The law, as it is called the use of legal instruments to articulate political persecution, extends throughout Latin America.
Over the past five years, the “legal war” has intensified, both quantitatively and qualitatively, becoming a coordinated regional strategy that uses the legitimacy of the state’s legal apparatus to overthrow, force or manipulate civilians. democratic process of alternation in power. Ecuador is an illustrative example of this process.
The prosecution or arrest of political leaders like Lula da Silva in Brazil has been the tip of the “law” iceberg, but the strategy goes much further.
Among other measures, it includes media action to destroy the image of political leaders; the use of the administrative sanction apparatus to continue opposition activism; judicial impartiality; or interference in electoral processes.
Elections and electoral law
In Ecuador, these strategies have gone beyond the traditional dynamic of using the penal system to quash the political opponent, under the broad umbrella of the ‘fight against corruption’, to take a leap forward in the field. procedural-electoral.
Lawfare began in 2017, expanding both in the criminal justice sphere – the state attorney general and the courts – and in the administrative sphere, with the state comptroller general.
On the one hand, criminal proceedings were opened and preventive prison sentences were handed down against leaders of the “Correísmo”, including former President Rafael Correa. On the other hand, many former employees of this government have been prosecuted with economic sanctions and threats of prosecution.
In October 2019, after the popular revolt and police and military repression, this use of the criminal route took an important qualitative turn.
Following the accusation of corruption, they began to pursue an alleged rebellion which affected important political and social leaders.
This strategy has been criticized by several organizations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has issued precautionary measures to end the deprivation of liberty of political leaders accused of rebellion.
Before the general elections, the first round of which took place on February 7, the mechanism of the law was reactivated.
Thus began what we can call the “electoral law”, which encompassed three fundamental strategies: making it difficult to register politicians, delegitimizing candidates and attacking electoral institutions.
The first was to prevent both the registration of the Revolución Ciudadana (RC) – Correa party – in the registration of political organizations and the registration of its candidates. These candidates were then forced to run in the 2019 local elections as members of the Fuerza Compromiso Social (FSC) movement.
After the elections, however, the state comptroller general succeeded, under threat of dismissal and fines to members of the National Electoral Council (CNE), also to cancel the registration of the FSC, which forced, four months ahead of the elections, the registration of a new alliance, this time with the Democratic Center Movement, called Union for Hope (Unes).
Finally, in September 2020, the CNE accepted the registration of the coalition which submitted the pair Andrés Arauz-Rafael Correa as a candidate.
Along with obstacles to party registration, in July 2020 the rules of internal democracy were reformed, including requirements that made it difficult to register candidates for president and vice-president.
This, added to the accelerated judicial forfeiture of former President Correa, forced a change in the electoral formula “in extremis”.
The original pair was eventually replaced by the Andrés Arauz-Carlos Rabascall pair, which was also challenged, although it was finally able to be registered and confirmed in December, just two months before the elections.
However, the difficulties of participating in the electoral process in Ecuador were not limited to simple corrism.
In mid-November last year, the CNE president confirmed that Álvaro Noboa, leader of the Acción Nacional Institutional Renovation Party, could not run for president due to the flaws of the movement that intended to sponsor him. .
The OAS and the condemnation of interference in the electoral process
These actions have been observed by national and international actors. The report of the Election Observation Mission of the Organization of American States (OAS) noted the obstacles encountered in the candidate registration process and the resulting impact on equal opportunities in electoral conflict.
Despite the “electoral law”, the Arauz-Rabascall duo won with 32.7% of the vote, beating the second-place candidate, Guillermo Lasso, by more than ten points. This result, which requires a second round, has led to a rearmament of the law, with a strategy now centered on the second and third objectives mentioned: attacking the figure of Arauz and delegitimizing the CNE.
These strategies are not new either, but the qualitative change has occurred with the appearance on the scene of Francisco Barbosa, Attorney General of Colombia, showing the regional articulation of legal warfare.
Barbosa arrived in Quito at the request of his Ecuadorian counterpart in the middle of the electoral count and before the presentation of the final results.
The purpose of this trip was supposed to provide evidence of an alleged relationship between the funding of Arauz’s campaign and the Colombian guerrilla movement, the National Liberation Army (ELN). This evidence has not been revealed in Colombia or Ecuador.
On the other hand, the Comptroller General of the State requested the opening of a computerized audit of the system, thus prolonging the offensive against the CNE. However, the attorney general’s office informed the council of its willingness to collect the digital content of the database that manages the electoral computer system.
These two interferences were criticized in the report of the Mission of the OAS (Organization of American States), which mentions that the continuous attacks against the CNE, as arbiter of the electoral race, must be avoided in order not to affect the legitimacy of the process itself.
In addition, unfounded accusations of fraud in the recount of the first round and the propagandist action of certain media contribute to create a narrative of fraud and taint the elections before the second round, accelerating the process of decomposition of the institution and the government. state government. Lenín Moreno.
If we add to this the dismissal of the ministers of health and the government, the recent uncontrolled massacres in prisons, the increase in poverty and precariousness or the scandals of abusive vaccinations, we obtain an extremely volatile scenario, which represents a risk of democratic and institutional disturbances.
In this scenario, the April 11 elections are an opportunity to restore not only social justice but also democratic institutions in Ecuador.