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Volume 61 / Social Sciences

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS: ECUADOR


AMALIA PALLARES, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Illinois at Chicago


THE YEARS 1997–2001 were framed by two key events, the deposition of Abdalá Bucaram's government in 1997 and the overthrow of Mahuad on January 21, 2000. Additionally, the months preceding Mahuad's departure witnessed the most intense fiscal and political crisis Ecuador had experienced in decades, as bank accounts were frozen and the currency was pegged to the dollar. These events have led Ecuadorian scholars to suggest that Ecuador is undergoing a crisis of governability, characterized by inefficacy and inefficiency, corruption, political fragmentation and instability, economic decline and deficit, and the lack of a national consensus on possible solutions.

Works published during this period provide an unprecedented focus on political institutions and the role they have played in facilitating or exacerbating political and economic crises. Freidenberg and Alcantara Saez's work Los dueños del poder: los partidos politicos en Ecuador, 1978–2000 is one of the first works to provide a thoughtful analysis of the roles and functions of parties in the Ecuadorian polity (item #bi2003006560#). Other works focus on how to restructure institutions in order to avoid further conflict and decline. The CORDES governability project examines this question through an analysis of the main political and economic problems facing Ecuador and suggests possible reforms that move beyond the changes produced by the 1998 Constitution (see items #bi2003006547# and #bi2003006545#). An important topic of conceptual inquiry has been the pugna de poderes, the chronic conflict of power between the legislative and executive branches. Both Sanchez Parga's work (see HLAS 59:3566) and that of Burbano de Lara and Rowland García (item #bi2003006545#) analyze the dynamics of this governmental conflict since redemocratization in 1979. While Sanchez Parga provides a more extensive and detailed analysis of the nearly two decades of conflict and the conditions that exacerbated it, Burbano de Lara and Rowland's book is more prescriptive, suggesting possible policy solutions. Both books address the role played by political culture and political regionalization in Ecuador, areas of growing interest in Ecuadorian political science.

Three works of political history provide new understandings of past political processes and of their relevance for contemporary Ecuador. Kim Clark's The Redemptive Work: Railway and Nation in Ecuador, 1895–1930 is an excellent example of new social history that challenges the traditional history of great men (see HLAS 59:1947 and HLAS 60:2554). Clark sees the construction of the national railroad in the early 20th century not simply as the work of two strong modernizing presidents, but as a conflictual nation-building process that brought together people from disparate regions and classes, and as a site for analyzing popular understandings of historical events and uses of elite ideologies. A second groundbreaking work is Montúfar's La reconstrucción neoliberal: Febres Cordero o la estatización del neoliberalismo en el Ecuador, 1984–1988 (item #bi2004002570#). He shows the distance between neoliberal rhetoric and statist practices, as exemplified by the presidential administration of León Febres Cordero, widely considered Ecuador's first neoliberal president. According to Montúfar, Febres Cordero did not believe the state should be neutral, but that it should guarantee elite privilege in a neoliberal era. The recent banking crisis, which revealed state favoritism towards certain banks over the financial welfare of millions of Ecuadorians, and recent privatization practices, which favored powerful domestic elites, confirm Montúfar's argument as well as Febres Cordero's success in establishing a "neoliberal" state that is far from impartial. Finally, De la Torre's work, Populist Seduction in Latin America: the Ecuadorian Experience, is an outstanding comparison of two populist presidents in very different periods of time: José María Velasco Ibarra and Abdalá Bucaram (item #bi2004002575#). He uses their cases to argue that contemporary Ecuador and Latin America continue to be deeply shaped by populist politics, with neopopulist leaders able to recreate the rhetorical structures and oppositions that characterized the great populist leaders of the 1940s, despite the very different socioeconomic context.


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