Ecuador Conflict History
Head of State: Rafael Correa, January 2007-2013 (reelected 2009 on basis of new constitution)
Ecuador gained full independence in 1830, seceding from nascent republic of Gran Colombia. Political instability nineteenth century continued throughout twentieth, marked by military coup 1925, populist politicians 1930s-1940s and brief war with Peru settled by the Rio Protocol (1941). Between 1960 and 1972, only two of seven governments were elected. In 1970, José María Velasco, elected for the fifth time in 1968, proclaimed a dictatorship. He was ousted in 1972 by the military. 1978 constitution facilitated peaceful transfer of power from military junta to elected government of Jaime Roldós in 1979. Return to democracy accompanied by declining economic situation, persistent inequality, and endemic corruption throughout 1980s.
Democratic stability challenged first by worker protests, then by organised indigenous and social movements. Progressively deeper regional fissures emerged: Quito and highlands on one side of divide; economic powerhouse Guayaquil and Pacific provinces on other.
Period of political instability ushered in after Congress sought in 1997 to remove President Abdalá Bucaram from office on grounds that he was “mentally unfit”. Elected one year earlier, Bucaram faced allegations of corruption and cronyism, and criticism for neo-liberal economic platform from, among others, Confederation of Ecuador’s Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE). Congress President Fabián Alarcón appointed president after a Congressional vote and oversaw signing of a new constitution that same year giving the executive increased powers. Early polls called in 1998 saw former Quito mayor Jamil Mahuad elected president after a narrow second-round poll victory.
Mahuad’s presidency marked by economic crisis; consequent economic reforms sparked mass labour strike, and highly-organised CONAIE movement increased street protests. Then Colonel Lucio Gutiérrez led 2000 coup with support of other young army officers and indigenous groups, forcing removal of Mahuad and leading to his replacement by Vice-President Gustavo Noboa. As the centre piece of the economic recovery strategy, the Noboa government adopted the U.S. dollar as the national currency. Gutiérrez subsequently won 2002 elections on a left-wing ticket but faced familiar criticism, particularly from indigenous populations, for neo-liberal monetary and economic policies. Gutiérrez’s alliance with indigenous Pachakutik party and CONAIE collapsed August 2003, resulting in general mobilisation of indigenous groups opposed to his policies and increasingly isolating president. Gutiérrez’s removal of Supreme Court judges in late 2004 and again in April 2005 sparked large civic protests, especially in Quito, leading to his removal by Congress, which concluded he had “abandoned his post”.
Gutiérrez’s successor, Vice-President Alfredo Palacio, failed to produce promised constitutional reforms and stability, helping left-wing Alianza País (AP) movement candidate Rafael Correa defeat banana magnate Álvaro Noboa in November 2006 presidential elections. As country’s seventh president in ten years, Correa pushed ahead with plan to convene new Constituent Assembly (CA) to rewrite constitution and fight opposition-dominated legislature – with core aim of advancing ambitious reform program emphasising strong state role in economy and extensive social welfare provision. Vicious political battles preceded April 2007 referendum on CA in which 82% supported proposal.
Correa’s political movement obtained bulk of CA seats in September 2007 elections (70%), voted to dissolve Congress 29 November for at least six months until referendum on new constitution. CA overwhelmingly approved draft constitution on 24 July 2008; subsequently ratified in 29 September referendum with 64% of vote. New charter officially adopted in October: strengthened executive, and modified institutional framework. In 26 April 2009 general elections Correa was re-elected President with 52% of vote, and AP won majority in new National Assembly.
In early 2008, government came under increased street pressure from social and business sectors, led by Guayaquil-city Mayor Jaime Nebot. During 2009 tensions between government and private media have increased, with Correa accusing several broadcasters of pro-opposition bias and threatening to close down private TV and radio stations, including influential Teleamazonas. Initially an ally in the CA, CONAIE withdrew its support for Correa May 2008 after he refused to include in the constitution the need to consult indigenous peoples for exploitation of natural resources; law encouraging private mining companies to operate in Amazonas, eventually passed January 2009. Tensions with CONAIE again increased in September and October 2009 when the introduction of a new water law led to massive indigenous protests against privatization of tap water supply. Massive protests in the education sector unions were also staged against a controversial education law.
Popular approval for Correa remains high in wake of March 2008 regional crisis, sparked by Colombian airstrike on FARC second-in-command Raúl Reyes’s camp inside Ecuador. Following Reyes’s death, Venezuela moved troops to borders and Ecuador severed diplomatic ties with Bogotá, but no violence. Colombian President Uribe accused Correa government of FARC links, denied by Quito, but rebels’ use of Ecuadorian territory as safe haven from Colombian security forces remains a thorny issue with neighbours. Tensions escalated in June 2009 as Ecuadoran judge issued arrest warrant against former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos and Armed Forces commander Freddy Padilla de León- warrants then cancelled in November 2009 as bilateral relations improved Though full diplomatic relations with Colombia have yet to be restored, recent months have shown signs of thaw as both countries named charges d’affairs in November 2009. Tensions with Bogotá had increased throughout 2007 and 2008 over Colombian anti-coca fumigation along border; Ecuador filed lawsuit in the International Court of Justice March 2008 to try to block further spraying.
Updated December 2009