Friday, June 27, 2014

Militarization, the Other Controversy in Ecuador’s Constitutional Reforms

Lawmakers belonging to Ecuador’s ruling Alianza PAIS party submitted a series of constitutional reform proposals to the country’s Constitutional Court yesterday, seeking approval to pass them through a legislative vote. The court now has 45 days to study the reforms and determine whether they must be approved by a popular referendum.

Understandably, the press coverage of the proposals (see Reuters, the AP and Wall Street Journal) has mostly focused on the inclusion of language that would scrap term limits for all elected officials. This would pave the way for President Rafael Correa’s indefinite re-election. Even though the president denied that he would seek re-election in remarks to official media in January and previously opposed such a reform, he has since reversed his position and it is unclear whether he will run again in 2017.

A lesser-known -- but equally important -- element of the proposal is that it includes changes to the constitutional authority of the armed forces, which could facilitate the militarization of public security in the country.

Under Ecuador’s 2008 constitution, which Correa supported, internal security and law enforcement are specifically listed as “the responsibility of the national police force.” The armed forces, meanwhile, are tasked with “defense of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” As El Universo reports, the Alianza PAIS-backed amendment would add “supporting the comprehensive security of the State in compliance with the law” to the military’s mission.

This is no doubt meant to aid the Correa administration’s attempts to deepen the military’s role in fighting organized crime. In some respects, the move makes sense given the notorious level of corruption in the police relative to the armed forces. It also may have to do with the president’s historically tense relationship with elements of the Ecuadorean National Police (PNE), which came to a head in 2010 after PNE officers barricaded the president inside a hospital during a revolt he characterized as an attempted coup.

Regardless, if the reforms are passed Ecuador will join countries like Mexico, Venezuela and Honduras in fueling a worrisome trend in the region: an increasing dependence on the military for law enforcement and citizen security.

While corrupt local police forces may make this a more viable policy option in the short term, in the long run it is no substitute for investing in strong, transparent judicial institutions subject to civilian oversight.  Until such institutions become a reality, involving the armed forces in policing runs the risk of establishing a repressive security climate, overseen by security forces whose human rights training and familiarity with due process are likely minimal at best.

News Briefs
  • Days after releasing its survey of Bolivia’s coca crop, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has released its annual report on coca cultivation in Colombia. According to UNODC figures, coca covered roughly 48,000 hectares of land in the country in in 2013, the same as last year’s estimate. However, as Reuters notes, estimates of the country’s potential cocaine production have fallen 6 percent since 2012. In its analysis of the report, news site La Silla Vacia notes that coca growth appears to have established footholds in areas largely out of reach of government eradication efforts, and that even in places where coca cultivation has fallen, other illicit activities like unlicensed mining have taken its place.
  • The UNODC also released its annual World Drug Report today, and while the main headlines on the report have to do with its finding that opium production has increased to historic levels, it also asserts that “more permissive cannabis regulations correlate with decreases in the perceived risk of use,” according to Reuters.  As El Pais reports, the UNODC also cautioned that “years of observation” would be necessary in order to judge the wider effects of cannabis legalization initiatives like those passed recently in Uruguay, Colorado and Washington.
  • In a sign that the White House sees its approach to immigration as a vulnerability in the  wake of the attention given to the influx of unaccompanied minors along the U.S.-Mexico border, the L.A. Times reports that administration has put off plans to soften deportation laws. Meanwhile, the president has continued to take on perceptions that the U.S. is more tolerant towards undocumented child immigrants, remarking in an ABC interview: “Do not send your children to the borders. If they do make it, they'll get sent back. More importantly, they may not make it.”
  • While Nicaragua has largely been spared the drug-fueled violence afflicting its neighbors in Central America, Spain’s El Pais notes that recent wave of femicides -- 46 so far this year -- have fueled debate over the government’s role in preventing gender-based violence.
  • The Economist looks at the progress of constitutional reforms in Brazil intended to guarantee basic rights to domestic workers in the country. While issues related to severance pay are still being debated in Congress, the law has already led to better pay, and many middle class families are relying less on domestic workers for household chores.
  • The Washington Post has an excellent explainer on the recent court decision regarding Argentina’s obligation to holdout creditors and its global consequences, highlighting claims from analysts who say predictions that it will negatively affect the ability of developing countries to restructure their debts are overblown. Meanwhile, the United Nations trade agency UNCTAD has taken issue with the ruling, and the Argentine government has announced that it has begun processing a payment due to holders of its restructured debt due June 30.
  • The AP profiles dissatisfaction with the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro among his own Chavista base, as evidenced by recent high-profile criticism of his administration from two former ministers. David Smilde and Hugo Perez Hernaiz of Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights have a more in-depth overview of recent dissent by ideologues in the ruling PSUV ahead of a party congress next month, noting the forceful response by Maduro and other officials who have countered criticism with calls for “maximum loyalty and discipline.”