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.....


mcentellas said...

Politics, of course, is about making tough choices. So often politicians have to get their hands "dirty" by choosing to appease one group, while angering another. No government decision ever pleases everyone. That's just a given.

But it's intriguing to see some of the new populist leaders in Latin American maneuver this territory themselves. What principles or issues are they willing to push aside or ignore in order to win power? And how far are progressives willing to concede ecological or other issues in order to left-populists win power? Fundamentally: Is power an ends to a purpose? Or an ends in itself?

Tambopaxi said...

Hey, Miguel,

To your question, I'd answer that in many countries down here, it's an evolutionary process wherein elected leaders start out with the attitude that their mandate (power) will allow them to achieve the purposes/goals which they enunciated in their campaign speeches, etc.

In some cases, notably those of Venezuela and Bolivia, I would submit that that attitude has morphed into one where the incumbent wants to stick around for a long time, if not forever, all the while arguing that he needs, oh say, 40 years or so, to achieve his goals. Somewhere in that process, I'd say that power has become an end in itself...

Along those lines, here in Ecuador, a group known as Foro Democratico (they have their own blog, btw) has come out with a campaign, "Cambio si, Abuso no", which features a sticker showing a crown in a circle with a red line through the circle.

I think that slogan and the sticker sum up the situation and dilemma that confronts lots of us in different countries down here in LA; we want change, but we most definitely do not want monarchies a la Cuba, or putative ones like that in Venezuela (and I think Morales might lean that way too, although he's certainly got a different mindset from that of Chavez).

Finally, thanks for commenting. I'm flattered that you'd drop by and say something.

GringuitaQuiteƱa said...

It is very sad that they wont even touch the "top" mafia of the Ejercito Ecuatoriano, because that is what they are!
Unfortunely the poor soldiers (generally) who just follow orders are the ones that pay for other peoples mistakes and decisions. That reminded me of the case where tons of money were lost (aka stolen) in the Cabrera case. Who paid for that??? yeah.
That is something I can't get over, CORRUPTION! and the reacher getting reacher with some other people's money and faith.