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.....

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