Ecuador faces institutional crisis

Civil society works together on behalf of democracy and dialogue

Translations: ES  

The current constitutional crisis in Ecuador finds its origins in actions taken by the Ecuadorian Congress in early December 2004. At that time, the Ecuadorian Congress violated the principle of judicial independence by purging nearly all of the Supreme Court justices. In a special session called by President Lucio Gutiérrez, 52 members of the 100-seat Congress voted to replace 27 of the 31 justices with their own political allies. Although President Lucio Gutierrez was elected in a fair vote two years ago, he is now carrying out an unconstitutional power play to pack all of the country's judicial institutions with political allies. He has claimed that the court was loyal to his political opponents, who recently tried and failed to hold impeachment hearings against him. The replacement justices were selected from the political parties that successfully opposed the president’s impeachment.

In addition to the manoeuvres carried out to the Supreme Court, Gutiérrez has also manipulated his party's modest advantage in the legislature - 52 of 100 seats - to replace five of seven members of the Supreme Electoral Council and eight of nine members of the Constitutional Tribunal, which is the highest court in the land dealing with constitutional issues. The regime is reportedly preparing to similarly take over the offices of the attorney general, the comptroller general and the ombudsman.

The country has suffered a number of constitutional setbacks - not only the 2000 military coup led by Gutierrez but also a 1997 congressional coup that ousted the former president, Abdala Bucaram, now a fugitive from justice living in Panama. Bucaram now appears to be allied with Gutierrez, orchestrating the thorough dismantling of his country's democratic institutions from afar. Ecuador has not witnessed such an overwhelming concentration of power, brought about by manifestly unconstitutional means, in a generation. According to TI’s Global Corruption Barometer 2004, Ecuador is the Latin American country in which people are most pessimistic about corruption. Furthermore, on TI’s Corruption Perception Index Ecuador scores 2.4 , one of the lowest scores in the region.

In response to the weakening of the democratic institutions in the country, and the limited independence between the different branches of government, civil society groups from across political and thematic spectrums have joined together to voice their common concern over the situation. Earlier this year the groups came together under the name Convergencia Democrática (Democratic Converge) to advocate for respect of the Constitution, to propose alternatives and to build bridge for dialogue. Members of the group are as diverse as: Citizens for Democracy, Civic Convergence for Democracy, Corporation Citizen Participation, Latin American Corporation for Development / Transparency International, Political Coordinator of Women, Urban Forum, Magazine “Tendency”, the major Left Wing Political Party (Izquierda Democrática), Presidency of the CONESUP (National Council of Universities and Polytechnic Schools) and the Movement of Multinational Unit Pachakutic – New Country (the indigenous groups party).

On 16th February Convergencia Decmocratica has organized a protest march through the streets of Quito, where they anticipate upwards of 50,000 participants.“

Se profundiza la crisis en Ecuador **

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Citizen, social and political organizations summoned to the demonstration for democracy and against dictatorship and corruption 

Ecuador is experiencing a civil dictatorship under which the constitutional order has been violated, thus dangerously affecting the institutional and democratic development of our country. As a result of an arbitrary and abusive attitude from the Government of the President Lucio Gutierrez, in conjunction with Alvaro Noboa and former President Abdala Bucaram (who is currently a fugitive from law), through a majority in the Congress, the Electoral and Constitutional Tribunals have been unconstitutionally changed and a new Supreme Court and a National Counsel of Judges have been imposed in the same manner; hence deepening the undue influence over the Justice System and handing it over to the PRE and PRIAN (political parties of the governmental majority). Now the intention is to illegitimately appoint a new Prosecutor General, from a group of people that the government and their allied parties consider trustworthy. We reject this new pretension of violating the institutional framework of our country and using it for authoritarian purposes and political persecution.

Within this arbitrary line of conduct, it was a shameful event for the country the President’s attempt to designate one of his unqualified relatives as a high representative to the Andean Tribunal of Justice, as well as, the repeatedly objectionable incidents of nepotism that are widely known.

From the first unconstitutional act perpetrated by the National Government and its institutional majority, citizens, as well as social, civic and political organizations have implemented a variety of initiatives to restore the country to the Rule of Law. Among the actions are: statements by organizations, national civic movements, universities, mass media, business sectors and others, which have placed claims and demands before international organizations such as the OAS and the UN; claims before the Prosecutor General’s Office with charges of usurpation on behalf of those whom illegitimately occupy the offices of the Supreme Court; statements by international entities such as Human Rights Watch, Transparency International; Andean Commission of Jurists; International Commission of Jurists; American Association of Jurists, among others; marches and civic demonstrations, like the campaign “honk so that the de facto judges leave” or the burial of the Constitution; an endless number of interviews in the mass media by individuals not linked specifically to this initiative; columnists who have denounced the situation head-on and in persistent form; and finally, a determined and brave attitude of the democratic and independent mass media that have channeled the opinion and civic discontent due to this situation of flagrant infringement of the Constitution and the Law.

As part of this process, sustained efforts have been carried out among all the sectors in order to establish mechanisms of convergence for the purpose of reverting the dictatorial situation. These efforts have conferred significant results, for the country has united to reject the group of political actors that conform this authoritarian and dictatorial project and to impede the consolidation and imposition in the country of a regime of political violence.

As a result, the following organizations summon all Ecuadorians to form a Convergence for Democracy, Against the Dictatorship and Corruption: Citizens for Democracy, Civic Convergence for Democracy, Corporation Citizen Participation, Latin American Corporation for Development / Transparency International, Political Coordinator of Women, Urban Forum, Magazine “Tendency”, the major Left Wing Political Party (Izquierda Democrática), Presidency of the CONESUP (National Council of Universities and Polytechnic Schools) and the Movement of Multinational Unit Pachakutic – New Country (the indigenous groups party).

Faced with this situation, the signatory organizations below have continuously declared their total refusal to this civil dictatorship that has broken the democratic, constitutional and institutional order of our Country. They demand that this situation be brought to end immediately and summon all men and women, patriotic, political, and social organizations joined in this Civic Assembly to reject this situation and to conform a solid civic movement, in the perspective to build a sovereign, inclusive, participatory, and representative democracy, to consolidate the Rule of Law, around the following points:

The immediate dismissal of the present members of the de facto Supreme Court of Justice and National Counsel of Judges, as well as of the unconstitutionally informed Supreme Electoral Tribunal and Constitutional Court, for which this Assembly establishes as time limit February 17 of the present year;
The suspension of the process of appointment of the new Prosecutor General of the Nation, while this situation continues; and,
The establishment and application of a suitable system of appointment of a new Supreme Court of Justice that assure the elimination of the partisan political intervention; as well as the conformation, in agreement with the Constitution of the other violated organisms.

In the same manner this Assembly:

a) Rejects the referendum proposed by the National Government, for it is useless and unnecessary, and a form to distract and manipulate the country; 
b) Declares its disagreement with the Free Trade Agreement in the form in which it is being negotiated; 
c) Compromises its participation in the Concentration for Democracy, Against the Dictatorship and Corruption that will be held in the Plaza of San Francisco, on February 17th. It will initiate at 15h00 with a march that will begin at the Simon Bolivar Monument and will head towards the Plaza of San Francisco; and, 
d) Supports and joins a profound political reform process that must commence with the collective construction of an Agenda for Democracy.

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