A series of interviews with Ecuador’s main political leaders.
What is your analysis of Rafael Correa’s government before this wave of street demonstrations?
This is a government that is in retreat or in free fall, but nonetheless still powerful and dangerous. It lost all political initiative over a year ago and, as far as I can see, it will not regain it. What it has been doing is aggressively defending itself from the political initiative of various sectors, not just the social ones.
Correa says we are four nobodies, that we do not represent anyone. Parenthetically, I do not know any government, anywhere in the world, that will say a strike has been successful. What is happening is that this government no longer has a project and it does not even have the means of carrying one out because of financial constraints. I see a government that, for some time now, has been ruling to stop the opposition, reach the 2017 elections and seek reelection through fraud.
Enrique Ayala Mora, born in 1950, is a historian, author of numerous books and essays. Rector of Universidad Andina Simón Bolivar, he is a socialist activist and one of the closest politicians to the indigenous peoples and the social movements in Ecuador.
Is it possible that in order to defend itself, the government may introduce, as a permanent factor, the kind of repression and violence that we can see right now?
What it has done, previously, is to maintain a structure of political clientelism that is expensive and outrageous for Ecuador.
His strategy is to divide social organizations. I do not understand how this man (Rafael Correa) can claim to be a socialist and that people abroad continue to believe him, when his vocation has been to do what the right did not achieve: to attack, manipulate and divide the social movement.
Bearing that in mind, I believe his next step will be to radicalize repression. He already said that last time there was a strike and he did it. Which does not only involve excessive repression, but also intensifying the infiltration and the number of hooded persons provoking the demonstrators.
He wants to create an image of violence in the opposition. What will happen is what already happened during the government of Lucio Gutiérrez, when there was an escalation of violence that caused injuries and even deaths. This is not desirable but it could happen. Correa’s verbal violence, which has been constant, will be transformed into physical violence. I believe that is already happening.
Is it conceivable that the opposition could issue a nonviolence manifesto to distance itself from the official violence?
It has been doing so in practice. The social movements, for example, have set an example of peaceful demonstrations. Likewise the middle class sectors that convene at Shyris Avenue in Quito and in the provinces.
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The social movements walked from Zamora Chinchipe to Quito with a list of demands. The first is to request the permanent elimination of the constitutional amendments that contain, among other things, indefinite reelection. Is that platform, in which many political sectors recognize themselves, a step towards a cross-party alliance?
Of course. That is a step forward for the social movements, which besides their own demands, such as the water law or anti-worker decrees, have come together on issues that are more national in scope. FUT and Conaie have forcefully raised two central issues. On the one hand, the amendments that unite a large sector of the population, because we are not just talking about indefinite reelection but also about other issues that even affect the Armed Forces. And on the other hand, the appointment of an anti-corruption committee that operates autonomously.
Lula has just advised Brazilian President Dilma Roussef she should resign because of the weight of corruption. And corruption in Brazil is significantly lower than it is in Ecuador. I would not be surprised if in the next few months national anti-corruption days are convened, where this scourge, which has been scandalous during this administration, is made evident.
Many believe that the next mass demonstrations will take place in December, when the Assembly debates the amendments. What can happen until then?
During August and September there may be a break in the protest, but the rejection of the government continues. Entire provinces have mobilized: Galápagos, Morona, Loja, Imbabura, Tungurahua … That is, there is a very effervescent national movement against the government that will continue to rise.
But aren’t the amendments a way out of this bind for the government?
I believe the government is being told in the most sensible way – sometimes forcefully – to desist from that project. If it does, it will be giving a sign of good judgment and the social reaction will decrease significantly. If the government continues to assert that these constitutional amendments will be enacted just because they will, if it continues to insult social leaders, and attempts to impose the amendments, what will happen is that the days when the debate takes place will see uprisings and a siege of the legislative palace. There will be a social battle and I do not how violent it will be: I hope this does not happen.
Do you believe the cross-party agreement that could take place as a result of rejecting the amendments could lead, thinking about the 2017 elections, to an electoral agreement?
I think the left’s main task is not currently related to the elections. It is to rebuild its organic link to the social movement, its organizational fabric nationwide. The left has to rethink some things, because to believe that Stalinism is the solution is madness. Its task is to regain the political center because the left cannot be confined to its traditional 4% to 8% percent of the electorate. That would be condemning itself to permanent defeat.
It is true that the electoral situation must be addressed and I believe that any understanding that may be reached must go through agreeing, among the various social sectors, that we must dismantle Correísmo with a constituent assembly.
Are you proposing that this agreement should be reached now?
We must begin thinking it through now. We must prepare the country for a constitution, not for a government or a president but so that we can live together democratically in the future. The constitution has to be a legal instrument that enables whoever governs, to do so democratically, with separation of powers and oversight. This constitution is no good for that any more.
In order to summon a constituent assembly, is it necessary to win an election before?
No. What is needed to reach that kind of agreement is a sufficiently significant national majority.
Doesn’t that go through reaching prior agreements to look after the votes in 2017?
Undoubtedly. One of the things the socialists have proposed to the social movements is that the need to reorganize the National Electoral Council so that it has credibility before the public is added to the demands that have already been made. One of the conditions for believing Correa – believing he will carry out a democratic process – is to credibly reorganize that entity.
Does that involve opposing electronic voting?
We must do everything in our power to ensure that there can be no fraud. If there is the slightest suspicion that electronic voting allows it, we do not have to be so modern. People in Europe continue going to the polls as has been common practice for over 100 years.
Back to the Constituent Assembly. What conditions could lead to a global agreement regarding that proposal?
The first is that it cannot be done from one day to the next as an electoral instrument. It must be prepared precisely so that it can be an instrument for all.
Secondly, it must be subject to a prior national agreement. It cannot be based on votes, so that those who get more believe they can impose on others. It is for this reason that I do not exclude anyone from a consensus with the people from the right, center, social organizations, chambers of production and, of course, with those people who are with Correa but believe we owe the country a better constitution than the one it has now, which is a disaster.
Could that agreement not be extended to a minimum plan for a transitional government?
Let us start by defining what is a transition, because it could be achieved in various ways. Firstly, there could be a de facto situation in which the government could be removed from office. In this regard the military have a capacity for arbitration that they should not have.
The question implies a government that, winning at the polls, moves away from Correísmo towards restoring full democracy in Ecuador.
I say various forms of transition because this is also one. I do not think it is desirable for anyone, but the government has set things in such a way that it could happen. The other alternative is to have elections and – whoever gets elected – the proposition regarding the constituent assembly has a majority. What should be done in this case is prepare the conditions so that it can be convened.
You do not believe then, that the left can extend this agreement to a transitional government?
But, what is a transitional government? What might happen is that there could be a national agreement from the first round. That would imply not considering the candidates of the right whose names are currently being mentioned. Lasso, Nebot or any of them. We would have to find a candidate of the center, an independent, who could guarantee that. With such a candidate it would be possible to go to the first and second rounds. What does not seem possible to me is that those of us on the left would come to an agreement to support the candidate of the right in the second round. The Ecuadorian left has already made the mistake of supporting those who ended up being its enemies: I do not think we should make that mistake again.
You say: better Correa than anybody else.
No. Our view is that the people should choose. What I do not believe we should have is a united front with the right that, in the name of anti-Correismo, should justify that the left and the popular sectors would give a vote of confidence to a candidate who, for example, is a well-known banker who does not represent the country.