Ecuador's constitutional reforms highlight both challenges and possibilities

Lindsay Green-Barber [PhD Candidate, CUNY]: "Ecuador's President Correa will today sign an executive decree ordering a consulta popular (referendum) to be held within 67 days. While the justices of Ecuador's Corte Constitucional have, with a majority of opinions, deemed President Correa's proposed consulta [Spanish] as constitutional, it remains anything but popular. The debate over the consulta has revealed chasms within the ruling party, Alianza PAIS (Country Alliance; AP), and opened new spaces for critical discussion regarding President Correa's Revolucion Ciudadana (Citizens' Revolution) and the concentration of power in the executive branch of government.

Critics of the consulta argue either that all or some of the five questions regarding changes to the constitution and especially to the judicial system are, in fact, unconstitutional, or that the remaining five questions will hurt the Ecuadorian economy by destroying jobs in the gambling and bullfighting industries. Some of this opposition has come from within President Correa's AP, the first real sign of discontent amongst this ruling block. At least four asambleistas (assembly members) have renounced their AP affiliation, along with the constituent block, the Ruptura de 25 (Rupture of 25). Thus the consulta, by creating divisions within the AP, has potentially diminished President Correa's ability to push controversial legislation through the asamblea (assembly).

Largely absent from this debate has been discussion regarding the proposed question about President Correa's controversial proposed ley de comunicacion (communication law). Correa first proposed this law in 2009 and it has been debated through two sessions of Ecuador's Asamblea Nacional (National Assembly). In its current form this law creates a government council -- with some representatives elected directly by the president -- to review all media productions to safeguard against offensive material and to check for truthfulness. The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Organization of American States (OAS) have made formal statements in opposition to this law, arguing it violates human rights and freedom of speech. The OAS even committed to sending a representative to Ecuador to observe the debate over the law this January. However, Correa's political maneuvering has successfully removed this crucial debate from the asamblea and overshadowed it with questions regarding the Corte Constitucional.

The consulta questions have the potential to concentrate power in the executive branch of government by giving the president a larger role in the selection of justices and in the judicial branch and in the controlling of media and media productions. However, in a political context in which democratic values and freedoms -- especially those of freedom of speech and freedom of the press -- have been limited, the vigorous debate surrounding the consulta and the internal divisions becoming apparent within Alianza PAIS provide hope that Ecuadorian democracy has a foundation strong enough to withstand the antidemocratic tendencies of the current administration."

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