—Javier Couso, Universidad Diego Portales
[Editor’s note: This is one of our biweekly I-CONnect columns. Columns, while scholarly in accordance with the tone of the blog and about the same length as a normal blog post, are a bit more “op-ed” in nature than standard posts. For more information about our four columnists for 2017, see here.]
A few weeks ago, on May 24th, Ecuador’s new President, Lenín Moreno, took over from Rafael Correa (who had been in power for over ten years). Although coming from the same political party, ‘Alianza PAIS’, and in spite of fears that Correa would continue to held power from the backstage, the first actions by Moreno suggest that he will be his own self as a President, something which, in turn, might change the dynamic that has characterized Ecuador’s political and constitutional process over the last decade, perhaps even turning away from the illiberal concentration of power around the Executive branch, which was one of the Correa government’s key features.
Of course, it would be a profound mistake to think that the extremely complex social, political and constitutional process experienced by Ecuador since 2007 can be fundamentally altered by the substitution of one individual by another as the head of state but, in this case, there are reasons to believe that the arrival of Moreno to the Presidency might change the dynamics –and even direction— of Ecuador’s experiment with radical democracy.
As observers of the Latin American region know well, soon after his surprising election as President (in 2007), Rafael Correa aligned himself with the so-called ‘Bolivarian’ movement, a regional initiative launched in the mid 2000s by Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro, which aimed at spreading radical left politics in Latin America. The Bolivarian movement, which included a so-called ‘new constitutionalism’ advocating for the concentration of power around the Executive branch and the curtailment of independent media outlets, reached its peak around 2010, when many Latin Americans felt that the pair liberal constitutionalism/free markets had failed to deliver its promises of freedom and economic well-being.
In the case of Ecuador, the Constitution of 2008 represented an effort by Correa’s government to launch a new era, one in which a corrupted economic and political elite maintained more than a third of the country’s population below the poverty line, while enriching themselves through corruption. The new constitutional practice was unashamedly illiberal with the justification that, in order to confront the large multinational corporations that had traditionally run most aspects of Ecuador’s politics, economics and society, the government had to be given very strong powers.
One of the puzzles of Correa’s decade-long period in the most powerful office in Ecuador is why his administration did not end up in a situation like Venezuela’s. Given the similarities shared by these two countries, that is to say, both oil-exporting economies governed by left-wing populists with authoritarian tendencies, it is impressive to realize how different the outcomes turned out to be. Indeed, while in Ecuador President Correa decided not to run for President again –even after securing a constitutional amendment allowing him to be reelected—, in Venezuela President Maduro is doing everything he can to maintain his hold on power, even at the risk of triggering extreme violence. Furthermore, even though in Ecuador the opposition is constantly harassed by the government, political conflict is still channeled through institutional mechanisms, while in Venezuela the Executive branch is increasingly resorting to arbitrarily jailing its opponents and violently repressing the masses of dissidents that demonstrate against it. Finally, while in Ecuador the State General Public Prosecution Office is currently investigating a corruption scandal involving officials of the Correa administration, in Venezuela that would be simply unthinkable. The combined effect of the above is that, even after a very tight presidential election, there is political stability in Ecuador, while Venezuela seems to be on the verge of a Civil War.
In his almost four weeks in power, Lenín Moreno, a paraplegic man who served as the United Nations Special Envoy on Disability and Accessibility (and who was nominated in 2012 for the Nobel Peace Prize, in recognition for his advocacy for handicapped), has shown a far less aggressive style than his predecessor, as well as a willingness to let key state institutions work with independence in order to fight corruption, even if some prominent officials of Correa’s government were among the indicted.
It is of course too early to know the extent to which Moreno’s less hostile rhetoric against the opposition, and his tolerance towards the independent prosecution of crimes of corruption perpetrated by members of his own party, represents a turn towards liberal constitutionalism, but the change in tone that his administration has already signaled is refreshing. Given the opacity that still characterizes Ecuador’s government affairs, it is impossible to tell where exactly Moreno wants his administration to go, and to what extent he can be able to change the course that the country has had over the last decade in terms of its relationship with liberal constitutionalism and the rule of law. Only time will tell.
Suggested citation: Javier Couso, Ecuador After Rafael Correa: A Re-Engagement with Liberal Constitutionalism? Int’l J. Const. L. Blog, June 21, 2017, at: http://www.iconnectblog.com/2017/06/ecuador-after-rafael-correa-a-re-engagement-with-liberal-constitutionalism-i-connect-column/