My most recent posts on the Third World project have been discussing the renewal of the Third World project since 1994. They have included posts on Venezuela and Bolivia, focusing on the post-1994 emergence of social movements that have taken political power and established new constitutions, proclaiming that they seek to construct socialism for the twenty-first century. I continue today with reflections on the “Citizen Revolution” and the emergence of Rafael Correa as a charismatic leader in Ecuador.
A popular movement in Ecuador in opposition to neoliberal policies emerged in the late 1990s. By 2005, the movement arrived to express widespread popular disgust with the established political class and the traditional political parties. Popular mobilizations were demanding the dismissal of the President, the Supreme Court, and all the politicians. The popular movement was opposed to the structural adjustment policies that required cutbacks in education, public health and social security in order to make payments on the external debt; it demanded payment of the “social debt” before the external debt. The movement rejected the failure of the political establishment to defend the sovereignty of the nation before the neocolonial intentions of the United States. It was opposed to the US proposal for a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), and it called for terminating the US military base in Ecuador and Ecuadorian participation in the US-sponsored Plan Colombia.
In 2006, Rafael Correa emerged as the leader of the popular movement. Correa was born into the lower middle class, but he was able to attend the university and subsequently earn masters’ degrees in the United States and Belgium, becoming a college professor in Ecuador. As a young man, he worked in Catholic missions among the poor, and he continues to be a practicing Catholic. He arrived to national prominence in 2005, when at the age of 43 he was named to the cabinet of the government of Alfredo Palacio and immediately proceeded to publicly criticize the International Monetary Fund. As Minister of the Economy, he promised to channel petroleum income more toward social services and less to the payment of the external debt. He asserted that he intended seek a renegotiation of the debt payments, and that a proposed Free Trade Agreement with the United States would be submitted to a popular consultation. However, because of conflicts with the government of Palacio, Correa resigned his post.
By now a favorite of the middle class, Correa established an alternative political party, Nation Alliance, which decided to enter only the presidential elections and not congressional elections, placing its hopes in the immediate formation of a Constitutional Assembly. Correa finished second among 13 candidates in the 2006 presidential elections, receiving 23% of the vote, thus qualifying for the run-off elections. His support was mostly from the middle and upper-middle classes, especially progressives that had ties to social foundations and non-governmental organizations. He received a low percentage of votes from the poor sectors, as a result of the fact that he had not been involved in the popular mass organizations or the political parties of the Left.
In the run-off elections, however, Correa received the endorsements of labor, peasant, and indigenous organizations as well as some of the political parties, which viewed him as a much better option than Álvaro Noboa, who had the support of the Ecuadorian national bourgeoisie, the government of the United States, and transnational companies. Noboa supported the proposed FTAA, and he proposed changes that would strengthen foreign investment and facilitate access of international capital to Ecuadorian natural resources, including petroleum. He favored privatization, including those sectors that provided vital human needs to the population. He also asserted that Ecuador ought to break relations with Cuba and Venezuela.
Standing in sharp contrast to Noboa, Correa declared during the campaign that he would renegotiate the Ecuadorian external debt with the international finance agencies, basing the negotiation on conditions established by the Ecuadorian state, and not on conditions laid down by the international finance agencies. He promised that his government would not sign a Free Trade Agreement with the United States, and that instead of an economic integration with the United States based on “free trade,” Ecuador ought to be oriented toward an economic and social integration with Latin America, seeking to strengthen ties with emerging regional associations as well as Venezuela and Cuba. He also declared that his government would not renew the agreement with the United States for the use of the Ecuadorian Air Force Base in the city of Manta by the U.S. military, when this accord terminates during 2009. And he declared that he would not permit the country to participate in the Plan Colombia of the United States. Correa asserted that he would convoke a Constitutional National Assembly, thus establishing alternative structures that would create new mechanisms for the effective participation of the citizens in the public decisions of importance for the country. The Constitutional Assembly ought to be formed by the various sectors of the country, including representatives of workers, peasants, students, and retired persons.
Correa defeated Noboa in the run-off presidential elections with 59% of the vote, and he assumed the presidency on January 15, 2007. That same day, he initiated the steps for a popular referendum on a Constitutional Assembly. The National Congress, in which Nation Alliance did not have representation, tried to block the referendum, but the Electoral Court, taking into account the strong popular sentiment for a referendum, ruled that it should be held. In March 2007, a popular referendum approved the convocation of a constitutional assembly. On September 30, elections to the Constitutional Assembly were held, in which 70% of the voters supported candidates that shared the political-economic project of Correa, and Nation Alliance won 80 of the 130 seats in the Constitutional Assembly. A new Constitution was developed by the Assembly, and it was approved in a popular referendum.
Under the new Constitution, elections for President, Vice-President, and the Legislative Assembly were held on April 26, 2009. Correa won the elections on the first round, with 51.94% of the votes, far ahead of Lucio Gutierrez with 28.24% and Álvaro Noboa with less than 8%. The Nation Alliance attained an ample victory in the elections for Legislative Assembly, and the Pachakutik movement, the Democratic Popular Movement, the Socialist Party also won strong representation, giving overwhelming control of the Legislative Assembly to the newly formed non-traditional parties of the Left. Correa was re-elected president in 2013; the Nation Alliance and its allies from newly-formed non-traditional parties of the Left continue to have a strong majority in the Legislative Assembly.
In addition to a new Constitution, the Correa government has renegotiated external debt payments on the basis of the principle that it will make payment only on debt that was legitimately contracted, with the result that for the first time, social spending has exceeded payment of external debts. It has stimulated investments in strategic industries, such as the hydroelectric industry, petroleum refineries, and the transportation infrastructure. It has provided incentives to national production, with the intention of responding to the food needs of the population. It has nationalized property poorly utilized. It has not renewed the agreement for the U.S. military base in Manta.
Correa maintains that the Citizen Revolution in Ecuador seeks to construct “Socialism for the XXI Century,” which involves a form of socialism “applied to the particularities of Ecuador.” Correa maintains that Socialism for the XXI Century has important points of coincidence with the scientific socialism of Marx and Engels, including the principle that “it is the people who ought to command, and not the market” as well as the concept of “the importance of collective action.”
But socialism for the XXI century, Correa maintains, is different from classic socialism. First, while classic socialism “sought state ownership of all the means of production,” Ecuadorian socialism for the XXI century seeks state ownership only of those means of production that “are strategic for the economy of the nation, and therefore cannot be in private hands.” Secondly, classic socialism had a concept of development not very different from that of capitalism, in that it utilized “the same concept of industrial development and growth in production.” But socialism for the XXI century seeks to formulate and practice an alternative model, based on the concept of sustainable development. Thirdly, socialism for the XXI century expresses itself in various forms, without the model of one country being replicated in another. “We ought to speak of principles, and not of models” (Correa 2014).
On January 29, 2015, Ecuador and Rafael Correa assumed the presidency of Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). Founded in Venezuela in 2011, CELAC consists of the governments of the 33 nations of Latin America and the Caribbean. It is the culmination of the process of Latin American and Caribbean unity that has been unfolding since 2001. It is conceived as an alternative to the Pan-American project, which the United States imposed following World War II as a project of economic integration and political cooperation under US direction (see “Pan-Americanism and OAS” 10/2/2013).
In his speech at the closing of the Third Summit of CELAC in Costa Rica on January 29, 2015, Correa invoked the memory of the heroes of Latin America and the Caribbean, including Toussaint, Bolivar, Zapata, Sandino, Che, Allende, and Chávez. And he maintained:
The fundamental question is who directs the society: the elite or the great majority; capital or human beings; the market or society. History teaches us that the attainment of development requires working together; collective action; political will; and an adequate but important intervention of the state, a state that is nothing other than the institutionalized representation of all of us, the means through which the society realizes such collective action.
He noted that the establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, although it does not end the US blockade that violates international law, represents a “victory of the Cuban people [that] is a true lesson in dignity, resistance and sovereignty that Cuba transmits to the world.” He also criticized the United States for its manipulation of the issue of human rights as a mechanism to preserve structures of neocolonial domination.
Correa criticized the historic conduct of transnational corporations in Latin America and the Caribbean, and he noted that bilateral treaties of investment obligate the states of the region to surrender their sovereignty to courts in the North, which act in an arbitrary manner to sanction unjust arrangements. “Latin America and the Caribbean needs foreign investment, but we ought to take on the task of creating a more just and balanced framework of relations between States and transnationals, which would make possible mutual benefit and respect for human rights and the rights of nature.”
The twenty-first century ought to consolidate the supremacy of the human being over capital. The human being is not one means more of production, but the end itself of production. . . .
We are conscious of the fact that Latin America and the Caribbean has become the international standard of the recuperation of human dignity, through the application of public policies in the interests of the great majority.
We do not fear the role that history has assigned to us. We have faith. Today more than ever resounds the prophetic voice of Salvador Allende, who foretold that someday America will have a voice of the continent, a voice of the people united, a voice that will be respected and heard, because it will be the voice of peoples who are the owners of their own destiny.
Correa, Rafael. 2014. Ecuador: De Banana Republic a la No República. La Habana: Fondo Editorial Casa de las Américas.
Key words: Correa, Ecuador, revolution, socialism for the 21st century, CELAC