maintained that the CA has plenipotentiary powers, which would give them the right to do anything they want. They have 80 out of 130 votes in the CA (which has a simple majority vote rule) so they can do anything they want in the CA. The only things or persons who might still check or control them are the groups mentioned above. For that reason I think they should stay, and indeed, have the Constitutional right to stay.

Friday, August 31, 2007

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.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

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 flared up again about three weeks ago when new videotapes came to light which appeared to show the top doggies urging Larrea to fly. At the same time, copies of military memoes came out which contradicted each other regarding the actions of some of these same officers right before the flight, and indeed, the conflicting memoes seemed to suggest that there had been an attempt to change stories on just what had happened in those last minutes of Larrea's life.

What's most interesting about all of this has been the response of the Correa government to family and media charges of failure to charge high level officers in the case with negligence, etc. Correa's new MinDefense and his Secretary for Security matters have steadfastly refused to charge anyone new in the case and have done their utmost to keep the case closed despite new evidence to the contrary.

I think the reason for the refusal of the Correa government to reopen the case is simple. Even though it would be the morally and legally right thing to do, reopening the case would frighten and alienate military leaders, something that Correa y cia most definitely don't want to do in the run up to the CA elections slated for the end of September.

So, the bottom line: These guys have their priorities straight; they'll do anything necessary (or NOT do anything; depends on the subject) to get themselves a majority in the CA. There are other things they really should be doing (like firing the entire union leadership of the teachers' union, UNE, and the leadership of PetroEcuador, a national disgrace), but they won't; it'd cost them votes.

Will this all win Correa and his allies the CA? Don't know yet, but they're sure trying hard.....

Friday, August 17, 2007

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...

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

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 same week, he attacked the Spanish media for criticizing him ( the usual: You're liars, infringing on Ecuadorian sovereignty, etc.) and said as well that if any Ecuadorian tv station came out against him like RCTV came out against Chavez, he'd shut the tv station down. Correa clarified that he meant if any station committed seditious acts, he shut them down, but the clarification didn't make Ecuadorian media folks feel any better.

I've mentioned Correa's antipathy to the media in earlier postings. His conflicts with the press (and it's much more Correa attacking the press; the press, in the main, has been pretty temperate in its responses) are much more than personal ire. Rather, there's a method to his madness. His attacks have resulted in a general decline in the public's opinion of the media (to be fair, public opinion of the press was never that high), and that's just what Correa wants because he wants to neutralize another institution - the press - that stands between him and control of the country.

Correa has managed to compromise the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and the Constitutional Tribunal, key actors in govenance and democracy in Ecuador. He thought he had the Congress in hand as a result of the firing of 57 opposition deputies, but some of the replacement deps have voted their conscience and against Correa on several of his key initiatives, so his response is to argue that the Constituent Assembly can and should dissolve the Congress as soon as the CA is convened. Correa has been very clear that he expects to control the CA and that he expects the CA will restructure governmental insitutions and the economy itself so as to give control over these systems to "the people".

Among other things, Correa and his first Press Officer, Monica Chuji, have opined that the media system needs to be revamped so as to give "the people" more of a voice in what's said in public print and over the airwaves. Various media and press reps have not taken kindly
to that kind of talk but as I say, the overall media response to Correa has been relatively muted.

Muted until last week's decree banning publication of more videos, that is, and that's where we come to the crux of the matter: Has Correa become so powerful that he'll be able to cow the media into doing what he wants? Or will the press publish/release tapes that could very well bring down the Correa government?

Briefly, it's a little bit like when Richard Nixon stonewalled on releasing White House tapes. Everyone knew that if he got away with stonewalling, he'd be able to do anything. Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered him to release the tapes and that was the end of Nixon.

Here in Ecuador, the talk is that there are tapes out there that are just as dangerous to Correa as Nixon's tapes were to him. Correa's sudden ban on releasing those tapes have alerted people here just as happened 30 years ago in the States; everyone realizes that there must be something terribly important in those tapes to Correa. Just as important is what the press will do about them.

The press has come out (at least some of them; they're not a monolithic group, that's for sure) totally against the decree and they say they'll challenge the decree in courts, although since the Tribunal Constitutional is in Correa's pocket it seems, it's doubtful that such a challenge would go anywhere.

And that's where we stand right now, on the afternoon of July 17.

So the tipping point is this: Will the press blink and accept the decree or not? If they do, then in my opinion, they've started down the slope to censorship here in Ecuador, and Correa will have won the ballgame. If the press really is serious about opposing the ban, though, they (in my opinion) should get as many tapes out as widely as possible, as soon as possible, whatever the consequences.

Whichever way it is, though, censorship (perhaps self censorship is better phrase) or full disclosure, we need to know and we need to know soon.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

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 taken kindly to Correa's general and personal attacks on the press and indeed, anyone who differs with him. More and more op-ed commentary is anti-Correa and now, post CA referendum, people are beginning to wonder about Correa's avowed intention of controlling the Constituent Assembly and its results.

Correa's emotional immaturity (perhaps lack of emotional intelligence is a better phrase), his style, and his tactics are only just now getting widespread attention (and rejection) within the world of political commentators, although he's been clear and open on many of his political objectives for the country since the beginning.

While many of his objectives are laudable and in some cases, even necessary, in my opinion, Correa's arrogant, insulting, and overbearing attitudes are alienating more and more of the electorate here. That growing popular alienation, generated by Correa's own words and actions, represents a real and growing threat to Correa's agenda and Correa's own tenure. He and his agenda would be very well served if he were to keep his mouth shut and his mind open to the views of others; if he doesn't his popular base will shrink to the point where he becomes irrelevant to the political future of the country, and that would be a shame.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

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.

Monday, May 21, 2007

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., publically. The same draft law would restructure the Bank Board system so as to give the government much more influence in overseeing, indeed running the bank sector.

At the same time, Correa has staged a coup within the banking oversight system by placing several of his allies on the oversight entity, the Bank Board (Junta Bancaria) such that he now has majority control of the Board. (Note: Things are complicated right now on JB because the President of the Board is the Superintendent of Banks, who's not a friend of Correa's and who has veto power over Board decisions; Correa hopes to rectify this as well via his draft banking law as I say, but we'll see.) As well, Correa has somehow managed to force the Manager of the Central Bank , a conscientious professional CB sort, to resign from the CB and Bank Board, which removed a respected Correa opponent from the policy arena.

In moving on these two fronts, policy via the draft law, and institutional via the Bank Board takeover, Correa has moved a long way toward governmental control of bank policies, which pleases many, including me, from a visceral standpoint. That said, economically speaking, I've never/never seen a controlled interest rate system succeed in achieving its putative goal of making more and cheaper credit available to the public on a sustainable basis, anywhere in LA, ever. Right now, then, it looks to me like Correa will provide cheap, short term politcal gratification to the voters at the expense of bankers (And who likes bankers? They're right down there with lawyers on the Rodney Dangerfield respect list) , but it'll cost us in the long run in terms of affordable credit availability...

OK, I'm going to close this post because it's gotten kind of long. The next post will address Correa's war on the press, and after that, I think a separate post on the juegos of our Minister of Economy and Finance, Ricardo Patino, Ecuador's very own minor league, Vladamiro Montesinos...

Monday, May 07, 2007

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 assorted other groups, are seeking to launch a concerted effort to get (in Correa's words) "at least 80%" of the seats in the CA, so as to avoid any return to life of the hated "partidocracia". To be clear, I don't want either, either a Correa majority, or, even less, a return of the partidocracia.

The TSE is being flooded with applications/candidates for Asemblistas, which I like, as I see it as a sign of participatory democracy; lots of people want to get in on the action, and that's cool.

Once again, it gets down to this: We (and I use that term advisedly; I'm not an Ecuadorian citizen, but I care very deeply about this neat little country), want change, change away from the corrupt cronyism of the partidocracia, but we don't want authoritanianism, Chavismo, ni dictaduria. We just want to do better by our kids and our families and do it freely, and without others telling us what to think or do. It's funny, I'm an American in Ecuador, but I see that in their own inarticulate way, Ecuadorians are trying to express the same values we cherish up north regarding life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I know this is cursi/corny, but hell, I've just had a bottle of very good Pinot Noir with some friends and that's how I feel... Si, se puede, y adelante, Ecuador!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

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 problematic for any politico, especially Correa, who's intent on proving that his/his economic model is the right one for Ecuador).

--- Doing away with political party of control of the Supreme Court (analogous to the U.S. Federal Courts of Appeal), the Constitutional Tribunal (as its name implies...), and ironically, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal which effectively trashed the Congress last month. Correa's big leader on this theme.

--- Development of a more representative Congress. At present, there's a beautiful system for the traditional political parties, whereby Diputados are elected on a slate, at-large basis, ensuring continued control of the most populous Provinces. The same system precludes personal responsibility of the Diputados to any part of their Province, because all 18 Diputados in Guayas, for example represent the ENTIRE Province since there are no Congressional districts. A lot of people, including, notably, Correa, want to correct this, but in setting up districts, you're pulled into the question of population balance between the Provinces which could bring Ecuador back to a bicameral legislature, which I understand existed years ago.

--- Neoliberal economics vs. regulated economies - or maybe it won't be a "versus" question, so much as a mixed arrangement. Correa and team are true 70's statist die-hards who want to bring back directed credit, planned economies, super strong labor unions, and etc... The argument is that open market economies (Washington consensus, neolibs, etc.) have produced only lackluster growth in Latin America over the last 15-20 years and therefore, to listen to Correa, this should all be done away with to make way for state oversight of the private sector. Right. Well, again, we'll see what happens here. BTW, Correa was clear Sunday night that he won't tumbar/reversar dollarization; hope not, because he'll bring the place down tout suite if he does...

--- On this same subject (economics), Correa's put his finger on one, hot item with which resonates with a lot of people, including me, and that's the subject of exorbitant interest rates, fees, and commissions charged by the small and successful banking community here. Despite protests from donors, international groups like the IMF and the WB, not to mention the poor folks trapped in the capital markets here banks have held stubbornly to their oligopolistic practices and just taken borrowers to the cleaners.... Anyway, Correa has singled out the bankers for special opprobrium, calling them thieves, rats, and well, not very nice guys. The banking community was taken by surprise by all this because they'd operated pretty much with impunity for years; not any more

5) Regional (read, Venezuela) alliances: Not where will this go, but how far?

6) Before I forget it: Way too many comentaristas are equating the big majority vote in favor of a CA with Correa, saying that it's enhanced his political standing/power, and so on.

Yeah, well, some of that dynamic applies, for sure, but my own feeling is that there's way too much tendency to make this whole reform process into a power building exercise for Correa. Look, I don't have any illusions about this guy: I've said before that I view him as a hot-tempered, imperious sort with a strong streak of messianic righteousness. If he thought he could get away with pulling a "Chavez" on Ecuador, he'd do it. Thing is, Ecuador is way different from Venezuela (maybe I'll do comparative analysis piece on this in separate posting later) and people, as I've said in other posts, are watching Correa very closely for any moves that he might try to make in that (the Chavez) direction.....

What people really want is more honest, transparent, egalitarian and representative government, and a government that produces in terms administration of honest and fair justice, administration of public services especially health and education, and they're hoping that the CA process - with Correa's leadership, if he does it right - will bring these things about.

But not at the expense of a one party, totalitarian system which is what Chavez is well on his way to achieving up there.

.... Which reminds me of another subject meriting in-depth treatment later on:

7) What will happen with or to, the political party landscape in the coming months/couple of years? I've alluded to the traditional big guys being in disarray in the run up to the CA, but haven't mentioned the fact that the non-fired politicos/parties, including the PRE (what kind of relationship have Correa and that corrupt, dangerous crazy Abdullah Bucaram, cooked up?), the RED-ID, the Socialists and MPD, some elements of the UDC, and Patchakutik plus some turncoats from the trads (calling themselves the "Bloque de Dignidad") are milling around without benefit of an operating Congress.

..... And this doesn't mention the existence of a parallel Congress made up of the fired 57 Diputados, plus the Alianza Pais (BTW, separate research question: Who financed Correa during the Presidential campaign, and who's been financing AP activities during the Consulta Popular, and even more importantly, from now on out?)

All this said (item 7) the basic question is, how will this all shake out and specifically, which parties will win and which will lose, and what price will the winners pay to win?

Anyway, some preliminary things to consider/research/discuss in the coming weeks... Whew, just doing the list is wearing.. More later, with the hope that the citizenry of this country are ultimately wiser than the political Wiseguys....

Sunday, April 15, 2007

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.... around a year for all of this, and that's a lot of time for people here (and particularly investors, big and small, Ecuadorian and foreign) to watch how Correa y cia do.

As noted earlier, it appears that some people have made the decision to get their money out of the country now, but I'd guess that that's the big boys' money. The vast majority of people here are middle and lower class, and most of them don't/won't have the luxury/option of taking their money of the country; they need their funds to pay bills, mortgages, orwhatever, so they're going to have to sit here and pray that political events in the coming months don't adversely affect the economy.

I sure hope that the initial cash flow and employment figures I mention above don't portend continued negative or worsening trends in the coming months. Correa's the kind of guy who, if confronted with private decisions to move capital and etc., is quite capable of doing something crazy like calling bank holidays, freezing funds, or whatever, which would obviously only exacerbate the situation.

His statements about the banks, the BCE, the use of directed credit and so on have already made people nervous (what DID this guy learn at the University of Illinois, anyway?) and now he really, really needs to calm people down, lead and unite the country and not divide it or alarm it any more than it is now.

I can only hope that he or his supporters contain themselves and refrain from further attacks/accusations against business leaders, the media and opponents that might divide/frighten this country even more.

I hope, I hope that's not a forlorn hope.....

Saturday, April 14, 2007

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", "defenders of vested interests", etc.) portray a righteous, messianic certitude really reminiscent of Castro and Chavez. Along with this, there have been violent, physical attacks on opponents of the traditional parties, carried out by adherents of left wing groups. Not surprisingly, Correa has denied and condemned such attacks but since the police never moved to prevent those attacks (moving instead only to prevent political opponents from entering Congress, claiming they were merely enforcing electoral law; see earlier postings on this), many look askance at Correa's statements.

All of the above has been mooted about for weeks in the local media which has big reader/viewership, so this dilemma, as I put it, has not been lost on the general public, I'd guess.

Oddly enough, though, that same general public still seems largely unaware of the language of the Estatuto/initiative to be voted upon tomorrow, even though the Estatuto was published in virtually every newspaper in the country last Sunday. Human nature being what it is (I'm a big procrastinator myself), people will wait until the last minute to read up on what they're supposed to vote for, or maybe not read the damn thing at all.

I have read the document myself two times myself, though, and after reading it (and assuming I could vote here, which I can't), I'd vote Si on it. I'd vote Si for two simple reasons: 1) The initiative represents a chance to improve things here, as mentioned above; and 2) Article 23 of the Estatuto says that the work coming out of the Constitutional Assembly, everything, must be submitted to the electorate for approval in another Consulta Popular which would take place early next year (my timing estimate). Those two things, a chance for improvement, and a popular check on Correa and anything he might try to pull incline me to Si.

Well, we'll see what happens tomorrow. I see that Correa goes to visit Chavez Monday, which I'm sure is just a coincidence of timing, but it sure doesn't strengthen my trust in this guy; we're gonna have to watch him like a hawk. Fingers crossed as I say.....

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

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 the Consulta Popular on April 15, and if anyone or any institution crosses it, they're history.)

So, what's the net effect on the country? At this point, the general perception of the media, plus people calling/writing in to the media on opinion polls is that Correa, the TSE and assorted allies are in the right on all of this, and that the old line partidocracia has brought this all on themselves. Aside from various political analysts and commentaristas in the print media, no one seems to be overly concerned by the fact that there's been a de facto dissolution of one of the three pillars of a democracy, or by the implications of that dissolution for the future of democracy here. Conventional wisdom on the street is that most of the fired Diputados were either corrupt, arrogant rats themselves, or beholden to party leaders who are, so hey, they had it coming, and the country WILL have a Consulta Popular, which will almost assuredly approve a Constituent Assembly charged with redesigning Ecuador's political landscape.

In the meantime, March events have left two ominous clouds hanging over the country.

First, events of the last three weeks have created a power vacuum resultant from the effective destruction of organized and meaningful political opposition to Correa in the context of national politics. The only formidable opposition figure around is Jaime Nebot, member of the PSC and mayor of Ecuador's largest city, Guayaquil, but he, for the moment, has refused to become official leader of the PSC after Febres Cordero's departure, and he has limited his differences with Correa to regional issues concerning control of the Guyaquil power elite over Guayas province and its resources.

The leader of PRIAN, Alvaro Noboa, lives in Miami and throughout all of this, has contented himself with occasional, weird phone calls to his followers and inarticulate rantings against Correa (Chavez, dictaduria, etc.). Lucio Gutierrez, the corrupt ex-President who inadvertently triggered all of this by trying to (unconstitutionally) fire the TSE President, who he thought was his employee, has thoroughly discredited himself, his party, and the other parties by pulling exactly the corrupt political stunts that Correa had said he would.

En fin, of the three major parties who might present a threat, none of them have effective or willing leadership right now.

The second problem looming on the horizon concerns the precedent that this "March madness" has created in the political world here. No one has missed the fact that Correa has won this round and everyone is aware of the messianic righteousness of the man and his attitudes towards the political and economic establishments in this country. The problem is, that in winning, Correa and his allies rightly see themselves as being on a roll at the moment, and even more problematic, it appears that the Ecuadorian public is willing to go along with all this. The one possible redeeming factor, ironically, is that Ecuadorians are notoriously fickle, and they could very well turn on Correa and bring him down (the "riding the tiger" syndrome). Right now, though, Correa's very much in charge, so the interrogante in many minds is, what will Correa and cia do to gain control of the Constituent Assembly, and when (not if) they do, what will they do with it?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

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 the traditional parties decided to "substitute" one of Gutierrez's/PSP made men for Acosta (they could not figure out a justification for firing him, and indeed, appear to have had no authorities to do so), Acosta and his allies on the TSE adroitly turned the tables on the Diputados and accused them of interfering in TSE matters and the conduct of the pleibescite, and (still with me on all of this?) fired the very people who proposed to fire Acosta.

Naturally, Correa and his team see Acosta as the perfect, maverick ally, and they've come to his support by 1) providing cops (Correa's Minister of Government controls the National Police) to surround the TSE and prevent Gutierrez's "substitute from entering TSE offices and replacing Acosta, and 2) providing the aforementioned 350 cops to surround the Congress and preventing the 57 Diputados who voted to get rid of Acosta from entering their/their offices.

....And that's where we stand right now. Congress had taken issue with the Correa language for the pleibescite earlier and sent a request for injunction against that language to the Constitutional Tribunal but the TC says it can't opine for 30 days or so. In retrospect, the traditional parties might have been smarter to stick with the TC appeal, but that's takena political back seat to the current stand-off between the Congress and the TSE.

Finally, informal media polls this morning show very strong backing for the TSE (and Correa) in face of Congressional moves; conventional wisdom in the street is that Congressional shenanigans of the sort seen in the last few days only serve to give Correa more credibility in his charges of "partidocracia politiqueria". The danger in this, of course, is that, in lending more political force to Correa and his group, the country could very well end up with a much more leftist Constituent Assembly and Constitution - the very thing that the traditional parties have very clumsily tried to head off.