But maybe The Economist will give me a pass since I’m such a big fan. Below, the latest from the magazine on Ecuador’s constitutional politics.
The good life
Jul 31st 2008 | QUITO
From The Economist print edition
For the president and for lawyers
Correa dictates his socialist credo
IF ONLY size, novelty and good intentions were everything when it came to constitutions, Ecuador would be a paradise. The document approved on July 25th by a Constituent Assembly dominated by supporters of Rafael Correa, the leftist president, is a 444-article behemoth. If approved by a referendum on September 28th, it will become Ecuador’s 20th constitution and the third in as many decades. It is nothing if not politically correct: it bans foreign military bases, promises a “just wage” and enshrines manifold rights, including that to sumak kawsay, or “good living” in Quichua, one of two indigenous languages whose use it now makes official alongside Spanish. Whether it will improve real life in a chronically misgoverned country is another matter.
Mr Correa insists that it will. He says the new constitution puts an end to “partyocracy”, “neoliberalism”, and the rule of economic “mafias”. One of his main aims is to reduce the clashes between the executive and a powerful but fragmented legislature that has seen the past three elected presidents fail to finish their term. The new text does this by substantially increasing presidential power. The president will be able to dismiss the legislature. Mr Correa’s nominees seem sure to form a majority on a powerful new Constitutional Court.
The constitution officially declares Ecuador to have a “social and solidaristic” economy. It gives state-owned companies a dominant role in oil, mining, electricity, transport and telecommunications, reflecting the government’s mistrust of the private sector. “The market is an excellent servant but a terrible master,” says Mr Correa.
This socialist pitch is popular in Ecuador largely because the country was scarred by an economic collapse in 1999, which featured a mishandled banking crisis, hyperinflation and the adoption of the dollar as the currency.
Opponents of Mr Correa worry that the constitution imposes an earlier failed economic model on the country. Although the state already controls much of an oil-dominated economy, the private operators of a handful of water utilities and airports face an uncertain future. The new constitution bans international arbitration and gives priority to local investors over foreigners. So it is certain to drive away almost all foreign investment. The Central Bank will come under presidential control: that paves the way for a possible future abandonment of the dollar in favour of a new local currency, and for the potential massaging of economic statistics.
Mr Correa, a youngish Catholic economist, who took office 18 months ago, remains popular. High oil prices have given him money to spend on social programmes. Public investment is running at twice last year’s level. He is likely to win the referendum, and a fresh election next year. But his success depends on oil money. By writing into it his personal political creed, Mr Correa has almost certainly guaranteed that Ecuador’s latest constitution will not long outlast his tenure of the presidency. And if Ecuadoreans do see much of the good life, they are likely to have to pay for it dearly in the future.