Ecuador: Congresswoman Mae Montaño Criticizes the Legacy of Rafael Correa
EspañolThe opposition CREO-Suma Alliance had an impressive showing in the elections of February 2017, nearly tripling its number of seats in the Ecuadorian National Assembly, from 12 to 34. Tell us how you and your colleagues formulate your strategy? How did you make your message resonate with the Ecuadorian people?
The original concept of our strategy was to change the normal paradigm of a legislative election: we were accustomed to legislators making proposals to the electorate based on the legislators’ agenda, expertise, and ideology.
So we decided to turn the idea around and participate in an intense pre-campaign period where we went to the different provinces, cities, and neighborhoods and listened to the most important concerns of the citizens, especially the poorest, and from there we formulated our campaign proposal.
We thought that we had an excellent platform, since even the ruling party [former President Rafael Correa’s Alianza País party] ended up taking some of our proposals to incorporate them into their platform.
International observers, including the European Union, have criticized the Ecuadorian government for excessive use of state resources in its electoral campaigns. How did this affect the outcome of the election?
What the government did was not only abusive and illegal, but also lacking in all morals and ethics. It mobilized the whole state apparatus in favor of its campaign, which is prohibited by law; but they had an absolutely obsequious National Electoral Council, which conferred to the ruling party a great degree of impunity, and a judiciary system absolutely inclined against the opposition.
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They used state media outlets as campaign propaganda machines, and they put together a dirty campaign without precedent in the democratic history of Ecuador. They inaugurated public works projects and invited their candidates; they put public employees to work, as if they were soldiers of the campaign. They mobilized the institutions of the state, seeking votes in exchange for gifts, and created an army of digital trolleys to amplify the dirty campaign by slandering the opposition candidates.
Lenin Moreno‘s election was marred by a crash in the National Electoral Council’s website as the votes were coming in, and reports of irregularities around the country. Do you believe that Guillermo Lasso was, in fact, the winner of this election?
I do not doubt that Guillermo Lasso was the winner of the election and, apart from what happened with an organ so absolutely co-opted by the regime as the National Electoral Council, it was inspiring to have seen throughout the country the support he had from the Ecuadorian people; the gigantic crowds he drew to his campaign events, the acceptance of his message based on creating jobs.
After what happened on election day, it is important to point out that the Venezuelan people understand such developments; there were many who knew in advance that this type of “blackouts” can happen because in their country of origin similar things have occurred during the tenure of Tibisay Lucena as president of the CNE.
Despite a strengthened opposition in Ecuador, the ruling party still holds a slight majority in the National Assembly. What is the key to influencing the legislative process despite being in the minority?
Our central mission is to carry out the projects that citizens demand of us and for this, we will ask them, Ecuador’s civil society, citizen groups, teachers, young people, retirees, to work together with us in the process of proposal and approval of our laws.
We believe that to the Ecuadorean people the majorities of political parties should no longer matter, since they will be projects that carry the legitimate aspirations of the Ecuadorian people who are the constituents of all assembly members, of the ruling party and of the opposition.
What is your assessment, thus far, of the job that the new president, Lenin Moreno, is doing?
I have two thoughts in that regard: the first is that it will always be healthy to call a dialogue, extend an outstretched hand and call everyone participate in such an initiative. Of course, such a dialogue must be in good faith, and based on public policy proposals and a programmatic agenda.
However, what we have seen thus far are small gestures that do not substantively impact the underlying themes: eradicating the corruption of the past decade, recovering the freedoms that we have lost, but above all doing a complete 180 with regard to the failed economic management of the previous administration: a president who has the country into a serious economic crisis.
Until those fundamental changes do arrive, we think that the current cosmetic changes do not address the structural nature of our nation’s problems.
During his decade in power, Rafael Correa greatly expanded the state’s role in the economy, increased taxes, and increased Ecuador’s debt levels. How will this affect the Ecuadorian people in the years to come?
A prestigious economist from Ecuador, Vicente Albornoz, proposed a metaphor that seems pertinent to me: he said that the country is like a twin engine airplane (one being the state and the other private enterprise) that currently flies with only one: the state.
If the new government does not recover private enterprise through incentives and adequate competition, we will continue to inflate the budget to pay public employees and continue to expand the deficit that last year was more than 7 percent of GDP.
You have said that “not only in the presidential campaign, but in the tone of Ecuadorian politics we have seen insults and intolerance. We want a productive and proactive dialogue, that respects differences of opinion.” We have seen a particularly polarized political climate in recent months, especially in the United States. What can you do to implement this advice in the current political climate?
Well, I think the tone of political discourse and the level of political debate is a big responsibility for politicians. Unfortunately when people come to the presidency that use confrontation and insults as a strategy for positioning, it degrades the level of our discourse considerably, and ends up permeating the entire social fabric and then we see the violence that is unleashed for example in social media.
We must always raise the level of debate, root out prejudice and personal attacks, and discuss ideas and proposals.
The refinery in Ecuador’s northwestern port city of Esmeraldas, which you represent in the Assembly, has been at the center of an investigation into an Odebrecht corruption scandal involving bribery and kickbacks. The budget for the project went from under $200 million to over $1.5 billion, and there are reports that operational problems remain. What went wrong with the Esmeraldas refinery project, and what can the government do to eradicate corruption?
It is no mystery what happened at the refinery because it is very similar to everything that has been happening in almost all the strategic sectors of the Ecuadorian economy (roads, telecommunications, hydroelectric, etc.): networks of corruption have been detected that based their action on two provisions in the public bidding process: one was the declaration of emergency in these sectors, and the other that is called a “specific business disbursement” which does not have to be made public, which thwarts transparency in our public contracts, and opens the door to overcharges and bribes.
CREO’s presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso made a pledge to create one million new jobs a cornerstone of his campaign. What can Ecuador do to boost its economic growth, and create good paying jobs?
It is necessary to radically change our economic model: turn our focus to the private sector, facilitating an increase in national and foreign investment, with clear rules and incentives, favoring entrepreneurship at all levels, being part of beneficial trade agreements and not continue to increase levels of state spending; our government should be running balanced budgets.
You have been a proponent of midnight basketball for youths in low-income areas. President Clinton in the 1990s also promoted a similar plan in urban areas as a crime-fighting and community development tool. How has it worked in reducing juvenile crime and promoting sports activities in Esmeraldas and around the country?
The project is in the design stage: we have identified neighborhoods and courts, we are doing the same with the leaders who will carry it out at each site, we have developed the whole legal and structure framework, and we are seeing interest from institutions that want to work on a project like this which seeks to profoundly improve society.
I saw the success of such a program in my province, of Esmeraldas, and the potential it had to reduce the consumption of prohibited substances, to improve the concept of peaceful coexistence among participants and the nearby neighborhoods, but more than anything to give young people productive activities to channel their natural talents, and the ability to belong to something.
We hope that support for the idea will continue to grow, and shortly we hope to implement it in Quito as a pilot program, and then see the possibility of replicating it in other areas of Ecuador.