Much has already been said about the 15 “amendments” to Ecuador’s constitution recently approved in congress. Critics have claimed that the reforms are illegitimate and made to suit the whims of President Rafael Correa’s government. But it’s not only members of the opposition who are questioning the measures; according to recent surveys, 80 percent of Ecuadorians assert that the constitutional changes should have been submitted to a popular vote.
The ruling party argues that these constitutional amendments are historical since they “broaden rights.” They claim that President Rafael Correa won’t be able to hold on to power because he cannot be a candidate in the 2017 election. The government’s official version is that this is another triumph for the “citizens’ revolution,” which cannot be stopped.
International organizations have a different take on the matter. Freedom House released one of its strongest statements yet from Carlos Ponce, director for Latin America programs:
Ecuador’s constitutional amendments violate democratic principles.… In addition to removing term limits for government officials, they undermine freedom of expression by enshrining communication as a ‘public service’ that is subject to onerous government regulation, and enable military involvement in domestic policing. These measures were approved through a rubber-stamp legislature rather than by national vote, violating Ecuadorian law and marking a clear step backward for democracy.
There is not much more to add. Yes, the citizens’ “representatives” in the National Assembly couldn’t care less about voters’ rights or opinions. As with every other bill which Correa has presented, ruling party congressmen passed the amendments after a shameful gathering which they obscenely called a “debate.”
Whoever thought this would not happen was either being naive or simply refused to acknowledge Ecuador’s reality in recent years.
We all knew that the ruling party wanted to change the constitution in order to approve the president’s indefinite reelection in any way possible. However, most people didn’t act when it was still possible to resist the government. Most people didn’t bother to find out what pro-Correa legislators wanted to “amend” so urgently.
And now, what’s done is done. Beginning in 2021, there will be indefinite reelection for the president. We will have military forces on the streets. Communications will be considered a public service for us to “enjoy,” as Correa has put it. It’s too late to lament what the ruling party did or what the opposition failed to do.
It’s time for us to figure out how we will prevent Ecuador from sleepwalking towards 21st Century Socialism of the Venezuelan ilk. Correa already announced that he is preparing another set of amendments to the constitution for 2016. He also said that he will once again submit his controversial inheritance law, which Ecuadorians rejected earlier this year by demonstrating massively in city streets across the country. And he has spoken about creating yet another tax on imports.
But citizens in Argentina and Venezuela have proven that it’s possible not only to resist authoritarian populists, but also to defeat them.
By participating massively in last Sunday’s parliamentary elections, Venezuelans demonstrated their civic-mindedness, their love for their country, and their commitment to improve Venezuela. And opposition politicians didn’t act alone. Artists, opinion leaders, and social organizations played their part, as did those Venezuelans living abroad who returned home only to vote.
That is the example we Ecuadorians should follow. It took 17 years for the Venezuelan people to defeat Chavismo. Ecuador is about to endure a decade of Correa’s Citizens’ Revolution. We shouldn’t allow the current government to keep us subdued for so long.
Citizens cannot wait for the politicians to act. Let’s begin to take back our country before the situation becomes desperate.