Improving Transparency, Empowering Citizens: Ecuador’s Fundación Ciudadanía y Desarrollo

In a year when 60 countries suffered democratic declines and 25 made gains, Ecuador beat the odds.

Ecuador’s Fundación Ciudadanía y Desarrollo
A May 2021 FCD event on the challenges facing the new government (Image credit: FCD)

In a year when 60 countries suffered democratic declines and 25 made gains, Ecuador beat the odds: it was one of just two nations that not only made progress, but also ascended from Partly Free to Free status in Freedom in the World 2022. Mauricio Alarcón Salvador, executive director of the Ecuadorian prodemocracy organization Fundación Ciudadanía y Desarrollo (Citizenship and Development Foundation, or FCD), is determined to keep it that way.

Since 2009, Mauricio and his colleagues at FCD have fought to expose corruption in the Ecuadorian government. They believe that greater visibility into the state’s workings and the impact of voting would allay public skepticism and increase voter turnout, ultimately creating a freer and fairer country for all.

Although Ecuador has been considered a democratic republic since the 1980s, its people have weathered political volatility, ethnic discrimination, and economic inequality. More recently, as president from 2007 to 2017, Rafael Correa oversaw attacks on judicial independence, press freedom, and other civil liberties.

Civic activism is no casual pastime in Latin America, which was recently named the most dangerous region of the world for human rights defenders. But when incumbent president Lenín Moreno—who had eased Correa’s restrictions since 2017 despite having served as his vice president—announced that he would not be seeking reelection in 2021, Mauricio knew that FCD could not miss the opportunity to push Ecuador even further toward a more stable and inclusive democracy.

The stakes could hardly have been higher in 2021. One leading candidate, Andrés Arauz, was allied with Correa, while the second, longtime opposition figure Guillermo Lasso, represented another step in the transition away from Correa’s repressive legacy. In an interview with Freedom House, Mauricio called the election a choice between “authoritarianism and restriction of rights, and the alternative in favor of democracy and the rule of law.”

Knowing this could be the best opportunity for a long time to shift the tides of history and make a lasting impact on their country, FCD launched an all-out campaign to help Ecuadorians understand the choice in front of them, turn out young voters, and bring together young activists and community leaders to create policy proposals for candidates. During the vote itself, FCD published easy-to-understand explanations of election rules, making the process more accessible.

Separately, on the national stage, a coalition of political adversaries banded together to support Lasso, who went on to secure the presidency with 52.36 percent of the final vote. But while democracy won the day in Ecuador, the story is far from over.

Corruption and weak rule of law are the two most significant long-term challenges facing Ecuador’s democracy, Mauricio told Freedom House, and the activists at FCD are more determined and motivated than ever to continue the struggle. They have worked alongside Transparency International toward the implementation of government-wide integrity and transparency regulations, trained officials to uphold democratic standards, and empowered citizens by teaching them how to thwart corrupt authorities’ attempts at antidemocratic chicanery.

Since its inception, FCD has striven to build trust between citizens and their government, explicitly aiming to lay a foundation for future generations of democracy activists and engaged voters in Ecuador. Its spirit of cooperation and solidarity is vital to human rights efforts around the world—particularly as authoritarians increasingly support one another.

As Mauricio put it, “The most important thing is that we never lose sight of the importance of empathy, of supporting our colleagues, of teaming up and joining forces to face problems together.

Freedom in the World 2022

People gather in Myanmar to protest the February 1, 2021 military coup. (Image credit: Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

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Around the world, the enemies of liberal democracy are accelerating their attacks. Read the full Freedom in the World 2022 essay here.

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