Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

From Ecuador. What Correa’s “Coup” Means for Democracy

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Correa’s recent political maneuverings would make even Machiavelli proud. A recap of the official version of the events of September 30: a coup attempt by the police, allegedly planned by opposition politicians; the president held hostage for hours; the swift and decisive action of President Correa ensured the defeat of the opposition and the restoration of democracy.

Given that the president’s approval ratings have since jumped from around 50 percent (and falling) to over 75 percent, it would appear that at best, the populace believes him, and at worst, they don’t care. Unfortunately, the facts on the ground (without the government voiceover) tell a different story. Rather than enforcing democracy, Correa’s extension of the estado de excepción is a tragically ironic continuation of undemocratic rule.

In a region where close ties between civilian leaders and the military have historically been just as dangerous for democracy as deep divisions between the two groups, the current situation in Ecuador particularly disquieting. While Correa had (prior to the alleged coup attempt) threatened to dismiss the National Assembly if they did not pass his preferred version of various budget measures, on Saturday he vowed to not take this action. Initially, the combination of this promise, the announcement on Monday that the government would reconsider the austerity measures and likely raise police and military salaries, and the return of regularly scheduled news programming, hinted that Correa in fact had good intentions to meaningfully restore democracy.

However, on Tuesday, the National Assembly, led by Correa’s party Alianza País, dismissed congress and cancelled the debate scheduled on budget austerity measures. Assembly session leader Irina Cabezas (Alianza País) stated that it was too dangerous to hold the debate and asked the president to extend the estado de excepción. On Tuesday, Correa complied, extending the estado de excepción through Friday.

Correa, through his political theater, control of the media and backroom deal making has come out on top. In fact, he is better positioned to push through his preferred policies now than he was before the “coup.” For example, the controversial Ley de Educación Superior favored by the president passed in the National Assembly on Monday, October 4, without debate. Furthermore, he got the National Assembly to dismiss themselves.

I agree with the 51 percent of Ecuadorians who do not believe the police attempted to carry out a coup. And it is hyperbolic to suggest that President Correa is sincerely attempting to carry out an auto-golpe. However, it is a fact that Ecuador remains—at least until midnight, October 8—in a state of exception in which the president has the power to rule by decree with the full support of the armed forces. The presence of tanks in the streets and hoards of soldiers at every point of interest in Quito makes it impossible to forget this fact. What does it mean for Ecuadorian democracy that this type of dangerous and autocratic behavior is viewed, at least by half of the population, as valiant? Or, perhaps even, princely.

*Lindsay Green-Barber is a guest blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. She is a graduate teaching fellow at Hunter College and PhD candidate at City University in New York and is in Ecuador doing field research for her doctoral dissertation on information and communication technologies and social movements in developing countries.


Tags: Ecuador, Rafael Correa
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