STRONG TIES

Ecuador 2012 | DIPLOMACY | REVIEW: DIPLOMACY & POLITICS

Steady leadership and stable policies have guided Ecuador out of turmoil and into a more prominent international role as a diplomatic pioneer.

Since his arrival at the Carondelet Palace, the seat of government for the Republic of Ecuador, President Rafael Correa brought more than a decade of political instability to an end. In the 13 years between 1997 and the election of Correa, Ecuador witnessed the rise and fall of no less than seven presidents. This led to the partial collapse of various political institutions, many of which had become dysfunctional through infighting.

The continuity of the Correa administration has helped Ecuador become an increasingly attractive destination for investors. During his five years in office, President Correa has focused on economic competitiveness and diversification as well as poverty reduction. In particular, his government has invested heavily in social and educational programs—allocating $1.8 billion in his first two years in office. Over the course of his administration, the poverty rate fell from 37% in 2007 to less than 30% in 2011, while the number of those climbing up the economic ladder have been felt in the consumer, automotive, and housing markets.

President Correa's first term in office was due to end in January 2011. However, Ecuador adopted a new constitution in 2008, and the National Assembly mandated general elections in April 2009. Correa was re-elected for a second term with 52% of the vote over the 28% won by Lucio Gutiérrez, his main rival in the presidential election. As a result, President Correa became the first re-elected Ecuadorean president in 30 years—previously, no president elected after 1992 had managed to stay in office for a full four-year term. The next presidential election is scheduled to take place in 2013.

Legislative power is vested equally in the government, the president, 28 ministries, and the parliament, a unicameral National Assembly with 124 deputies distributed across 10 commissions and elected for a four-year period. These groups meet throughout the year, except for recesses in July and December. Before 2007, the National Congress of Ecuador was made up of 100 members. However, it was dissolved on November 29, 2007 by the Ecuadorean Constituent Assembly, due to the dysfunctional nature of the institution. The Congress was replaced by today's National Assembly of Ecuador, which operates under the 2008 constitution. According to the new constitution, the National Assembly is to be composed of 15 assembly members elected in national districts, plus two members for each province. However, in provinces where the population exceeds 150,000, an extra assembly member is permitted for every additional 100,000 inhabitants.

The most recent parliamentary elections were held in April 2009, in which the ruling party, PAIS Alliance, won 59 of the 124 seats. The remaining 65 seats were divided among 18 parties. The January 21 Patriotic Society Party occupies 19 seats; the Social Christian Party holds 11 seats; the Institutional Renewal Party of National Action seven; the Democratic People's Movement and Municipalist Movement for National Integrity, five each; Pachakutik, four; Ecuadorean Roldosist Party, three; Democratic Left, two; the Socialist Party and National Democratic Coalition, one each; while the remaining seven seats are held by independents. The next parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place in February 2013.

The National Court of Justice, composed of 21 judges elected by the Judiciary Council for a nine-year period based on merit, exercise judicial power in the country. The president of the court is elected among the members of the court for a period of three years. Dr. Carlos Ruiz currently holds the position and represents the judicial branch before the state. Ecuador also has a Constitutional Court that exercises constitutional control over situations where constitutional rights are challenged, as well as over provincial courts.

At a local level, Ecuador is divided into provinces, cantons (municipalities), and parishes. The executive branch currently includes 38 core cabinet members, including coordinating ministries with inter-governmental responsibility and national secretariats. Provincial leaders, or prefects, councilors, mayors, city councilors, and rural parish boards, are all directly elected and answer to the president or the executive branch. Each one of the provinces has an autonomous provincial council, headed by a prefect who only casts a deciding vote in case of a tie. The council, which has jurisdiction throughout the province and a seat in its capital, maintains public services, carries out public works, coordinates municipal activities, and informs the central government of budget expenditures. A municipal council, presided over by a mayor empowered to cast a deciding vote in case of ties, is responsible for the government of each canton.

All provincial and municipal officials are elected for a four-year period. Councils at both levels have functional, financial, and administrative autonomy. Their legislative decisions are issued in the form of ordinances.

POLITICAL HISTORY

Ecuador had seven presidents between 1997 and 2006, and three were overthrown, clearly contributing to the political instability the country experienced until the current president, Rafael Correa, took office in 2007. Abdalá Bucaram won the presidency in 1996, with promises of populist economic and social policies. During his short term in office, Bucaram's administration was severely criticized for its modus operandi and the president was deposed by congress in 1997. Fabian Alarcón was then named by congress as Ecuador's interim president, a position later endorsed by popular referendum.

In 1998, Jamil Mahuad, who until then had been the Mayor of Quito, was elected president. However, economic, fiscal, and financial difficulties led to large demonstrations carried out by indigenous communities in Quito. Demonstrators entered the congress and declared a three-person junta in charge of the country, and military leaders declared their support. After a long night of negotiations, Vice-President Gustavo Noboa took charge of the government as interim president, and in an emergency session, congress ratified Noboa as president of the republic on 22 January, 2000. Noboa completed a three-year presidency, restoring some stability to the country by implementing the dollarization of the economy and launching major oil projects. Lucio Gutiérrez, a former army colonel who was a member of the short-lived junta in 2000, became Ecuador's next president. Gutiérrez won the November 2002 elections with 54.8% of the vote. Relatively conservative fiscal policies and defensive tactics marked his administration, amid growing opposition discontent. The situation came to a head three years after being elected president, when a popular uprising in Quito forced the congress to depose Gutiérrez for allegedly “abandoning his post." Gutiérrez ended up in temporary exile and the congress declared Vice-President Alfredo Palacio the new president. Palacio was unable to achieve the support of the congress to implement major reforms and bring stability to the country.

Rafael Correa, who served as Minister of Economy during the final months of Palacio's term, became president in 2007. Aside from a brief stand off between the President and protesting members of the police force in September 2010, Correa's administration has brought a higher level of political stability to Ecuador. This has enabled the country to follow a path of development in the past few years, including the adoption of a new constitution and the implementation of state policies for the medium to long term in order to deepen and diversify the country's social and economic base.

NEW CONSTITUTION

The dissolution of the National Congress on November 2007 was among the first measures the Correa administration implemented when it came to power. The Ecuadorean Constituent Assembly, which was inaugurated on November 2007, was convened to draft a new constitution for the country, intended to replace the 1998 Magna Carta. The assembly was formed of 130 delegates; 24 members from national lists, 100 representing the provinces, and six for emigrants living outside Ecuador. Voters approved the constitution in a referendum, with 80% voting in favor.

The new constitution, Ecuador's 20th since independence, is the first in the world to recognize legally enforceable rights of nature, or ecosystem rights, and one of the first in recognizing the right to food. President Correa has asserted on several occasions that his political project intends to search for social justice and reassert the supremacy of human labor over capital, and for that reason the government of Ecuador has increased spending on housing, health care, and other social programs.

The supreme law of the country also provides for four-year terms of office for the president, vice-president, and members of the National Assembly. Correa's current term is due to end in August 2013, but if re-elected, his presidency could be extended until 2017.

INTERNATIONAL EXPOSURE

Under the Correa administration, Ecuador has increased its efforts to strengthen and diversify its political and economic ties with countries in Latin America, Europe, and Asia, engaging at a higher level with regional and international partners. This progress has been made thanks to the countless official visits of the president to countries such as Peru, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Panama, Uruguay, Spain, Italy, France, China, Iran, and Russia, among others.

Currently, Ecuador is holding talks with the EU in order to implement a new trade agreement to allow for the improved access of Ecuadorean products. Ecuador's main trade partner is the US, a country that has assisted Ecuador over the years directly through the US Agency for International Development (USAID). According to US trade statistics, the US absorbs over one-third of Ecuador's exports—about $7.5 billion in 2010. For over a decade, Ecuador has benefited from duty-free entry for many of its exports under the Andean Trade Preferences Act (ATPA).

Political stability has made Ecuador an increasingly attractive destination for foreign investors. In this regard, China has also become a very important economic partner of Ecuador in the last few years, thanks to the large levels of investment Chinese companies and banks are pouring into the country and the many business trips both sides have carried out. For example, both countries signed a large-scale mining contract that will see Chinese-owned EcuaCorriente invest $1.4 billion in the Mirador copper project.

In the last few years, Ecuador has actively developed an extensive network of diplomatic missions and strengthened its position at the international level. Currently, Ecuador has diplomatic missions in nearly 50 countries, as well as to the EU, the UN, the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI), the Union of South American Nations (MERCOSUR), UNESCO, FAO, and the Organization of American States (OAS).

Ecuador, a founding member of the UN and a member of many of its specialized agencies, has always placed great emphasis on multilateral approaches to international issues. Over the years, Ecuador has gained membership of several regional and international organizations such as the OAS, ALADI, the RIO Group, the Latin American Economic System, the Latin American Energy Organization, the Andean Community of Nations, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the G-11, the Inter-American Development Bank, the International Atomic Energy Agency, IBRD, FAO, UNESCO, OPEC, MERCOSUR, and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), among others.


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