Venezuelan soldier-turned-President Hugo Chavez
harnessed soaring oil revenues and simmering class resentments to make
himself the hub of anti-American sentiment in Latin America. But after
a quick blast of popularity, he tried to consolidate and increase his
power by rewriting the constitution. Fortunately, his power grab failed
Today, Mr. Chavez's close ally - President Rafael Correa of Ecuador
- is traveling down the same authoritarian route. Mr. Correa's proposed
new Ecuadorian constitution would grant him broad powers, including the
ability to dissolve Congress, set monetary policy and stay in office
The new constitution, approved by the Correa-dominated Constituent
Assembly elected to write it, would concentrate excessive power in the
president's hands and amount to his virtual coronation, according to a
report by the Associated Press. The nation's voters will decide Sept.
28 whether to adopt it. While shy of the 50 percent plus one vote
needed to succeed, according to recent polls, support is likely to grow
as the Quito unleashes its marketing blitz on Ecuador's impoverished
Sadly, none of this is new in the troubled history of Latin America.
How many times have we seen the same anti-democratic moves by populist
"caudillos" with the same disastrous results - abuse of power, erosion
of democratic institutions, dwindling economic opportunity and rising
poverty? One need only look to recent events in Venezuela and Bolivia,
where similar "socialist" experiments are under way.
As with Mr. Chavez and Bolivia's Evo Morales, Mr. Correa's real aim
is to stay in the presidential palace for years to come. Yet even as he
seeks to increase his power and muzzle opposition, he wants to improve
his image with American lawmakers because "in Washington many think
that we harbor the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia
[FARC], that poor [Alvaro] Uribe [Colombian president] is Sor Juana
Ines de la Cruz battling the FARC by himself and that all of his
neighboring countries are evil nations that cooperate with the FARC,"
according to statements in Agence France Press.
That's why he recently sent an official delegation to Washington,
D.C., to, among other things, seek the extension of the Andean Trade
Preferences Act (ATPA), and hired international PR consultants and
lobbyists to help him.
Mr. Correa's high-priced public relations and lobbying team will be
at pains to explain to Washington the latest actions by the Ecuadorian
government, which repeatedly cracks down on liberty, justice and
democracy while espousing anti-American and anti-business sentiment a
la Chavez. But we ask: Why so much resolve? Why risk the future of
Two goals seem evident: (a) Present the businessmen and "the
oligarchy that controlled the country during the last decades" as
criminals and, (b) obtain control of two key media outlets that will
strengthen popular support for the government and to win approval of
the new socialist constitution on Sept. 28.
Like Mr. Chavez and Mr. Morales, Mr. Correa is walking the path of
populist demagoguery, his only compass the delirium of so-called 21st
century socialism. This path will only lead Ecuador to greater poverty,
an end to pluralism and the demise of institutional independence that
is the foundation of democracy. It is time for the world to open its
eyes to the next battle for freedom in Latin America.