Corresimo in Ecuador: An Interview with David Chavez 

Since 2017, after a decade of transformative left wing government under ex-President Rafael Correa (2007 to 2017), Ecuador has come under repressive right wing rule.  In mid-December, I interviewed Ecuadorian sociologist and professor David Chavez about the challenges Correismo (often referred to as the Citizens’ Revolution) now faces since the banker Guillermo Lasso took over as president in May of 2021.

Joe Emersberger: Could you please talk a bit about the political persecution that Correismo has been put through since 2017? What are the main cases people should know about?

David Chavez: The case of [former Vice President] Jorge Glas is the most significant because Glas has been in prison for over 4 years now (he was convicted of illicit association) but it has not been possible to prove that he was involved in the Odebrecht case in which he was accused. But there are obviously more cases. Correa himself has about 48 court cases as far as I know. Several leaders of the movement are exiled in Mexico, some because of court cases against them, others because they were harassed by the previous government as a result of the October 2019 protests [against the elimination of fuel subsidies by decree of former President Lenin Moreno]. And there are other people who have also been sentenced in the last trial in which Correa was sentenced, the so-called “Bribery Case”, as is the case with María Duarte, the former Minister of Transportation and Public Works, who is living in the embassy of Argentina. The government has not given her safe passage to go to Argentina, whose government has granted her asylum.

These are the most high profile cases, but there are a number of middle-level officials and businessmen who have been affected by the persecution. It is something like scorched earth against Correismo with the efforts to harass, judge and persecute the majority of officials, whether or not they were members of the movement. Many career officials who were not involved in politics were harmed.

JE: In late November, it looked like a regressive tax reform bill Lasso put forward was going to die on the floor of the National Assembly. Corresimo (represented by the UNES block) has the largest number of seats. They voted against it, so it received a decisive “no” in the assembly. But then a vote was proposed on November 26 by another party to block (or “archive”) the law. UNES abstained on constitutional grounds so there were not enough votes to block the law. [1] Lasso took advantage of that to claim that the assembly did not give a clear response and that he could therefore sign his proposal into law..After all the persecution and disregard for the law that they’ve lived through, how could Correismo fail to anticipate Lasso’s move if they abstained on the vote to block the law?

DC: There are three possible hypotheses that could explain what UNES did. One that some of their assembly members put forward is that they were naive and made a mistake without considering how Ecuadorian politics, which is completely undemocratic, has been operating. Ecuador’s most basic democratic mechanisms have been completely destroyed since 2017. That does not scandalize anyone because it was not done by a left-wing government, 

So one of the arguments was “we were naive and we didn’t realize it, it was a mistake”. But that has been a minority position within UNES. The other, more official position of Correismo is that it was a deliberate decision – that is, that they made it completely consciously. It’s argument, which does not end up being entirely convincing, is that the vote had three parts. The first was the proposal to pass the Lasso law and it was defeated [and that overwhelming “no” vote should have been enough to kill the law]. Then there was a proposal put forth by Correísmo [also defeated] and then the proposal to archive the law put forward by Pachakutik, which did not get enough votes in favor because UNES abstained.

But the argument is unconvincing because if there is a sector that knows how the political system and legal system of Ecuador are operating, it is correísmo. Correismo has been persecuted through the arbitrary management of all institutional mechanisms And it was obvious in the days before the approval of this neolibreral law that Lasso didn’t have the votes in the National Assembly and that his strategy would be to find an excuse to pass it through the Ministry of the Law. That’s done if the Parliament does not give an answer: the law passes as ordered by the President.

It is very difficult to believe that Correismo did not know all that, that Lasso’s side was going to do everything possible to pass the law through the Ministry of Law. Pachakutik anticipated this and set out to archive the law. It seems that the proposal was intended to try to block the law definitively, so that there is no space to approve it in that way. So Correísmo seemed inconsistent, and that has given rise to many people speculating about a pact, some type of negotiation between the government and Correísmo.

It is very difficult to know. Neither one sector nor the other will admit it. It seems to me that to a large part of the population, the decision to abstain was seen as a betrayal by Correismo at a critical moment. At a time when it was essential to stop the advance of neoliberals, UNES decided to take a step back. And it seems to me that this still hurts them. And we have to see how much it will hurt them. The leadership of the UNES block has tried to minimize the impact, but I get the impression that the harm done to Correismo will be significant.

JE: And now UNES has a suit before the Constitutional Court asking it to rescind the tax reform law, but this is the constitutional court appointed by former President Moreno’s handpicked body, the CPCCS-T which stacked the judiciary and numerous other authorities to the liking of Ecuador’s traditional power brokers.

DC: Exactly. That is the madness of what UNES has done. Justifying itself with strictly legal and formal arguments in the current context doesn’t make any sense. This was a political issue. There is an argument that the Pachakutik proposal to block the law was not technically within the ’”legal norm” –  and that it could therefore have given Lasso an excuse to force through the law. But even in that scenario, if the intention was to set a trap, the smart decision had to be to vote to block the law. It is absurd to abstain from that vote and then go to the Constitutional Court. That court that has been a disaster in constitutional terms (apart from some successes on the issue of abortion)  – completely submissive towards rightwing governments .

I think this is all a symptom of a level of political and strategic disorientation within Correismo. That’s my impression, and not just of Correismo but of all the left in Ecuador, basically Correismo and the indigenous movement. They have not been able to adjust to how this rightwing power bloc is running the government since Moreno, and with much more force under Lasso. Correismo appealing to the Constitutional Court shows us that again..

JE: I find the idea of a pact very hard to believe because I can’t believe they’d think they’d get anything from Lasso in return. Glas is still in prison for example, and it’s clear that the criminalization of Correa himself will not stop any time soon.

DC: Well, it seems very unlikely to me because the government is anchored in anti-correismo. As with Moreno, Lasso’s way of maintaining the support of key power groups is by pushing ​​anti-correismo. So it is not convenient for Lasso to show that he has some pact with Correismo and even worse in relation to its persecuted politicians who right wingers see as criminals who have no right to anything. And for Correismo it would not be convenient to say that it has placed its persecuted politicians over the national interest. But I see it less and less likely because the government is not going to lift a finger to resolve the situation of the politically persecuted.

But there are things that make people start speculating.

After Lasso was elected, Correismo was trying to reach some kind of agreement with it.. That seems to me to be an important point to keep in mind. Correismo is the most solid and consistent opposition to the right in Ecuador, but it must be said that the last electoral defeat was a very severe blow to the left in general. And it seems to me that Correismo decided that it was necessary to change its strategy. I believe it was a political movement looking inward, feeling a level of exhaustion.

At the beginning [of Lasso’s government] there was an agreement between Correa, Lasso and Jaime Nebot (from the Social Cristiano party) and that agreement was broken by Lasso. This is public. There is no mystery. It shows that Correismo opted from the beginning for a strategy of rapprochement. Later there were meetings of Correaist assembly members and the other leaders with Lasso. And it seems that in these meetings the issue of political prisoners and persecution was always present.

Months later, when there was the vote in the assembly to block Lasso’s tax law, many of the justifications for abstaining that assembly members put on social networks – also Correa and other leaders  – constantly mentioned political persecution. A deal to end political persecution, if there was one at all, is quite different from the sleazy agreements that politicians generally make in Ecuador. But even such a deal should not be made in the shadows. The concern would be transparency. But what is clear is that intentionally, or unintentionally, what Correismo achieved by abstaining is to favor the most aggressive law against the interests of the majority that has been passed until now by the Lasso government.

JE: Has political persecution reduced Correismo’s will to fight, exhausted it to some extent?

DC: Yes, because Correismo has also carried out a solitary struggle against all the political forces of Ecuador, against all the big power brokers. Correismo has not been persecuted by a small government party or group. It has been persecuted by the strongest and most powerful political alliance that Ecuador has seen in the last 50 years. The elites in Ecuador have never had such a stable and solid pact to stay in power to persecute their main political enemy as has happened in the last 5 years: with the support of the United States, with the support of the media corporations. It is absolutely understandable that a political movement in these conditions reaches exhaustion and feels the need to make strategic retreats.

It should be added all the other political parties, the indigenous movement, other leftist groups, have been supporting the persecution of Correismo and the destruction of the rule of law that has been dubbed  “descorreaizacion” in Ecuador. The country really is destroyed. The democratic advances that were achieved during the Correa government have been destroyed with impressive speed, and all political and social actors have contributed.

That said, Correismo continues to be the most important political force in the country. It almost won the presidential elections this year. But it seems to me that it is very difficult to sustain oneself in a scenario where there is no greater capacity for political action. What would be sad in the case of Correismo is if all this leads to under the table deals with its enemies.

Setting aside speculation about deals, nothing justifies them disappointing a good part of their electorate, of their own activist base who have severely questioned the decision they made [to abstain on Lasso’s tax law]. What I find most dramatic is the subsequent reaction: a lot of arrogance, rejecting self-criticism. I think that makes the situation even more difficult, and it’s another sign that the party is losing political direction.

JE: Do you think the party will rectify its errors and restore any credibility it has lost?

DC: Yes. I think there is still time. Correismo is not going to disappear from one moment to another. It is a strong party, the strongest and most important movement in Ecuador, perhaps in the last 50 years. That is indisputable, but it seems to me that much depends on the outcome of  crucial discussions that are taking place within the party. It has to repair its capacity for political leadership, and address how the party is being managed. I think it is important to open up democratic spaces. Correismo has not been characterized much as a party by having much internal democracy. It has had a very vertical logic, due to the weight of Correa’s leadership. Decisions tend to be made from above. A good part of the activist base found out about the decision to abstain in the National Assembly through the press and social media – had no idea what was going to happen.

And I may be wrong. but my perception is Correaist leaders have not grasped what this decision to abstain cost them outside the party. In the face of the disaster of the Lasso government, Correismo began to gain ground among people who had distrusted Correismo, even those who voted for Lasso. One can see it in close circles, in family conversations and with co-workers. There has not been enough evaluation of what has been lost there, not among the Correaist base, but among the voters it has to win over..

Another factor that has been underappreciated is that the indigenous movement: part of Pachakutikc, are acting with a little more political intelligence. They have broken with the right-wing block of Pachakutik. CONAIE is taking the lead in the fight against neoliberalism. It is still too early to say whether CONAIE is going to be able to fill the void that Correismo could be leaving in certain sectors of the population, but at least they are trying to do that. There is a lot of internal work, internal debate to once again convince the population that they can have confidence in Correismo.


[1] The argument UNES made for abstaining was based on article 140 of the constitution which says the following regarding laws proposed by the President on “urgent” economic issues: “The Assembly must adopt, amend or turn them down within thirty (30) days at the most as of their reception”. There is nothing in the article about “archiving” or “blocking” the law. UNES abstained arguing that a vote to shelf or block the law should never have been held, that it didn’t make sense because the law had already been “turned down” as required by article 140. Article 62 of the “organic law” that details the National Assembly’s duties also says that “urgent economic” law proposed by the president  must be “approved, modified or turned down” within 30 days. Article 62 does refer to “archivar” (blocking) the law but as an optional measure.   


Joe Emersberger is a writer based in Canada whose work has appeared in Telesur English, ZNet and CounterPunch.