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Publicly critical, privately joyful. Ecuador’s left reacts to Lasso’s “Crossed Death”
Will dissolution of the National Assembly lead to a left-resurgence in new elections, and perhaps even the return of Correa?
Ecuador no longer has a legislative branch. When right-wing president President Guillermo Lasso dissolved the National Assembly on May 17 ahead of an impeachment vote he was expected to lose, the country entered uncharted territory in the nation’s history: an executive office that will rule by decree until new elections can be organized in July.
Many experts in the media this week have explained the why’s how’s and of the twisted path that led Ecuador to this point, and last week at PWS we addressed in detail the course of political events that led us to this perilous crossroads. But perhaps most surprising for those of us who have been following events closely was what didn’t happen— the promised protests from leftist and indigenous groups who sharply criticized the move and even called Lasso a “dictator”.
Supporters of ex-President Rafael Correa, who fled the country in 2017 over corruption allegations, seem positively gleeful. Despite public denouncements of Lasso’s move, a half-hearted lawsuit arguing the mechanism by which the National Assembly was dissolved is unconstitutional (which the Supreme Court quickly rejected), and public statements calling Lasso a “dictator”, members of Correa’s political party, Citizen’s Revolution, seem to have hailed the decision as a triumph.
Meanwhile, CONAIE, the largest indigenous federation in the country, urged its members to “stay calm”, stepping back from previous promises to stage massive national protests and blockade roads and ports.
So what gives? Why are Correa’s supporters, and even non-Correista leftist groups, taking this all so calmly, even jubilantly?
Largely because they believe new snap elections, which could happen as soon as July, held in the wake of a deeply unpopular right-wing administration dissolving the government, will allow them to regain majority control, and for Correa supporters, that could mean bringing back their exiled leader.
Correa’s Machiavellian messaging is a nod to his time in office
Rafael Correa, who held the presidency from 2007 to 2017 before fleeing the country to Belgium, has long dreamed of a triumphant return to Ecuador. His rule, which lasted ten years, and two re-election bids, was marked by a drift away from Democratic processes, but also considerable investment in public policies and infrastructure.
In an ironic twist of fate, the legal mechanism by which Lasso dissolved the National Assembly, “Muerte Cruzada” (Crossed Death in English) was created by Correa to avoid his impeachment.
Despite being the de facto creator of what is arguably the coolest legal term in the world, Correa has been publicly calling Lasso’s use of “Crossed Death” “illegal”, and “a democratic fraud”. Behind the scenes however, multiple journalists and political analysts in Quito told PWS that Correa has been pushing his party in Ecuador to force Lasso’s hand in implementing it for months.
“There was some pushback from some lawmakers in his party who didn’t want to lose their jobs,” one journalist told us, who asked that their name not be published here to avoid speculating on partisan politics in the name of their employer, “but ultimately, this was decided to be the best strategy— and it appears to have worked.”
John Dennehy, former PWS correspondent and journalist who wrote the book “Illegal” about his time in Ecuador initially as a supporter of Correa before later becoming a sharp critic, told PWS by phone “I can imagine Correa attempting a ‘triumphant return’ framing himself as just the strongman Ecuador needs as it reels from rising crime and political instability.”
The country has seen a dramatic decay of its security situation in recent years, as we explained last week, with soaring rates of homicides, extortions, and even bombings in the port city of Guayaquil.
Many analysts consider a framing of a “strong-hand” policy, such as has been overwhelmingly popular in El Salvador, only carried out by a leftist government, could prove a potent argument in future elections.
Whoever wins snap elections this year will finish out Lasso’s original presidential term before new presidential elections in two years— a moment that could be ripe for Correa’s return.
Other analysts believe a Correa presidency would function like Petro in Colombia, on a social democratic platform, rather than “Correismo 2.0”, a return to authoritarian tendencies, and they may be right. We can only wait and see, but as Will Freeman argued this week in a column for the L.A. Times, the current situation is a considerable setback for Democracy in Ecuador.
Although he penned these words describing Lasso’s actions over dissolving the government, they could just as easily be a criticism of Correa’s rule as well, “When popular presidents rule by decree, it can be dangerous; when unpopular ones do, they court disaster.”
But wait, why is CONAIE ok with this? I thought they didn’t like Correa
Excellent question and we’re so glad you asked. First, we should state that CONAIE is an incredibly diverse political entity, with equally diverse political views and objectives. But having stressed that, many of these groups felt betrayed by Correa over his reversal on extraction projects in the communities where they lived, and withdrew support for him before his removal from office.
For their efforts, many were rewarded by Correa with public condemnation and even political persecution. For many members of CONAIE, Correa is no ally.
But in recent years, CONAIE, as well Indigenous political party Pachakutic, have been slowly building a “New Left” movement in Ecuador, one that breaks with traditional Latin American leftist tendencies of resource exploitation to finance public investment, such as occurred under the presidency of Correa, and one that has been slowly building momentum.
Yaku Perez, a dark horse candidate in the last election cycle, nearly defeated the Correista candidate in Ecuador’s primaries. He said on the campaign trail that he wanted to build a more inclusive government in Ecuador, which has long ignored the demands of indigenous minorities. He described it at the time as an alternative to the “authoritarian and corrupt left” of Correa.
Although in a public statement shortly after Lasso dissolved the government, CONAIE called Lasso a “dictator”, they also called for calm among supporters. The organization boasts considerable activism on the ground and has staged massive nationwide protests in the past, but for now, said they will be “forming local assemblies to monitor the situation and will be quick to react to any overreach by the illegal president Lasso.”
That is a sharp reversal from promises last month to blockade the country and march on Quito. Why the change of heart? It isn’t difficult to imagine that they think they also have a real chance of success in upcoming elections.
The immediate election cycle is unpredictable, but it isn’t difficult to imagine presidential elections in 2025 being a referendum between three principal forces in Ecuador— Correa’s traditionally conservative and pro-extraction leftism, the Neo-liberalism represented by Lasso, which is currently abysmally unpopular, and the “New Left”, represented by CONAIE.
And politics in Ecuador are far too unpredictable for PWS to venture who would emerge from that struggle victorious.
As for the situation today in Quito, as one resident wrote to us this week describing the eerie calm in the capital, “It’s strange. Everyone seems to just be fine hanging out here on the knife’s edge.”
The Big Headlines in LATAM
Argentina experienced protests in Buenos Aires against the IMF as the country reels from 108% inflation and decreased dollar reserves. As Amy from PWS has written here before, the country has a strained relationship with the D.C based monetary fund over a 2018 deal signed by former president Mauricio Macri for a $58 billion loan meant to stave off an economic crisis.
But the deal has been criticized by the current government, which has described the deal as exploitative and even a “crime” and a “scam” that was not approved through the proper legislative procedures.
The administration has called for new talks as a drought has battered grain production - Argentina’s principal support of dollars- as President Fernandez calls for easier financial targets and renegotiation with the IMF over debt. Protesters blame the monetary fund for rising inflation and poverty rates.
In Guatemala, the country’s largest investigative newspaper, El Periodico, closed its doors after 26 years. With its executive editor in jail, and many of its reporters in exile, the newspaper has suffered considerable persecution by the government, which has been widely criticized for censorship of media.
Meanwhile, as elections near on June 25, three candidates have now been disqualified from running by the ruling party, most recently the frontrunner for the opposition. The move has been criticized widely in the region by watchdog groups who say the episode is merely the latest in a series of actions that move the country further away from Democracy and closer to authoritarianism.
Colombian President Petro Gustavo seems to have hit a wall politically. His political coalition has splintered in the last few months as his approval rating drops to %35. The country’s first leftist president took office last July after promising an incredibly ambitious series of reforms of labor, taxes, clean energy, and the health system— all while bringing what he called “Total Peace” to Colombia.
But his reforms have stalled, as has momentum for ceasefires with criminal armed groups. The Conservative Party officially withdrew from his Congressional coalition “Pacto Historico” last month. The CEO of State-owned ECOPETROL resigned in March after public criticisms of Petro’s energy plan. His replacement, Ricardo Roa, is a long-time political ally of Petro, but he has joined the opposition in asking that the Colombian president rethink a ban on new oil exploration.
Meanwhile, an ambitious healthcare reform lies stymied in Congress, facing criticism even from Petro’s supporters. And two cabinet shake-ups in less than ten months leave analysts wondering: will the reform-minded President be able to regain his political momentum? Or has he been stymied by disorganization and bureaucracy in Bogota?
What We’re Writing
Joshua and Daniela wrote this week about the testimony of Salvatore Mancuso, one of the top paramilitary leaders during Colombia’s civil war, before Colombia’s Peace Court.
As the erstwhile commander of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a coalition of right-wing paramilitary groups, Mancuso described the murder and forced disappearances of political activists and other individuals seen as sympathetic to left-wing groups and causes.
“These were assassinations,” he said on the first day of testimony, May 10. “There is no other word for it.”
Mancuso spoke of coordinated efforts between Colombia’s private and public sectors to carry out hundreds of killings, sanctioned by the government, that allegedly included even current President Petro Gustavo, who was at the time a Congressman. You can read the piece here at Al Jazeera.
It’s rare that we get to write inspirational and wholesome stories on Latin America. But this week Joshua did exactly that for the Earth Island Journal. “The Scrappy Team Putting Colombia’s Incredible Butterfly Diversity on the Map”—How one nature photographer’s effort to identify the insects in his photos morphed into an ambitious nationwide documentation project.
When Juan Guillermo embarked on a new hobby documenting butterfly species in his native Colombia at the height of the civil war, he had no idea his work would lead to breakthroughs in biology.
And for Sierra Magazine, Joshua wrote: “The US Finds a Strong Ally for Regional Green Initiatives in the Americas”. Biden and Colombian President Petro discussed financing climate action in their recent bilateral meeting. Debt-for-climate action discussions grow more popular in Latin America. Whether they are the path forward isn’t clear but one thing is: wealthy nations have an existential stake in clean energy in the global south, and a solution to the current model, which encourages burning down rainforests instead of preserving them, desperately needs to be reformed.
We are exploring new logos. As part of that effort, we are happy to present you to a potential front-runner. Meet, El Capytán
What do you think? Should we run with it? Drop your opinion or suggestion in the comments section
Spanish Word of the Week:
“ahorita”- if you’re an anglophone trying to divine the meaning of this word when a talking with a Spanish speaker, well, we wish you luck.
“ahorita” translates as “soon”, but in in practice it could mean anywhere from “in 30 seconds” to “in 10 years”.
Cuando vamos a salir? — When are we going out?
Tranquilo, pues, ahorita! —Relax, “ahorita”
What ahorita means exactly in this context is impossible to say. Your friend may be ready in 5 minutes, or 5 hours, or you may get a message from them tomorrow that they fell asleep and you should get coffee someday.
Personally, we love this word, and the attitude it perfectly encapsulates about social commitments in Latin America, but for many Anglophone transplants it can be confusing, not to mention frustrating.
Hasta Pronto Piratas! (notice we didn’t use “ahorita”)