Oil intrigues behind Ecuador auto-golpe

President Guillermo Lasso dissolved Ecuador’s opposition-controlled National Assembly on May 17—just one day after his impeachment trial began. The impeachment proceedings are of course suspended, and Lasso is to rule by decree, subject to oversight only by the Constitutional Court, until new presidential and legislative elections are held. His office issued a communique asserting that Lasso acted under Article 148 of the Ecuadoran Constitution, which states: “The President of the Republic will be able to dissolve the National Assembly…if it repeatedly without justification obstructs implementation of the National Development Plan or because of a severe political crisis and domestic unrest.” The so-called “muerte cruzada” (mutual death) provision, introduced in 2008, has never been used in Ecuador before.

Lasso’s office claims that the move is “constitutional” and “democratic” because “it returns to the Ecuadoran people the power to decide their future in the next elections.”

However, the left-opposition UniĂłn por la Esperanza (UNES) tweeted: “This desperate and unconstitutional action is the strategy of an irredeemable government that seeks to evade the vote to oust it, without regard for the people.” UNES leader and former president Rafael Correa tweeted: “What Lasso is doing is illegal…. He just couldn’t buy enough assembly members to save himself. In any case, it is a GREAT opportunity to get rid of Lasso, his government, and his rented assembly members, and reclaim the Fatherland.”

Leonidas Iza, leader of the powerful indigenous alliance CONAIE, tweeted that Lasso’s move was a “cowardly auto-golpe [self-coup] carried out with the aid of the Police and FFAA [armed forces].” He warned of an “imminent dictatorship.”

The Ecuadoran National Police and military immediately announced their support for Lasso’s move. Lawmakers reported that military forces surrounded the National Assembly building after the legislature was ordered dissolved.

Ecuador’s National Electoral Council is mandated to announce new elections within seven days of Lasso’s decree. The new polls are to be held within the next three months.

Ironically, the muerte cruzada provision was added to the country’s charter during the constitutional reform that Correa himself oversaw during his first term in office. Lasso also sought a reform of the constitution earlier this year—which, among other controversial measues, would have allowed permanent use of the armed forces in law enforcement in response to the crisis of crime and insecurity in the country. However, this met with opposition from both UNES and CONAIE, and the reform was rejected by the voters in the Feb. 5 poll. The military is already being used in ostensible anti-crime efforts under emergency decrees in place across much of the country. (Jurist, BBC News, Courthouse News Service, Amnesty International, BBC Mundo, Prensa Latina, El Comercio, Peru)

Corruption and crisis in oil sector
Lasso’s impeachment trial opened May 16. He stands accused of extortion and embezzlement related to alleged corruption at parastatal oil company Petroecuador and hydrocarbons transporter Ecuadoran Petrol Fleet (Flopec), allowing unprofitable contracts to benefit “third parties.” Lasso and his supporters deny the charges, saying that the National Assembly created a “fictitious situation.” Lasso pledged in April that he would dissolve the National Assembly if he were impeached. The president was also subjected to an impeachment vote in 2022, but it was defeated. (Jurist, BNAmericas)

Having had to shut down over 200 wells during the national protests in Ecuador last June, Petroecuador again declared force majeure at several oil blocs in the Amazon basin this March due to protests by impacted communities. On May 10, the company shut down the Trans-Ecuadoran Oil Pipeline System (SOTE) due to a rupture that it blamed on “sabotage.” The alleged attack took place at Santa Cecilia parish, Lago Agrio canton, SucumbĂ­os province. SucumbĂ­os, on the edge of the Amazon rainforest, has been the scene of repeated protests against extractivist projects by local residents. It was one of several Ecuadoran provices placed under a state of emergency by Lasso last year in response to crime and insecurity. (BNAmericas, EFE, TeleSur)

Photo: Wikimedia Commons