Ecuador-Underdeveloping Democracy

September 25, 2007

Ever since August 10, 1979, when young Jaime Rold6s was voted into power after nine years of dictatorship, Ecuador's democratic experiment has posed a difficult challenge. The country's first year of constitutional govern- ment is now past. According to of- ficial statements, private enter- prise is consolidating its share of power thanks to an opening pro- vided by the government. Already there are signs of social discon- tent, political frustration and worsening living conditions for the majority of people. And the Armed Forces frequently hint that they are prepared to "save the country from the forces of disorder and subversion." The Military Paves the Way The Ecuadorean military had begun preparing for "el retorno"-the return of civilians to government-in 1976. Their na- tionalist illusions had faded, while civilian sectors, first through their trade and professional associa- tions, and then through political parties, had begun to seize the political initiative. It was implied that the "return process" would lead to a democratic opening and social reforms. Conditions, however, led to a different reality. With the participation of leftist activists, peasant demands for agrarian reform made themselves felt in 1973. In 1975, Ecuador's three trade union federations car- ried out a successful national strike, followed by a second strike in 1977 and a widespread work stoppage by teachers. And throughout these years, the urban poor had begun to mobilize for land and housing. In the words of Ecuador's rulers, "social agitation" was on the rise. Traditional power groups quick- ly took charge of the "return pro- cess" and, together with the mili- tary, concocted a repressive legal- political transition arrangement. New laws regulating elections and political parties, together with President Jaime Roldos Assad Bucaram 36 NACLA Reportupdate*update update update punitive action against the mobiliz- ed popular sectors, created condi- tions which assured that the pro- cess would not run the risk of opening the way to genuine social change. The most extreme manifestation of this was the massacre of 125 workers at the AZTRA sugar mill on October 18, 1977. Roldos: An Unprecedented Victory Despite their control over the return to civilian rule, traditional power groups did not score an un- qualified victory when Rold6s was voted into power. Following primary elections which narrowed the presidential field from six candidates to two, the electorate faced a choice bet- ween Sixto Durdn, candidate of the Right, and Rold6s, who was supported by what could be called Ecuador's political center. In this context, Rold6s represented the only kernel of hope for progress that might benefit the people. This hope brought out 1.3 million votes for Rold6s, an unprecedented vic- tory. An electoral alliance between two parties, representing different political strategies and laced with personal power struggles, made the victory possible. Yet that very alliance assured that the new government would be divided and hamstrung. The first party, Rold6s' own Concentration of Popular Forces (CFP), is today's expression of Ecuador's long populist tradition. It is a 30-year-old mass electoral party, defining itself as "national, anti-feudal and progressive." Its powerful leader, Assad Bucaram, of Lebanese parentage, was prevented from running for the presidency in 1978 by an NovlDec 1980 Ecuadorean law which forbids candidates who are not natural citizens. Bucaram was able to prove his Ecuadorean birth but in the meantime his political prot6g6 and nephew, Rold6s, was pushed forward as the party's candidate. Soon after his victory, Rold6s broke with Bucaram. The CFP's partner in the alliance was the Popular Democratic Party (PDP), the result of a merger in 1978 between the Christian Democrats and the "pro- gressive Conservatives," a split-off from the old Conservative Party. The Popular Democrats have been evolving toward the political center. In agreeing to this alliance as an electoral expedient, the two par- ties postponed dealing with their simmering contradictions. However, with the reins of power in their hands (the CFP and PDP also won a majority of seats in Parliament), the confrontation moved to the forefront. The CFP launched an attack on the PDP in Congress, calling it "the historical conflict between those forces which seek the country's progress and those which resist in order to defend their traditional privileges." Oswaldo Hurtado, ideologue and top leader of the PDP, and Rold6s' vice-president, had already hurled the first epithets in 1976, declaring that the CFP, instead of evolving and developing its positions, had "become involuted...a mere instru- ment for the personal interests of its new caudillo"--Assad Bucaram. Backwardness versus pro- gress? Or just more political in- fighting among powerful groups like all the others the country has known? Without denying the existence of a leadership struggle, even one within the CFP (i.e. between Rold6s and Bucaram), this is not central. The fundamental issue is that a political regime is struggling to take shape in Ecuador which differs from traditional oligarchical or populist regimes. The character of the large voter turnout indicates that a clearly defined reformist coalition should have come to power on August 10, 1979. But these groups have never con- stituted a coherent force. Neither was there at the time a grass-roots social movement which could ef- fectively challenge a social, political and economic system so rife with injustice. The "21 points" During the electoral period, presidential candidate Rold6s (CFP) and his running-mate Oswaldo Hurtado (PDP) cam- paigned on a 21-point program. The 21 points comprised a general list of goals which gave rise to the supposition that the two young personalities would form a refor- mist government. But neither before nor still less after their vic- tory were the allied forces able to agree on strategies or concrete plans of action to develop the pro- gram. For example, the eighth point advocates: "rural development and the advancement of the peas- antry through agrarian reform, col- onization, provision of technical and financial services, and the construction of local roads." Ecuador's countryside has been substantially transformed in recent years, thanks to the slow decomposition of traditional social relations and the formation of medium and large-sized business units. Despite two agrarian reform laws (one promulgated in 1964 37update*update*update update and the other in 1973), the tragic reality remains one of a mass of peasants on the fringes of land, ir- rigation and credit services, still exploited as day laborers or tenant farmers. The eighth point does not ade- quately address this reality. In fact, the new government's concrete response has been to exacerbate conditions. The state has sup- ported the development of large companies producing goods for export. Prices have been reviewed or raised on agricultural goods, without solving the problem of in- termediaries or strengthening the state commercial network which exists, in a weak form, to benefit small producers. The state has stopped expropriating land and distributing it to marginal sectors in the countryside. And not least important has been the political repression of those peasant organizations which have taken de facto measures, called by the authorities "invasions" of private property. A Developmentalist Government In March 1980, the government issued its "National Development Plan" for a 4-year period. Instead of concretizing the 21-point pro- gram, it rather presents a broad exposition of development policy. In synthesis, the main aspects of the Plan include the following: *The road to development: en- couragement of non-traditional ex- ports. This is intended to promote a substantial influx of foreign ex- change which would allow the country to industrialize and displace imports. From this view- point, industrialization and import substitution are synonymous with national independence from world 38 capitalist centers. Because of competition on the international market, however, non-traditional Ecuadorean ex- ports will have to keep their prices low by restricting benefits to workers. *Opening up to private capital: If industrialization is to be the axis of the new economy, it will be dominated by private in- vestment-61 %, according to the Plan. And, contrary to the Political Constitution, which stipulates that strategically important sectors like natural resources, public services and branches of social interest are reserved for the state, the Plan opens the door to private invest- ment in the exploitation of oil, gas, minerals and forests, as well as steel and auto production. eSocial policy: Separating "economic policy" and "social policy" as two areas of state ad- ministration, the plan defines its in- dustrial and occupational pro- grams in terms of first economic and secondarily social priorities. Thus, 490,000 new jobs will be created by 1984. In the meantime, however, 1.2 million people will re- main unemployed. By 1984, the Plan foresees the construction of 300,000 housing units, for which private investment should provide about U.S. $1.65 billion; state investment would total only U.S. $13.2 million. There is no doubt that this distribution of investments will have an effect on the quality and final prices of hous- ing. And the country's housing deficit, which has now reached 800,000 units, will persist. Achievements of the Government It would seem that the Rold6s government's immediate purpose is to fulfill the bargains made with traditional power groups. This has meant shaping his policy to the detriment of popular hopes for change. The official line has been to "encourage economic develop- ment in the function of social justice." But at the rate things are going, it seems inevitable that the tendency towards the concentra- tion of wealth and the country's dependency will only grow stronger. Beginning in August 1980, the policy of stimulating firms which produce basic necessities ac- quired primary importance. It must be recognized, however, that this has been state policy since 1975, in milk products for example. Nonetheless, Ecuador's private in- dustry has preferred to produce for export rather than satisfy inter- nal demand and thus lower the cost of wage goods. Secondly, at the same time as it has provided credit and tax incentives for private firms, the government has seen fit to raise final prices. It is true that in January 1980, the minimum wage was raised by 100%. (It had remained stationary since 1976, during which time the real value of the Ecuadorean sucre had fallen to 30 centavos.) Together with the rise in wages, a price freeze was decreed on basic necessities and services. Despite this, prices have continued to rise illegally (on such items as milk, sugar, bread, green vegetables, meat, medicine, gasoline, transportation, rent, education...) to reflect the general "policy of real prices" which the employers' associations have agreed on with the government. In another area of the economy, the government's oil policy seems to be a positive exception. In the NACLA Reportupdate*update update update current situation, where world hydrocarbon reserves are saturated, a marginal oil-producing country like Ecuador is in a difficult position. The foreign exchange which oil brings in makes up the most important component in the budget. Because of this, both Tex- aco, associated with the Ecuadorean State Petroleum Corp. (CEPE), and the companies which buy the oil have mounted a ferocious campaign to make the government lower the price to under U.S. $32. Up to now, CEPE has been selling oil at around U.S. $33/barrel, although at the begin- ning of the year the price was up around $36. Another aspect of the problem concerns contracting services to prospect for new reserves. The traditional policy was to grant con- cession areas to the companies, and pay for their services in oil. With the current CEPE administra- tion, contracting is at the com- pany's risk and payment is in money. So one can at least speak of an oil policy which safeguards the interests of the state. The Current Legislature Beginning on August 10, 1980, when the second set of regular Congressional sessions began, and new leaders were to be elected, the political situation in the country changed slightly. By January 1980, the belligerence between the executive and legislative branches which characterized the first set of ses- sions had led Rold6s to threaten to call for a plebiscite-a con- stitutional recourse to reform the political charter-and, by winning it, to dissolve the Congress. Rold6s never called the plebiscite. He preferred to deal with some of the NovlDec 1980 belligerent sectors in Congress directly, with the intention of isolating the CFP bloc led by Assad Bucaram. He succeeded in doing this by holding "internal" congressional elections on August 10, so that by the end of his first year in office there was a new legislative majori- ty in the House of Represen- tatives. This is composed mainly of three sectors: the deputies who left the Bucaram-dominated CFP and defined themselves as roldocistas, the Christian Democratic deputies, and those from the Democratic Left (a party affiliated with the Socialist Interna- tional). The new majority bloc has barely more than the necessary simple majority of seats, thus there is the constant risk of losing votes, as has happened on two re- cent occasions. This new majority has not suc- ceeded in implementing its goal of activating a "legislature for change." By the end of September not one major law had been pass- ed. Why? On the one hand, the heterogeneous majority was in a better position to dethrone Bucaram than to produce positive legislation. On the other, the Ecuadorean Right knew how to recoup the situation and launch some surprising offensives by ex- ercising ruthless scrutiny over the executive. The Right's current tac- tic of putting Cabinet ministers on the dock may well weaken the government to the point that when municipal elections are held in December, it will have lost its im- age as benefactor in the eyes of the people. International Compensation The government of Jaime Rold6s has managed to be more aggressive in its foreign outlook than its domestic ac- complishments. Soon after taking power, Rold6s developed good relations with the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. In the United Nations, Ecuador confirm- ed its support for the Palestinian people. And the country played a leading role within the Andean bloc in censuring the anti- democratic military coup in Bolivia, though it stopped short of breaking diplomatic relations with the Garcia Meza regime. In rela- tion to El Salvador, however, the presence of Christian Democrats in the Ecuadorean government has prevented it from taking a more clearly condemnatory stance toward the military- Christian Democratic junta. The foreign policy outlined by Jaime Rold6s has attempted to de- fend the democratic rights of other peoples. This is a great deal for a regime which has shown itself to be a weak government-weak in that the majority of Ecuadoreans who, according to Rold6s, "have more confidence in my intentions than in my actions." do not par- ticipate in the decisions that deter- mine the course of the new government, despite the govern- ment's formal adherence to the rules of representative democracy. And weak because rather than resolve the "historical conflict" by means of democratic participation by the people, Rold6s has chosen to deal with it by tradi- tional means, by making costly deals with the powerful sectors in dispute.

Tags: Ecuador, military government, Jaime Roldos, democratic transition, development

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