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21st Century Socialists Turn Tables On Opposition

(Nov. 30, 2007) Without delay, Ecuador's new Constitutional Assembly approved President Rafael Correa's proposal to close the national congress until the assembly concludes its broad reorganization of the state in what officials are calling a "Citizen Revolution."

Ecuador is the third South American country to call a Constitutional Assembly this century, joining Venezuela and Bolivia in their social revolutions that promise to put citizens back in control of their countries. Decades of poor management and weak political institutions have robbed the traditional political elite of their legitimacy, leading to the sweeping victories of President Correa, Venezuela's President Chávez and Bolivia's President Morales.

Although this "Troika" of so-called 21st century Socialists was elected with the majority support of their respective citizens, each faces an entrenched opposition that questions the democratic nature of the constitutional reforms proposed by these assemblies. While Ecuador is just beginning this process, both Bolivia's and Venezuela's assemblies have approved a draft constitution, of questionable legality, to be voted on in national referendums. Venezuela will vote this Sunday, Dec. 2 while Bolivia has not yet set a date.

In what may be ominous foreshadowing of events to come, the presidents of Venezuela and Bolivia were forced to impose their reforms because of citizen opposition to the undemocratic aspects of the changes. Both leaders are trying to remove constitutional term limits to allow them to remain in power indefinitely. In Venezuela, Chávez is also seeking the power to declare a state of emergency and suspend basic human rights, among other changes.

Although both leaders enjoy a numerical majority, public opinion turned against them after they refused to compromise with opposition groups. Both have accused citizens who disagree with their policies of treason. President Correa followed suit on Friday calling citizen protesters demanding oil sector reform in the eastern province of Orellana "unpatriotic," vowing to prosecute them "to the full extent of the law." Opposition groups in the new Assembly have already been told that they will not be allowed to occupy leadership positions but will have to settle for a minority voice equal to their numeric percentage.

In claiming broad political mandates for their proposed reforms, all three presidents mistakenly identify numerical majority with democracy and justice, ensuring that current political differences are merely passed on to the next generation.

In Bolivia the President's political party MAS enjoys a 50.7 to 49.3 percent majority in the assembly, a far cry from the sweeping mandate he claims will legitimize the imposition of a draft constitution. His announcement was immediately met by nation-wide protests that forced the police to flee one of the nation's capitals and have paralyzed the rest of the country ever since.

In Venezuela, it is more difficult to measure the level of discontent because of government repression of opposition groups. However, the fact that Chávez has resorted to force to silence the opposition is an indicator of how threatened he feels.

The situation is not as dramatic in Ecuador where the Assembly is just beginning its work, but President Correa's claims of a broad mandate for change are offset by a troubling survey that shows that 60 percent of Ecuadorians don't actually know what the Constitutional Assembly is. Of the 1,286 Ecuadorians interviewed by Cedatos, only 37 percent responded that they understood the process and 29 percent said they did not trust it.

What is so sad and ironic about the current reforms is the how the traditional minority has acted towards the opposition since coming to power. Instead of searching for long-term solutions, these movements are continuing their country's legacies of political oppression, only this time the roles are reversed. If history is any guide, it would be worthwhile for the revolutionary left to study what went wrong in Chile when Salvador Allende took power in 1970.
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By Nathan Gill - Southern Affairs

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