Ecuadorians Vote for Systemic Change
November 28, 2006
On October 15, 2006, Ecuadorians went to the polls to vote in the first round of the presidential elections. The results were surprising, if not
suspicious, when the supreme electoral tribunal declared Alvaro Noboa, a banana magnate and the richest man in the country, the victor. The widely popular Rafael Correa, polling far ahead of the other candidates just days before, came in second with merely 22.84 percent. León Roldos, who was predicted to come in second against Rafael Correa according to several polls, earned a mere 12-13 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, Gilmar Gutierrez, the brother of ex-president Lucio Gutierrez – who was ousted by popular protests in 2004, just half-way through his presidency – jumped from being virtually off the map according to the polls to 3rd place with approximately 15-16 percent of the votes.
In this young democracy, only 27 years old, the presidency has had a tumultuous history. In the last 15 years, only one elected president has
finished out his term. In the last ten years, Ecuador has had eight presidents. All three elected presidents in the last decade (Abdalá Bucaram, Jamil Mahuad, Lucio Gutiérrez) have been ousted by popular uprisings or civil protest in response to unpopular policies, corruption allegations and extra-constitutional acts, such as illegally replacing judges in the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE) and Tribunal Constitucional del Ecuador (TCE). The final contenders, Noboa and Correa, went up against each other on Sunday November 26th, in the second round run-off.
Noboa´s campaign focused on his promise to build 300,000 houses a year, which translates to 822 houses per day, or 34 houses per hour. He set up
offices around the country where people could sign up for their future homes. In the week before the second round, several boxes filled with
thousands of these inscription forms were found in the trash in the city of Manta in the Manabí coastal province. He visited poor towns and
neighborhoods with cash handouts of up to $500, coupons for chickens after his victory, bags of flour, wheelchairs and computers. He broke campaign spending rules which he exceeded by at least $1,000,000. Noboa declared he would immediately sign the controversial Free Trade Agreement with the United States upon taking office. He declared himself to be ‘sent from God’ and often got down on his knees to pray at rallies, as he did before voting on Sunday.
In virtually direct opposition, Correa, an economist with a Ph.D., educated in Europe and the United States, and ex-Minister of Economy under Lucio Gutiérrez, ran against the Free Trade Agreement, and against corruption. Correa’s platform promotes regional cooperation, and retaking control of the nation’s oil wealth. He pledges not to renew the contract for the United States military base in Manta. He has declared that the FARC are not a terrorist group, and that under his rule Ecuador will not help the United States in their controversial drug-eradication program Plan Colombia. He is friendly with Chavez, and is carelessly and inaccurately referred to as an aspiring “communist dictator” by some English-language press, who echo Wall Street fears that if elected Correa might impose a moratorium on external debt payment. In the end, contempt for Correa from the international press as well as Ecuador’s elite stems from his vocal and radically anti-neoliberal, anti-party politics in a country that has been subordinated by external interests and ravished by corrupt parties for decades.
The first round vote was followed by allegations of corruption, irregularities, and fraud by voters, human rights and civil society organizations, and Correa´s Alianza País movement. Before the first round, Rafael Bielsa, the head of the mission of the Organization of American States´ (OAS) international election observer team, made public statements criticizing Correa´s politics, putting his impartiality in question. Bielsa declared that Correa`s political program was unrealistic due to fervent opposition from León Febres Cordero, former president of Ecuador, and one of the principal political actors in Ecuadorian politics. The Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE, Supreme Electoral Council) forged a required signature at the last minute to contract the private Brazilian firm E-Vote to carry out the quick-count. E-Vote is the same company hired for the quick-count in the contested Mexican election, where there were also allegations of fraud.After counting 70 percent of the votes, E-Vote declared their system had collapsed, the TSE annulled their contract, and all but one member of the E-Vote team fled the country. Santiago Murray, the ex-spokesman of E-Vote, was detained. Three days later, the TSE proclaimed Alvaro Noboa (26.83 percent) and Rafael Correa (22.84 percent) as the official final candidates for the second round. Subsequently, Santiago Murray confessed to having a personal relationship with Rafael Bielsa, which Bielsa had publicly denied, as well as having financial interests in E-Vote. Despite virtual silence on the part of OAS in the period between the first and second rounds, Rafael Bielsa was withdrawn from his post as the head of mission for the OAS electoral observers in Ecuador on the day of the second round election.
On Sunday, November 26, the people returned to the polls. The allegations of fraud during the first round resulted in an increased presence of observers and calls from Correa for citizens to follow the military trucks transporting the votes to ensure their safe arrival at the regional Electoral Councils. Significant mobilization in the weeks preceding and on the day of the final vote added substantial informal observers to the election. As early as the polls opened, all quick counts carried out by the NGO Participación Ciudadana, as well as those published by the media, registered Correa with a significant lead. The final quick counts gave Rafael Correa between 56.4 – 57.99 percent and Alvaro Noboa between 42.01-43.6 percent. Noboa, however, declared himself the winner, and in a television interview in the afternoon of the day of the election he pointed to opinion polls that he had contracted as recently as one week earlier that showed him winning. Noboa has vowed to demand a recount if the results are not in his favor. Although the official count will not be published by the TSE until Wednesday, Rafael Correa held a victory party as the declared President-elect of Ecuador. After having scrutinized 95 percent of the ballots, TSE´s official count registers that Correa is leading with 57.2 percent, followed by Noboa with 42.8 percent, validating the quick-count results from Sunday.
If the TSE officially confirms the victory of Rafael Correa, who is meeting representatives from the OAS in Quito today, Ecuador would join Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Uruguay and Chile with leftist-leaning leaders challenging economically and politically hegemonic pro-USA politics in the region.
The political landscape in Ecuador will be difficult to navigate, since Rafael Correa’s Alianza País movement, as part of its political program and rejection of corrupt party politics, did not nominate and therefore did not win any seats in congress in the first round. That means that Correa has to begin working immediately on his plans for the promised constitutional assembly to confront a potential deadlock between the executive and legislative branches, as his government counts on the support of only approximately 30 out of 103 elected representatives in congress, the vast majority of whom are controlled by Alvaro Noboa’s PRIAN and Lucio Gutierrez’ PSP parties. However, as evidenced in the elections, Rafael Correa represents the hopes of millions of Ecuadorians that are opting for systemic political reforms. With their continued support he just may be able to challenge even the opposition Congress´ and Ecuadorian elite’s resistance to change.
The collective la pepa was founded in 2002 to publish a bulletin at the Latin American Conference of Sociology Students. Over the last four years la pepa has expanded its membership and mission. La pepa produces an independent political magazine in Quito and participates in social and political organizing and activism in collaboration with other social and youth organizations. La pepa is affiliated with the In the Name of Democracy (www.inthenameofdemocracy.org) activist research collective.
This Eruption is Irreversible
November 28, 2006
The red tide sweeping through Latin America, checked in Peru and Mexico, has achieved another memorable record this week in Ecuador. The substantial electoral victory of Rafael Correa, a clever, young, U.S.-educated economist and former finance minister, marks a further triumph for Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and his Bolivarian revolution, which has long sought to ignite Latin America’s “second independence”. Correa joins Chávez, Evo Morales of Bolivia, and Cuba’s Fidel Castro in what some have termed “an axis of hope” for the continent. He promises to call a halt to Ecuador’s participation in the U.S.-backed free trade area for the Americas, to close the U.S. military base at Manta, and to join Opec, the oil-exporters’ organization.
Unlike most U.S.-trained academics in Latin America, Correa is an economist of a radical persuasion. He has been an outspoken critic of the neoliberal economics of the globalized world, and an opponent of the so-called Washington consensus that has imposed this ideology on Latin America in the past 20 years. He cannot be easily dismissed as a caudillo or a populist, but was the intelligent choice against his absurdly rightwing millionaire opponent, Álvaro Noboa, whose electoral bribes were too outrageous to be effective.
Yet significantly, both candidates stood outside the existing party system. The Correa victory marks a seismic explosion in Ecuador’s traditional politics. During the past decade, a series of popular demonstrations, military coups, and temporary governments have given clear warning of changes to come. Similar shifts occurred in Venezuela and Bolivia, where the termites of bureaucratic incompetence and corruption hastened the collapse of the old order. Nothing was left but an ineffective opposition that has proved leaderless and demoralized. Correa, like Chávez and Morales, will move swiftly towards establishing a constituent assembly to give a more representative voice to the country’s indigenous majority.
The eruption into politics of Latin America’s indigenous peoples has been one of the most significant developments of recent years. To mobilize peoples from many distinct nations – those of the Amazonian region being very different from those of the Andean plateau – and to decide with which white groups to combine, has been a hugely difficult task. Ecuador’s powerful indigenous movement made a considerable investment in a previous president, Lucio Gutiérrez, who had once echoed the vocabulary of Chávez. Failing to live up to his promises, he was thrown out after street
protests in 2002, but still has substantial support. He was not allowed to stand in the recent election, but his votes appear to have gone to Correa. Whatever the psephological details, the wave of popular feeling aroused in Ecuador, as in Bolivia earlier this year, clearly indicates the irreversible shift in power. The peoples subdued by Cortés and Pizarro 500 years ago are beginning to rebel against white settler rule.
Simón Bolívar, after travelling through Colombia, Ecuador and Peru during the independence wars in the early 19th century, recorded his impression in 1825 that “the poor Indians are truly is a state of lamentable depression. I intend to help them all I can: first as a matter of humanity; second, because it is their right; and finally, because doing good costs little and is worth much.”
Nothing much has changed in the past two centuries, but the Bolivarian revolution espoused by Chávez, in which Morales and now Correa are embarked, seeks to remedy that. Evoking the memory of Bolívar, it seeks a second, and peaceful struggle for independence. If successful, it will change the face of Latin America.
Richard Gott (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the author of Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution.
Open Letter from the “In the Name of Democracy” collective to the
Organization of American States (OAS) and to the People of Ecuador
Saturday November 25, 2006
Mr. Jose Miguel Insulza
Organization of American States
People of Ecuador
The people of Ecuador have a right to participate in free and fair elections. We support them in their struggle to exercise this fundamental right. We add our concerned voice to that of others demanding transparency and denouncing the grave irregularities reported in the first round of the presidential elections on October 15, 2006. We are particularly concerned with allegations regarding the unethical and partial behavior of the OAS head of mission, Rafael Bielsa, in the face of irregularities and manipulations on the part of Alvaro Noboa´s campaign. Our concern with the situation in Ecuador, based on abundant and reliable information and allegations of fraud in the first round and upcoming run-off in the presidential elections makes it imperative for us to write this public statement.
In the Name of Democracy (INADEM) is a research collective based in Canada, with members and partners throughout the Americas that was formed to investigate “democracy promotion”: the political intervention of Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries and international financial institutions in the global south. In 2006, INADEM has focused on Latin America and the Caribbean where the ten presidential elections scheduled for the region this year have attracted increased political intervention, primarily from the U.S. and Canada. Local organizations and individuals as well as members of INADEM have been monitoring these processes from the ground.
From the information we have compiled from human rights and civil society organizations in Ecuador we make the following statement:
- During the first round of Ecuador’s presidential elections on October 15th, numerous irregularities in the electoral process were reported and
published by voters, Ecuadorian human rights organizations, indigenous and community groups, and other members of Ecuadorian civil society.
- Noboa has publicly made open attempts to procure votes with cash handouts, chickens, bags of flour, computers, and wheelchairs, showing utter contempt for campaign rules such as spending limits which he exceeded by at least USD $1,000,000. The Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE, the Supreme Electoral Council) of Ecuador has a responsibility to enforce these limits and respond to infringement.
- These organizations have accused OAS head of mission Rafael Bielsa of violating his responsibilities as an impartial observer for making public statements against Rafael Correa´s politics and for failing to adequately respond to serious irregularities reported during the first round vote.
- Mr. Bielsa´s integrity has been further questioned for making false statements about his relationships with E-Vote spokesman Santiago Murray. E-Vote, a private Brazilian firm, was contracted by the TSE for the rapid-count in the first round of elections; their contract was annulled
during the count in the first round when E-Vote reported that their system collapsed and only 70% of the votes had been counted. Consequently, these organizations have requested that the OAS withdraw its envoy.
As the primary international observer, OAS has a responsibility to take all necessary measures to ensure transparent and fair elections and to report irregularities and possible fraud when they occur. The allegations against Ambassador Bielsa’s impartiality and his failure to adequately respond to reported voting irregularities require that he be immediately withdrawn and replaced in his charge as OAS head of mission in Ecuador. Furthermore, OAS owes an explanation to the Ecuadorian people regarding the mission’s failure to adequately respond to these denouncements.
Unfortunately, our work and our research have demonstrated that these abuses are not unique to Ecuador. Once again, the decisions of the electorate are in danger of being subverted by the manipulations of a powerful few, with total impunity. We lend our support to the people of Ecuador in the defense of their democratic rights. We call upon Human Rights and Civil Society organizations and independent media within and outside of Ecuador to continue to denounce the ongoing irregularities. In the name of democracy, we demand respect for the free and fair electoral decisions of the people of Ecuador and pledge to monitor this situation closely and expose irregularities as they arise in coordination with individuals and organizations committed to the promotion of, and respect for, genuine democracy.
William I. Robinson