Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

From Puyo, Ecuador. Stability at any Cost?



Estabilidad. When I speak with Ecuadoreans about their opinions regarding the occurrences of September 30, 2010, I am amazed by the consistency of the responses.

From Otavalo in the northern highlands to Puyo in the Southern Amazonas, every person I have spoken with has stated that their main concern is stability. Perhaps this is not surprising in a country where a democratically elected president did not serve out a full term from 1996 through 2007, resulting in 10 presidents (or ruling juntas) in 11 years. However, given the important role indigenous activists played in much of the political instability over the past decade and a half, this citizen fatigue could have worrisome implications for the quality of Ecuadorean democracy.

Incredibly, not only has the general gist of “we´re tired of instability” been consistent in my conversations, but so has the way in which my friends, colleagues, food servers, cab drivers, and anyone else who will talk to me explain why they´re fatigued. Without fail, they go through the 10 administrations that fell due to social pressures. Ticking off on their fingers they list: Abdalá Bucaram, Fabián Alarcón, Rosalia Arteaga, Alarcón (again), Jamil Mahuad, Lucio Gutiérrez (president of the junta), Gustavo Noboa, Gutiérrez, Alfredo Palacio, and, finally, Rafael Correa. Some actually go all the way back to the first democratic administration after the military junta in 1979, that of Jaime Roldós Aguilera, and point out that even his presidency ended before the term was up. He died in an aviation accident. There is an almost fatalistic, predetermination to the logic of these explanations; presidents here don´t finish their terms, be it by plane crash or coup.

The termination of these presidencies prior to their terms ending was for any number of reasons, such as insanity (Bucaram) and economic crises (Mahuad). In my conversations, however, people did not go into the reasons for each of these administrations untimely demise. My indigenous friends in the sierra and the Amazon did not recount their involvement in the coup that overthrew Mahuad. My middle class Quiteño friends did not mention whether they had participated in the 2005 coup against Gutiérrez. No one mentioned whether good or bad had come of these political actions, whether their “successes” in overthrowing prior administrations were still considered successes, the failures of their candidates in having been overthrown still considered failures.

Citizen fatigue is a risk in a democracy—it takes effort to participate. It is thus unsurprising in a democratic country such as Ecuador, with a recent history riddled with political upheaval and instability that people crave stability. Citizens have largely chosen to either actively support the current Correa administration, or to passively watch from the sidelines, perhaps commenting on the repression of the media and free speech and the government´s questionable use of the armed forces.

And so, we have stability, but at what cost?

*Lindsay Green-Barber is a guest blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. She is a graduate teaching fellow at Hunter College and PhD candidate at City University in New York and is in Ecuador doing field research for her doctoral dissertation on information and communication technologies and social movements in developing countries.

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