30.01.2008: ECUADOR: CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY FOCUS UNCLEAR



C O N F I D E N T I A L QUITO 000090

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/30/2018

TAGS: PGOV, EFIN, SNAR, KCOR, EC

SUBJECT: ECUADOR: CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY FOCUS UNCLEAR

REF: A. QUITO 55

B. 07 QUITO 2580

Classified By: Ambassador Linda Jewell for reason 1.4 (B, D)

1. (SBU) Summary: As the Constituent Assembly reaches the

two-month mark, members are meeting with various interest

groups and holding private committee meetings, but have yet

to debate publicly any constitutional language. The Assembly

has approved six laws or other documents, including the

controversial tax reform. President Correa´s speech to the

Assembly marking his first year in office and the

government´s denunciation of bribery attempts have been

highlights. End Summary

60 DAYS AND COUNTING

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2. (SBU) Since its inauguration on November 29 in

Montecristi, the Constituent Assembly has sometimes appeared

more interested in legislating than in drafting a new

constitution. So far it has approved the tax reform law (Ref

A), three "constituent mandates," and two resolutions.

Democratic Left Assembly member and former Finance Minister

Diego Borja explained to poloff the differences between these

legal instruments: Laws are equivalent to those that the

suspended Congress would approve, constituent mandates are

approved under an expedited process and last only as long as

the Assembly is in session, and resolutions are the

Assembly´s internal rules.

3. (U) The Assembly´s legislative and oversight committee is

currently analyzing two additional bills submitted by the

executive branch. One would regulate land transport,

transit, and road safety. The other deals with restructuring

management of public finances, including bringing the

petroleum funds into the central budget.

4. (C) Proud and Sovereign Fatherland (PAIS) political bureau

member Augusto Barrera, who is serving as a liaison between

the Executive and Assembly on substantive matters,

acknowledged to the Ambassador on January 24 that each law

the Assembly passes has a political cost. While claiming

that 80% of past constituent assemblies in Ecuador have also

legislated, he said the government would seek consideration

of only a minimum number of laws, namely those necessary for

effective governing.

5. (SBU) The constituent mandates have addressed diverse

topics. One approved mandate regulates salaries in the

public sector so they do not exceed that of the President.

It sets a monthly ceiling of $5,000, with the exception of

personnel representing Ecuador abroad and "specific strategic

jobs." Another mandate suspended the elections of members of

congress representing two new provinces, Santo Domingo de los

Tsachilas and Santa Elena, until after the official results

SIPDIS

of the referendum on the new constitution. Ref B described

the first constituent (or constitutional) mandate, which

affirmed the Assembly´s full powers.

INTEREST GROUPS SWARM TO MONTECRISTI

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6. (C) The work of the Assembly´s nine

constitutional-drafting committees has centered thus far

around consultations with interest groups, plus executive and

judicial officials, and private committee discussions. The

committees and Assembly leadership have been besieged by

requests for meetings on every imaginable constitutional and

legislative topic. Several committees are also holding

meetings outside of Montecristi to solicit citizen input in

specific constitutional areas under their jurisdiction.

Barrera mentioned that PAIS was struggling with how to

balance being responsive to citizen groups with the need to

focus on substance ) he cited a recent meeting between a

group that believes in UFOs and the Sovereignty committee as

an example of how things were out of control to the point of

near absurdity.

7. (SBU) There are indications that the committees are hard

at work debating constitutional issues behind closed doors.

For example, after a draft text leaked to the press, PAIS

assembly member Betty Amores, the vice president of the

Committee on Reform of State Structure and Institutions,

explained during a January 22 television interview that the

committee is contemplating a number of changes, including the

elimination of the vice presidency and extension of the

presidential term from four to six years. Amores stated that

the committee had not yet reached a consensus on whether

immediate reelection of the president would be allowed under

the new constitution.

8. (SBU) An encouraging sign of seriousness as well as

open-mindedness on at least some issues, the international

donor community has been approached for technical assistance

in several areas, in most cases by request from ministries

working with given committees on specific policies. USAID,

for example, has been asked to provide technical assistance

on several issues under review by the Environment committee.

CORREA SPEAKS TO ASSEMBLY

-------------------------

9. (SBU) On January 15, President Correa delivered a speech

to the Constituent Assembly describing his government´s

accomplishments during his first year in office and detailing

ambitious plans for the coming year. Perhaps harking back to

his days as a professor, Correa spoke for more than two

hours, accompanied by a 133-page PowerPoint presentation. A

system for governing through seven regions was among the new

proposals. Correa also urged amnesty for several groups

involved in protests and release from prison of individuals

charged with carrying small amounts of drugs as "mules."

Some opposition Assembly members walked out at the start,

arguing that the Constitution required that the President´s

annual speech be delivered to the Congress, not the Assembly.

A WEEK OF CONTROVERSY

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10. (SBU) Minister of Government Fernando Bustamante and

Anticorruption National Secretary Jose Luis Cortazar

announced January 22 that a bribery attempt in the Assembly

had been discovered. Authorities detained Bolivar Lopez and

Cao Lay Munoz after PAIS assembly member and former

Anticorruption Secretariat employee Gabriel Rivas claimed

that they had offered him USD 3 million to obtain 25 assembly

votes against the new constitution and for re-opening

Congress.

11. (SBU) A video recording that is being used as evidence by

the authorities mentions Patriotic Society Party (PSP)

Assembly member Julio Logrono, which triggered angry

responses from the PSP. During a press conference, Minister

Bustamante cast blame on former PSP President Lucio

Gutierrez, who categorically denied any involvement in the

matter.

COMMENT

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12. (C) Suspicions that PAIS already has a written

constitution in its pocket continue to worry commentators,

although PAIS leadership strongly denies it. The

government´s investigation of acts of corruption implicated

the second largest bloc in the Assembly, which in turn gave

the latter ammunition to claim political persecution. With

the perceived lack of results thus far and with corruption

rearing its evil head, the Assembly needs to demonstrate a

greater focus on constitution drafting if it is going to

retain a wide measure of public support.

JEWELL



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