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Ecuador’s Choice

by PATRICK IRELAN

Late in September, the people of Ecuador marked their ballots for a national referendum. A “Yes” vote meant approval of the country’s new constitution. A “No” vote indicated rejection.

The ballots have now been counted, and the outcome is final. Sixty-four percent of the people voted “Yes,” 28 percent voted “No,” and 8 percent of the ballots were spoiled or blank. Ecuador has a new constitution that allows the creation of a socialist economy.

An article by Joshua Partlow and Stephan Küffner in the Washington Post (9-28-2008) reported this exercise in democracy by stating in the first sentence that “Ecuadorians approved by a wide margin Sunday a new constitution that would expand the powers of President Rafael Correa and open the possibility that he could serve a decade in office.” The article neglected to say that President Correa has already decided to end his presidency after only six years in office. It also failed to add that Correa didn’t write the constitution himself. A constituent assembly elected by the entire nation wrote it.

The tone of Partlow and Küffner’s article suggests that the Post doesn’t like socialism in any form, even the mild version legalized by the new constitution. The Post doesn’t like Correa and “what he calls ‘21st-century socialism’”

At this point, Partlow and Küffner become excessively coy, implying that 21st-century socialism is President Correa’s recent invention and that it will give him too much power. In fact, the idea of 21st-century socialism has been around for about 12 years. It refers to an economic system that, among other things, places more value on people than on corporate profits. It advocates participatory democracy, election of presidents and legislators, and the use of plebiscites to reach major decisions. If the Post really doesn’t know anything about this often-mentioned concept, perhaps it should shut down the newsroom and do something more suited to its collective intelligence. Maybe greeting cards or matchbook covers would be appropriate.

In any event, the article rambles on for line after line before it says anything specific about the contents of the new constitution. Finally, after stating again that President Correa might serve for ten years, the article reveals to a tremulous world that the constitution prohibits discrimination, provides healthcare for the poor, increases the rights of indigenous peoples, protects endangered ecosystems, and permits marriage for gay or lesbian couples. The Post also reveals very late in the article that the new constitution “respects private property.”

Respects private property? Then what’s the problem? I’ll tell you the problem. The Post doesn’t like Correa because “He has been critical of the type of pro-privatization, free-market policies often referred to as the ‘Washington consensus,’ and he has taken bold if controversial moves in his mission against those he considers the corrupt rich.”

Breathlessly, the reader awaits an example of President Correa’s “bold if controversial moves.” Last July, it seems, Correa ordered the authorities to confiscate a number of television stations and other businesses owned by two brothers in Ecuador.

Why did Correa go after these heroic victims? The government stated that the brothers owed the country of Ecuador hundreds of millions of dollars. The Post admits that “the confiscations were also widely popular.” What a surprise.

I don’t know if the Post is aware of it, but if you live in the United States and you owe the country hundreds of millions of dollars, the government is going to get its money by taking away your TV stations or anything else you own. It won’t take your shoes, but if you live in ten houses, get ready to live in only one.

I hate to criticize, but the Post got so involved with confiscated television stations that it never got around to reporting much of what the new Ecuadorian constitution contains. After consulting a number of other sources, I selected a few more of my favorite items.

The constitution introduces social security benefits for homemakers. It raises pensions for the elderly poor. It bans foreign military bases, including the U.S. base at Manta. It increases education and housing benefits for the poor. And it distributes unused land to impoverished peasants. The country will pay for all this, in large part, by taking a majority share from the sale of all natural resources, including oil.

In a country of 14 million people, half of all Ecuadorians live in poverty. The Washington Post offers those 7 million impoverished people absolutely nothing. The new constitution offers them a chance to escape poverty and enjoy the benefits of real freedom. If placed in the same situation, how would you vote?

PATRICK IRELAN is a retired high-school teacher. He is the author of A Firefly in the Night (Ice Cube Press) and Central Standard: A Time, a Place, a Family (University of Iowa Press). You can contact him at pwirelan43@yahoo.com.

 

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