The radical left in Latin America often prides itself in its ability to stir up the masses and make nations ungovernable by elected officials and representative governments, especially centrist or conservative regimes. But when popular unrest or insubordination, threatens a Leftist leader, the Left cries “coup” and “conspiracy.” The current situation in Ecuador following clashes between the government of Rafael Correa and striking police officials is unclear.
Political instability is nothing new to Ecuador. It has had eight presidents in the last 13 years. Since his election in 2006, Correa has embarked on a program to remake Ecuador. He has clashed with foreign and domestic interests, sparred with the U.S. over cooperation on counternarcotics. He has developed a reputation as a political bully with restrictions on press freedoms, political justice for opponents, allegations of corruption, and conflicts with once-supportive indigenous groups.
Having won a new constitution that expanded executive power, Correa was clearly leading Ecuador down the path toward “presidentialism:” a strong accumulation of executive power at the expense of other institutions and normal restraints such as independent courts, legislative checks, and a free media. One who has written extensively on the topic is Secretary Clinton’s point man on Latin America: Dr. Arturo Valenzuela. He sagely observed that presidentialism can lead to “the concentration and even the abuse of power in the leader’s hands” and warned that it an be perverted into “quasi-authoritarianism or even dictatorship.”
When assessing Ecuador under Correa, one must also take into account reports of dubious connections with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Iranians and other anti-Americans. Correa’s readiness to align Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez is another cause for general concern. In short, The U.S. is not dealing with a true friend of the U.S. or its interests.
In the clash of September 30, it is unclear which side, perhaps both, acted with rash precipitation. At the end of the day, Correa and his supporters began to cry, “coup,” called in the Army and issued an emergency decree establishing a state of siege and granting the government emergency powers. Correa appears to have recovered control of his country, for now. Cool heads need to prevail.
As events unfold in Ecuador, there are two useful points to take away. The first is to keep in view the Left’s assumption that when street protests bring down a pro-U.S. or conservative government, this is a matter of social justice in work. But, when disaffected officials or victims of Leftist misdeeds protest, riot, or challenge government authority, it becomes a coup” or conspiracy. There is a need for facts, not opinions in the case of Ecuador.
The second is that the Left is already claiming the U.S. and the Organization of American States (OAS) must act decisively to prevent another situation such as occurred in Honduras last year. Yet, these are the same actors that have worked hard to exclude the U.S. from emerging South American councils and have done a much to thwart the OAS’s role in monitoring the internal quality of democratic governance.
Forcing an elected president out of office as the result of a police strike is a bad idea. Strikers, protesters, and rogue officials cannot be allowed to undermine government at will.
This said, the Obama Administration, needs to be prudent in assessing the situation in Ecuador. It should avoid a rush to judgment as it did in Honduras. It must recognize that excesses of presidentialism and populist misrule can cause defensive reactions in the body politic. It must not give a diplomatic or emotional blank check to an executive on the warpath and vowing vengeance.