Sunday, June 08, 2008

Rush to Closure

I haven't written about Ecuadorian politics in months for reason I mentioned back in January (i.e., not wanting to be negative most, if not all, of the time).

As well, I've been working hard to keep my little restaurant and hostal business going, and it's been tough, tough struggle on that front, with consequent financial and emotional toll that such struggles take on one over time. Still, we're alive and open, and that counts, I like to think.

While this has been going on, the Constituent Assembly and specifically, its majority bloc, Acuerdo Pais under the leadership of Rafael Correa have continued issuing Mandates and developing parts of a draft Constitution intended to replace the present one.

June 24 update:

Work took me away from this, but then yesterday morning, Alberto Acosta, President of the Asamblea Constituyente, resigned which brings me back to my neglected blog.

Acosta has resigned but will remain as member of the AC, since he is the Asamblista mas votado del pais. That said, it's clear that Acosta was forced out of the AC Presidency because he didn't believe that the AC could do an adequate job of developing a new Constitution within the 180 day term initially allotted the AC to do the job. (The enabling statute approved by the Consulta Popular setting up the entire AC process envisions a 60 day follow on period, if necessary, which could take the AC to the end of September.)

As has been clear to all observers for quite some time, it is Rafael Correa who's been directing the AC, and a couple of weeks ago, he made it publicly clear that he wants the AC to wrap its work up by July 26. It appears that Correa's public statement on the AC timetable spelled the end of Acosta's tenure as AC President, and yesterday, he resigned. His resignation, which came as a surprise to nearly all political observers including most of his colleagues with the majority Acuerdo Pais bloc, was accepted by the bloc last night.

Acosta had hoped to convene a plenary session yesterday afternoon to discuss/explain his resignation, but the AP bloc went into caucus by itself with the Political Bureau (how Soviet!) of AP to discuss the implications of Acosta's resignation; it's presumed that the Buro will direct AP members to accept Acosta's resignation. Early news reports this morning (June 24) indicate that Correa will meet with the bloc today in Manabi to discuss next steps.

Acosta held a press conference last night at the AC surrounded by opposition members of the AC and no one from the AP, to explain his resignation. He came across as a "good soldier" type, bowing to the leadership of the AP (Correa) and vowing to continue participating in the AC process. He said that he felt more time was needed for the process to ensure "full social particpation" in developing the Constitution, but that Correa feels that if the process continues beyond July it would be "political suicide", and so he's out as AC President.

As noted, Acosta will stay on the AC, but the Presidency will apparently pass to Fernando Cordero, the AC's Vice President, the second most voted Asamblista and a person who's been vocal in asserting that yes, the AC CAN complete its work by July 26. It's not clear whether that's possible or not, but it does appear that hundreds of articles of the new Constitution remain to be debated and approved. Commentators/analysts believe that in order to do that and finish by the July deadline, the AC will have sit in session six days a week for all remaining weeks and work eight to ten hours a day every day. We'll see if they can do it.

Aside from the sheer workload, the question also arises as to whether the AC should select a new VP (its by-laws never envisioned resignation of the AC President, so there are no provisions regarding selection of a replacement VP) and if so, who that person might be.

The question at the moment is whether the AP will maintain its internal discipline which has served it well up to now, or whether divisions resulting from (possible) struggle for the AC VP position will emerge. Given that Correa has prevailed over Acosta, the second most powerful political figure in Ecuador and the AP, my guess right now is that the AP will hold firm and continue to work together in disciplined manner, striving to comply with the July 26 deadline.

Finally (since I couldn't work this subject artfully somewhere else into the narrative), why the rush to finish up by July 26 and why Acosta's comment about extensions being political suicide for Correa? Basically, it's an issue of diminishing political returns over time for the AC and behind it, Correa. As the AC process has played out over time, it's become increasingly obvious that AP and Correa have had many more things in mind than just a new Constitution and that they didn't have any qualms in highjacking the AC process to advance their politica agenda. As well, on both Constitutional and non-Constitutional issues, it's become increasingly clear that the AP (80 out of 130 Asamblistas, recall) in doing whatever it wants, is advancing a haphazard, quasi-socialist political agenda that has done nothing to strengthen investor confidence in Ecuador, and indeed (I believe) has adversely affected living standards and employment in the country.

At the least, steadily declining approval ratings for the AC and for that matter, Correa himself, seem to indicate that more and more people are losing hope that the AC process will achieve real positive change, let alone improve the lives and incomes of ordinary folks here in Ecuador, and for the same reason, the chances that the country will approve the work of the AC are declining.

For these reasons, Correa and his allies are in a hurry to finish up the AC work and get it out to a Consulta Popular; chances are not all that good that it'll be approved now, and the more time goes by, the bleaker the political outlook for the new Constitution. Still, haste makes waste, as they say, and that's the dilemma: Will speeding up the process improve chances for approval of the new Constitution, or will accelerating the process make for an even worse product (what's been produced to date isn't impressive) which could be rejected by the pueblo (or worse, accepted, only to drive an already weak economy into the ground)? No easy choices for anyone....

Sunday, January 27, 2008

For A Change of Pace: Barack Obama

.... I haven't posted for quite a while because when it comes to writing about events with respect to politics in Ecuador, I recall my mom's admonishment: If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. Ok, that's probably being a little too harsh on Ecuador; in fact, some of things Correa and the Asemblea Constituente have done are not all that bad, but.... well, readers of this blog already have a sense of how I feel regarding political developments to date. The large anti-government demonstration a couple of weeks ago in Guyaquil and the smaller one here in Quito are causes for hope, but I'll address them in a separate post.

NOW, for a change of pace, just a few short thoughts on Barack Obama: I'm an Obama man, to be clear from the get-go. Assuming readers here follow political developments in the States, you know that today, Tuesday, February 5, 2008, is what's known as Super-Tuesday. Today is the day in which 22 States, from MA to CA, from AK to OK and lots of places in between, hold their party primaries.

Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee from the GOP aside (and they literally are on the margins as we go into today), we appear to be down to the final four, Clinton and Obama on the Democratic side, and McCain and Romney over in the GOP.

The Republicans, in the person of George Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress (for most of the last seven years) have done such an absolutely awful job in virtually any subject area you can name (e.g., foreign affairs, health, education, fiscal discipline, distribution of incomes, environment, and on and on) that I fully expect to see a Democratic President in the White House and stronger Dem control in both Houses of Congress, come next January 20.

On that premise - that the Dem Presi candidates are the only ones worth mentioning right now - I just want to say that I really hope that Obama wins that Party's nod.

Some word differences come to mind when I think of Obama and Clinton: He inspires, she manages; he leads, she directs; he has the vision, she has the plan; he emphasizes the future, she touts the past (her experience); he talks about what "we" (the people) can do for the country, she talks about what "she" can do for the country; he's made mistakes (youthful drug issues) and apologized for them, she's made a much bigger mistake (Iraq) and has failed to acknowledge it, let alone for apologize for it; he talks about the way things should and can be done, she talks about the way things are (i.e., have always been) done; he's got the excitement and she's got.... well, she's got those plans again, and all the excitement they bring with them.

Thinking of Clinton, I believe Richard Cohen says it well in today's Washington Post: She'd make a great Chief of Staff for Obama when he's in the White House. (My own pick position for her in the Obama administration would be Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, because she's done so much study and planning (planning!) work in that area.)

I can't think of a person who has prepared him/herself more for the White House job in terms of plans and platforms and in doing the "right" (read politically safe, politically exigent) things in getting elected to the Senate (would she have been able to get elected in her own State of Arkansas? I doubt it.), getting on the right Committees, doing lots of homework, making earnest speeches, publishing the right book, making the right speeches on the right circuits, and again, on and on. In short, she's been doing all the things that an aspiring Presidential candidate "needs" to do, and she's been doing all those things for years, because she's aspired to the job for years (denying it all the time).

Over those same years, the American people have been following her activities (not believing for a second that she didn't want to be President), pretty much knowing where her career was going and why.

And those same American people knew as well, that she'd never vote against the crowd on controversial issues, that she'd always vote in the politically expedient way, the way that wouldn't make waves, the way that was least dangerous (as she perceived the danger at any given time) to her career. That's why she stopped using the name Hillary Rodham Clinton a long time ago; no sense in pissing off those ant-feminist sorts. That's why she ran for Senate in New York, not her real home State of Arkansas (just like RFK, btw) because her chances of getting elected - or get elected at all - were better. That's why she voted for Iraq (as opposed to Robert Byrd of her own Party, who spoke out clearly, even eloquently, against Iraq) even though she knew we were going to war; it was not "safe" to go up against Bush at that point. That's why she's said in earlier debates, that she (as opposed to Obama and others) would continue to deal with lobbyists because "that's the way things are done"; she doesn't want to get cross with those guys now during the election campaign.

And listening to Clinton, I guess that all of the above, all of those decisions, have been taken on the basis of experience. Experience.....

Well, let's see, Democrat experience over the last seven years has gotten us the highest level of national debt in our history, a Republican-controlled Congress for most of that time (and a Congress now nominally controlled by Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, who act like Republican lap dogs most of the time), a shrinking middle class which finds affordable housing and higher education more out of reach than ever, historically high oil prices, an impending recession, endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a disparaged and disrespected America across the globe, a degraded environment, basic civil rights compromised at home, and ignored abroad, under our aegis, and on and on....

Frankly, I think a great deal of the current Democratic Party leadership (including Clinton, who's on the DLC) should be thrown overboard and replaced with people capable of getting strong control of both houses of Congress and who aren't ashamed of calling themselves liberal.

At this point, in my opinion, Barack Obama's the only Democratic leader capable of leading an overhaul of the party, and I believe it also explains why he's doing so well in the primaries.  People are simply tired of the same old, experienced people who aren't capable of achieving any real change in so many of our institutions, and they're looking for young blood and fresh ideas.

Me too.  Go, Obama!