Democracy & the Rule of Law in Ecuador

Although originally elected democratically, Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa has used authoritarian tactics to maintain power and achieve his policy objectives, according to former president Osvaldo Hurtado in an event held at the Inter-American Dialogue on September 7.

“From my perspective, [the Correa government] does not fulfill the requirements that define a political system as democratic, and instead exhibits characteristics of a dictatorship.”

Hurtado defined these requirements to include an independent and reliable judiciary, guarantees of basic human rights, political diversity, free and competitive elections, division of power, a government subject to constitutional authority, and turnover of regimes.

He accused Correa of having too much influence over the judicial branch and using it to silence media criticism against him. He also denounced the influence of the president and his party over the legislative branch and authorities in recent elections.

Doug Cassel, a professor of law at the University of Notre Dame who provided comments following Hurtado’s address, added that the list of requirements for democracy should include what he called a national “democratic culture” to keep potentially anti-democratic leaders in check.

Ecuador has suffered from serious economic and political challenges in recent years. An economic collapse in 1999 led to the adoption of the US dollar as the official currency and, following his election in 2006, Correa became the 7th president in 10 years. He was reelected in 2009 with 52 percent of the vote.

Hurtado, who served as president of Ecuador from 1981-84, argued that Correa’s presidency is representative of a trend in Latin America.

“It seems to me that in the Latin America of the 21st century, the coups d’état are no longer carried out by military leaders. Creative Latin Americans have invented much more effective means. Military leaders don’t dismiss constitutional authority and take power, today. Rather, civilian presidents elected by the people manipulate the constitution and the laws to form non-democratic governments with aspirations for lifelong authority.”

Asked how Correa has been able to maintain his popularity, Hurtado noted the president’s “charisma” and economic growth in the country. Reuters reports that Ecuador’s economy grew by 3.6 percent in 2010 and the government predicts 5.3 percent growth in 2011. A socialist, Correa has worked to improve infrastructure and increase support for the poor during his time in office. He has also pushed back against the influence of the United States in the country, shuttering an American military base and expelling the American ambassador.

Hurtado decried a movement against political parties in Ecuador and other countries that he believes has contributed to Correa’s popularity.

“The best way to do away with democracy is to do away with political parties”, he stated.

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