On September 28th, 2008, a referendum on a new constitution in Ecuador passed by a large majority, as was expected. The new constitution, Ecuador’s 20th, while not radically different than that which it replaced, does contain significant changes within its 444 articles, Some of those changes are highly progressive as compared to provisions of other constitutions of the world.
In a significant departure from the global norm, the constitution gives nature certain rights, and grants legal standing to communities, officials, and individuals to defend the rights of nature. Also, Ecuador's Congress will have one opportunity to unseat the president. Also as a result of the referendum, the definition of family has been extended for certain purposes. Children are included within the family unit that is their home. For example, children living with grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends, or neighbors are legally recognized as members of that family unit. This recognizes social realities for a country whose citizens often work in other countries and send remittences to help those who remain in Ecuador. Some U.S. newspapers reported that the provision recognizes same-sex marriages as having the same legal standing as heterosexual marriages, but that is not the case. Legal commentators in Ecuador do say, however, that the new provision may open the door to discussion of that topic at some later date. Also, the constitution recognizes two indigenous languages to the extent they will be used in government offices within the regions of the country where those languages are spoken. Those langugages are Kichwa (or Quichua in Spanish) and Shuar. This is not the same as making them official languages of Ecuador, as some U.S. newspapers reported. Moreover, there are more languages to consider: there are at least fifteen indigenous languages spoken in Ecuador. Therefore, this is only one step toward full recognition of languages other than Spanish in a country with significant numbers of indigenous people.
Additionally, the constitution no longer permits foreign military bases in Ecuador. This will result in the closure of the United States military base at Manta, Ecuador.
The new constitution expands presidential powers and allows a serving president to run for a second consecutive term. Under the new constitution, the president may dissolve the Congress once. With the passage of the referendum, the Ecuadorian government has gained expanded powers in economic fields including natural resources, transportation, and telecommunications, and the president exerts greater control of monetary and exchange policy.
Critics assert that the constitution grants too much power to the President and Congress. Others assert that the constitution does not make sufficient changes to facilitate the economic development Ecuador needs. Still others point out that the constitution appears to "give with one hand and take with the other." For instance, it bans genetically modified foods, but gives the President the authority to override that ban in cases of "necessity."
(Oct. 28, 2008)
*Copyright © 2008, by Paulette L. Stenzel