Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Batttle for Ecuador

Originally this post was titled 'Battle for Democracy". That word, however, is too vague and emotionally laden to carry any meaning. Some political scientists, such as Robert Dahl have ceased using it entirely. Democracy is a spectrum, not a category. States are differentiated only by the relative degrees to which they reflect and resist the wishes of their populations.

Certainly the government of Rafeal Correa has done both. In his record on indigenous rights, environmental issues, and corruption there is much to be criticized. His brother received hundreds of millions of dollars of government contracts. In the past he has used strong-armed tactics against Congress. However, he also presides over the freest government in his nation's history, and that is what has alienated foreign and elite interests. Correa is not a saint, but it would make no difference if he were.

His government has repudiated the debt of Ecaudor's dictatorship, alienating it from foreign lenders, it has refused to renew the U.S's military base, earning Washington's ire, it has moved towards taking control of its oil resources away from multinational corporations and spending oil revenues on social programs for the poor, irking big business, and it has refused to block a $27 billion lawsuit against Chevron, concerning the company's disastrous environmental practices in the Amazon. Ecuador's Bhopal, the case is called.

These measures resonate with the public of a country tired of being bullied and exploited by outside interests. A poll in August pegged the President's approval rating at over 70%. This is not a defense of Correa, it is a defense of him against the alternatives, because, for all of his faults, his Presidency has seen more progress in the country than any of his predecessors.

Yesterday, renegades within the security services threatened that progress. The revolt by members of the police and air force was well coordinated. Congress was seized, the airport was blocked off, state tv came under attack, and President Correa was attacked, tear gassed, and trapped in a police hospital for over ten hours before the building was stormed by the military. Former President Lucio Gutiérrez is rumored to be involved, but thought it is evident who might benefit from Correa's overthrow it is unclear who organized the uprising.

Until more details emerge it is hard to gauge the security of the government. With over 30,000 members, the police, where the revolt began and appeared strongest, constitute a significant portion of the security services. It is unclear, however, how much support an attempt to overthrow the government would garner among the security services. Also unknown is the role, if any of the U.S. The American government quickly came out in support of President Correa, however many of the individuals involved in the uprising are rumored to have connections to U.S Agency for International Development and the National Endowment for Democracy. There is not enough information to draw conclusions or make accusations. If confirmed, however, this would implicate the U.S, two of whose diplomats have recently been expelled by Quito for allegedly meddling with the security services.

Any attempts at setting back Ecuador's social progress, regardless of their source, must be viewed with concern. President Correa deserves support, but that support must be critical, especially once this crisis has passed. Particularly if the government intends to exploit the situation to claim additional powers.

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