The referendum in Ecuador

Image: Diego Alexander (Quito, Pichincha, Ecuador)
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By FRANCISCO HIDALGO FLOR*

When Daniel Noboa's conservative government called the referendum and the popular consultation process at the beginning of February, his objective was to win everything

This article analyzes the results of the Referendum electoral process held on April 21 in Ecuador. It argues that this assessment must be inserted in the context of the political strategies of Daniel Noboa's government, read as an increase in the right-wing offensive that has occurred in the country since 2017, and which has specificities in this presidential period. However, it positively highlights the results in two Referendum questions, in which the popular statement rejected clearly neoliberal proposals. Consider this result as a setback for the aforementioned offensive.

Call for referendum and popular consultation 2024

The call for the Referendum and the Popular Consultation was made by Daniel Noboa himself, in an effort to consolidate his “political capital” and reinforce his prospects for re-election for the next 2025 elections. For the Referendum, he proposed five questions, that is, involving the reform of the Constitution, and six questions for the Popular Consultation, which involve reforms of laws or legal codes.

As a whole, the eleven questions submitted to the popular vote corresponded to two themes and a political strategy: for the first theme, which refers to the issue of security and proposes deepening the role of the armed forces and increasing penalties, including extradition, there were nine questions; for the second, regarding the removal of obstacles and constitutional prohibitions on fundamental aspects of the neoliberal package (legalization of the hourly employment contract and submission to international arbitration in the commercial and investment areas), there were two questions.

The political strategy, in addition to seeking the political consolidation of Daniel Noboa's short regime, was to deepen the militarization of society, accentuate the repressive and authoritarian model, in the name of combating drug trafficking, encourage conservative positions in the population and, together with this, accommodate the precariousness of work and the reduction of national sovereignty.

These objectives were not fully achieved in the election: despite achieving a favorable response in the questions relating to the topic of security and control, the same did not happen in the questions on the neoliberal theme.

For explanatory purposes, this article has a methodological and political focus, it focuses on what happened in the questions on the neoliberal theme, as it seems to us that there is something new that is worth highlighting: the social and political reservations that can be decisive in order to stop the right-wing offensive.

When, at the polls on April 21, the people voted by 65% ​​to reject international arbitration and by 69% to reject an hourly contracting labor reform, they managed to strike not only the political figure of Daniel Noboa, but also the strategy of intensification of the neoliberal model.

It is worth remembering that not long ago, in August 2023, in a national popular consultation, a citizen initiative, on the issue of ending oil exploration in the Amazon region of Yasuní, this anti-extractivist thesis received favorable support from 59% of the electorate .

This reveals an accumulation of social consciousness and transcendent, democratizing political positioning, which resists and confronts two pillars of the strategy of transnational capital: mineral extraction and precarious work.

We must not forget that the more general electoral and political context of August 2023 and April 2024 is the deepening of the right-wing trend in the country, as evidenced by the fact that Guillermo Lasso, a former conservative banker, was succeeded by Daniel Noboa, an agro-exporter, both with electoral support of around 53% of the votes, and which, together, are implementing a right-wing offensive.

Six months of Daniel Noboa and the authoritarian drift

During this short period of Daniel Noboa as president of the republic, from December to the present, there has been an accelerated process of authoritarianism and militarization of national life.

Daniel Noboa won the November 2023 presidential elections presenting himself as the candidate of national conciliation in the face of political polarization and violence, he emerged in a context of anxiety and terror caused by the murder of candidate Villavicencio, with an electoral structure with greater advertising marketing than what a party formation.

One of his first decisions was to create a parliamentary pact involving his legislative bench with the first two political forces, those of the Citizen Revolution party (the movement of former president Rafael Correa) and the Christian Social Party, under the slogan of renunciation of ideologies in favor of a peace program.

As soon as he took office, he quickly pivoted, adopting militarization and force measures, and, in the first week of January 2024, he declared a national state of emergency in the name of the fight against drug trafficking groups, still in force, as, in April 22, the day after the referendum, the emergency was renewed again, this time in the name of the energy crisis.

The essence of his speech is security, militarization and war. The sequence of measures is very revealing: on January 8, he declared a state of emergency and, on January 10, he declared an “internal armed conflict”, classified around twenty drug trafficking groups as “armed terrorist groups” and placed the army in control prisons and so-called “dangerous territories”.

Alongside this, the discourse on combating corruption and judicialization of politics is decisive, with a determining role played by the Attorney General of the Republic, Diana Salazar, who this semester promoted two notorious cases, called “metastasis” and “purge”, with accusations of agreements and common actions between drug trafficking bosses and judges and deputies.

Also in these months, military agreement treaties and joint actions against drug trafficking between the Ecuadorian government and the military, espionage and anti-drug apparatus of the United States of America were consolidated.

These are the pillars of the right-wing offensive in Ecuador, which has its most serious point in the events of early April, the military and police assault on the Mexican embassy in Quito, the violation of the right to asylum and the inviolability of diplomatic headquarters.

On that occasion, Daniel Noboa presented, in his own voice and through the vice-minister of foreign affairs Dávalos, at the OAS session on April 9, the thesis of “revision and updating” of the understanding of human rights in general and the right to asylum in particular. A justified position given the situation of internal conflict and the fight against corruption.[I]

This discourse has been amplified and justified by ideological media apparatuses, based on traditional and new instruments, and supported by very strong power structures, at the internal level, the agro-export sectors and transnational capital, and, at the international level, the main power military in the region and the world.

With the regrettable events surrounding the Mexican embassy, ​​Daniel Noboa is no longer an almost unnoticed president – ​​it is difficult to find public interventions of his in national and international forums that last more than fifteen minutes and in which he mentions any other subject other than security – to become the protagonist of right-wing on the continent. It was the gravity of the event that generated such relevance; Not even military dictatorships dared to do so.

Positions on the Referendum

It is clear that we are facing an authoritarian regime with a strong appetite for power. It is logical to think that, when he called the referendum and the popular consultation process at the beginning of February, his objective was to win everything; The forecasts were also favorable to him, paving the way for his re-election.

Furthermore, it was based on a parliamentary agreement, in which the main political force, “Citizen Revolution” was committed, whose initial position was to describe this call for a referendum as “inconsequential”.

Who was committed to opposing the presidential theses? In the beginning, it was trade union organizations, such as the Workers' Unitary Front and the General Workers' Union, the traditional left, such as Popular Unity, the indigenous movement, both Conaie and Pachakutik, sectors of the environmental movement, such as the Yasunidos, and feminist movements.

It is interesting to note that only ten political organizations were registered to publicly campaign in this Referendum,[ii] in a country with 260 registered political parties and movements.

It was important that there was a social and political accumulation based on the anti-neoliberal struggles of the early 2000s and which were enshrined in the 2008 Constitution. But not only that, as the new generations were opposed to a future marked by the precariousness of work and the loss of rights.

It was also relevant that the regime showed its worst authoritarian face in the assault on the Mexican embassy, ​​which precipitated the turnaround of the Citizen Revolution party, which declared itself in opposition and only then entered the No campaign.

And, in the last week before the Referendum, an electricity crisis broke out, returning to the long blackouts of the past, which demonstrated the regime's inability to deal with a announced emergency.

Results and voting on labor issues and international arbitration

The results of the Referendum and the Popular Consultation partially favored the regime, but also revealed an accumulation of awareness and relevant anti-neoliberal social and political positioning.

The Yes thesis won in nine questions, and the one that had the greatest support was the first question of the Referendum, referring to the legalization of the presence of the Armed Forces in the internal fight against drug trafficking gangs, in which it obtained 73% of the votes.

We continue where Yes won: in question B (extradition) he got 64%, in question C (specialized justice) he got 59%, in question F (army in arms control) he got 69%, in question G (increase in penalties) he got 67%, in question H (compliance with convictions) he obtained 66%, in question I (carrying weapons) he obtained 63%, in question J (weapons for the police) he obtained 64%, in question K (loss of goods and valuables) got 60%.[iii]

Without a doubt, the positions of militarization, increased penalties and restriction of rights managed to obtain important social and political support, which confirms the conservative positions on the issue.

Left-wing and rights-protecting positions on the issue of drug trafficking, the increase in criminal violence and the structural causes of drug trafficking have not achieved social consensus and remain in the minority.

But the results also show us another side of the political and social debate: the neoliberal and extractive theses are unable to obtain national consensus, while the theses of resistance and alternative work with rights and in defense of nature manage to maintain strong support within the community as a whole. population.

Let’s look at the data around these two questions:

Question D was as follows: “Do you agree that the Ecuadorian State recognizes international arbitration as a method of resolving investment, contractual or commercial disputes?”

Here, No obtained 65% nationally, and 34% answered Yes, divided as follows, at provincial level.[iv]

Graph nº 1: Results of question D of the 2024 Referendum.

Firstly, the No thesis triumphed in all provinces of Ecuador, with the greatest support in Sucumbíos, where it reached 78%, and the lowest in Tungurahua, with 59%.

In second place, above the national average, are 11 provinces, two of which are located in the Amazon region: Sucumbios and Orellana; seven in the Andean region: Cotopaxi, Imbabura, Carchi, Bolívar, Chimborazo, Azuay and Pichincha; two in the coastal region: Manabí and Santa Elena.

In turn, of these 11, seven correspond to provinces with large indigenous populations, at least two are strongholds of Correismo, and there is the center of political activity: Quito.

Let's now look at the details of question E, which said the following: “Do you agree with the change in the Constitution and the Labor Code to the fixed-term and hourly employment contract, when concluded for the first time between the same employer and worker? ”

Here No obtained 69% nationally and Yes 31%, with the rejection of the question rising four points (from 65% to 69%) and which is distributed as follows, at provincial level:

Graph nº 2: Results of question E of the 2024 Referendum.

As in the previous question, the No vote predominates in all provinces of the country, with the highest support again in Sucumbíos, with 82%, and the lowest in Pastaza, with 63%.

Secondly, once again we have 11 provinces above the national average, which are the same as in question D, that is, they show cohesion in the anti-neoliberal position, a little more pronounced than the previous one.

We could advance an analysis combining data and political contexts, to affirm readings such as the following: (i) there is a recovery in voting from indigenous and rural sectors, (ii) a vote articulated with progressivism is sustained, especially in urban centers and coastal provinces, (iii) it is possible to indicate that the influence of the trade union and environmental movements is relevant, (iv) it is predictable that the vote of the youth sectors will align in the rejection of precarious work.

We can see that there is consistency in this accumulation of anti-neoliberal positioning, it is present at a national level, has strong points in certain regions of the country and influences parties and social movements.

Challenges raised by these results

The path we took around this event in Ecuador's political situation: the results of the 2024 Referendum, showing that there are anti-neoliberal social and political accumulations, at the same time that it shows possibilities, conditions, for left-wing democratic forces, movements and parties, individuals and collectives can stop the conservative and authoritarian offensive of right-wing and militarist sectors.

There is an accumulation to draw on and enhance, recover and nourish, reserves of national and democratic consciousness that, in certain moments and conditions, achieved relevant victories, such as the positions in defense of Yasuní, or circumstantial majorities, although important, such as the resistance to precariousness of work in this 2024 Referendum.

It is necessary to implement organizational efforts and proposals capable of reversing the trend, in the country and in the world, of a right that employs speeches of fear, hate and segregation. Right wing that grows in a world of wars.

*Francisco Hidalgo Flor, sociologist, is a professor at the Central University of Ecuador.

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

Notes


[I] Regarding the theses presented by the government of Ecuador at the OAS session on April 9, 2024, see the Primicias.ec portal: https://www.primicias.ec/noticias/politica/consejo-permanente-oea-crisis-diplomatica -ecuador-mexico-glas/

[ii] For organizations registered to campaign in the April 2024 Referendum, see: https://www.cne.gob.ec/10-organizaciones-calificadas-para-campana-del-referendum-y-consulta-popular-2024/

[iii] Regarding the results of the Referendum and the Popular Consultation, consult the website of the National Electoral Council of Ecuador: https://consulta2024.cne.gob.ec/#

[iv] The provincial-level data source also corresponds to official CNE reports: https://consulta2024.cne.gob.ec/#


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