Elections take place regularly, and some key state institutions have recently displayed greater independence. A leftist government led by President Rafael Correa was elected in 2007, and the subsequent decade was characterized by both economic growth and severe strain on democratic institutions. President Lenín Moreno was elected in 2017 as Correa’s chosen successor, and he subsequently adopted more conservative economic policies, while allowing greater space for civil society and the press. The government’s popularity plummeted following a harsh crackdown on a 2019 protest movement against austerity measures and the severe economic and public health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- By the end of the year, over 212,000 people had been infected with the coronavirus, and at least 14,000 had died, according to researchers at the University of Oxford. The country was particularly hard-hit by the pandemic’s first wave, featuring one of the highest infection rates in Latin America.
- Several corruption scandals involving public health expenditures emerged during the pandemic, resulting in the investigations and arrests of multiple state officials.
- In April, exiled former president Rafael Correa was convicted of overseeing bribery schemes during his presidency (2007–17). In August, the National Court of Justice confirmed his 8-year prison sentence, leaving him unable to run for vice president in the 2021 elections.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
The 2008 constitution provides for a directly elected president. The president has the authority to dissolve the legislature, which triggers new elections for both the assembly and the presidency. In 2018, voters approved a referendum that restored term limits, which had been eliminated in a 2015 constitutional amendment under former president Correa; the president can now serve up to two terms, which effectively bars Correa from reclaiming the presidency.
In April 2017, Lenín Moreno of the Proud and Sovereign Fatherland (PAIS) alliance won the presidential runoff with 51 percent of the vote, defeating Guillermo Lasso of the Creating Opportunities–Society United for More Action (CREO–SUMA) alliance, who took 49 percent. Some observers expressed concerns about the use of state resources to produce materials favoring Moreno.
Lasso denounced the results as fraudulent and refused to concede, but failed to provide strong evidence to support his claims. Meanwhile, international observers generally praised the election’s conduct. Following a partial recount that did not reveal any significant discrepancy from the previous count, the National Electoral Council (CNE) ratified the election’s result.
Local and provincial elections in 2019 took place without incident; the PAIS alliance lost some mayoralties to other establishment and some newer parties.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
Ecuador has a 137-seat unicameral National Assembly, with 116 members directly elected, 15 elected by proportional representation, and 6 elected through multiseat constituencies for Ecuadorians living abroad; following the 2018 referendum, members serve a maximum of two four-year terms. International and domestic observers generally praised the 2017 legislative elections, though an Organization of American States (OAS) mission urged reforms including removing the names of deceased persons from the voter rolls and additional training for various actors in the electoral process. The ruling PAIS alliance won 74 out of 137 seats, followed by the opposition CREO–SUMA, which took 28. The rest of the seats were captured by nine other parties.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||2.002 4.004|
During the Correa era, the CNE had generally been considered government-controlled. The body faced some criticism for its administration of the 2017 elections, including for slow vote counting and irregularities in the voter rolls. In response to the criticism, the transitional National Council of Citizen Participation and Social Control (CPCCS), which is responsible for appointing CNE members, dismissed all sitting CNE members in July 2018, and that November, five newly appointed members began a six-year term.
The new members displayed greater independence and transparency than the previous group, and oversaw the successful 2019 local elections, but have also incurred controversy. In January 2020, CNE president Diana Atamaint narrowly avoided an impeachment trial amid accusations of influence peddling, although she continued to face criticism during the year. The CNE also faced scrutiny as preparations began for the February 2021 presidential elections. In July, the CNE suspended the registration of Correa’s Social Commitment Force (FCS) party and several others due to registration irregularities. However, in October, the CNE allowed the inscription of Andrés Arauz, the candidate endorsed by Correa, as the candidate of the Union of Hope (UNES) coalition, despite additional allegations of irregularities.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||3.003 4.004|
According to the 2008 constitution, political organizations must collect voters’ signatures equivalent to 1.5 percent of the electoral rolls to register and participate in general elections. If a party or grouping fails to win 5 percent of the vote for two consecutive elections, its registration can be revoked, disadvantaging smaller parties. The 2019 local and provincial elections featured the participation of 278 parties and movements. Inscription for the 2021 elections closed in October 2020 with a record 17 presidential precandidates and 18 legislative party lists.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||3.003 4.004|
For decades, Ecuador’s political parties have been largely personality based, clientelist, and fragile. The ruling PAIS alliance, the largest bloc in the legislature, split into two factions after Moreno came to power, with one faction loyal to Moreno and the other loyal to former president Correa; ahead of the 2019 polls the latter group resigned from the ruling party and joined the new Citizens’ Revolution party. Establishment parties such as the Social Christian Party and newer parties like Lasso’s CREO performed well in the 2019 local elections, winning 43 and 34 mayoral races, respectively, compared with 27 won by the ruling PAIS alliance.
There was little suppression of opposition and new parties in either the 2019 local elections or the registration process for the 2021 elections, although the latter was characterized by internal party tensions, administrative confusion, and occasional cross-party contention.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||3.003 4.004|
The people’s political choices are generally free from domination by powerful groups that are not democratically accountable. However, wealthy business interests can undermine democratic accountability by facilitating or encouraging corruption among elected officials.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3.003 4.004|
Ecuador’s constitution promotes nondiscrimination and provides for the adoption of affirmative action measures to promote equality and representation of marginalized groups. In practice, however, Indigenous groups often lack a voice in key decisions pertaining to their land and resources. Nonetheless, Indigenous groups are an important force in national politics. At the end of 2020, an Indigenous presidential candidate, Yaku Pérez of the Pachakutik party, was one of the front-runners in the February 2021 election.
An LGBT+ rights activist, Pamela Troya, registered as the only openly gay candidate for the 2021 legislative elections. In October 2020, she filed a complaint after being mocked by a prosecutorial staffer while reporting that she had received death threats.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||3.003 4.004|
Elected officials are generally free to set and implement government policy without undue interference from nonstate actors. However, the executive has exhibited a strong influence on other branches of the government, and political actors are susceptible to manipulation by powerful business interests.
President Moreno has taken steps to reduce the dominance of the executive. Additionally, the fracturing of the PAIS alliance, with more than one-third of its members in the parliament defecting in January 2018 to a new coalition that backs Correa, compelled Moreno to work with opposition lawmakers to advance legislation.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||2.002 4.004|
Ecuador has long been racked by corruption, and the weak judiciary and lack of investigative capacity in government oversight agencies contribute to an environment of impunity. Although the Moreno administration initially emphasized anticorruption efforts and several prominent politicians faced investigation and prosecution in recent years, corruption scandals rocked the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, illustrating the depth of the challenge of effectively combating graft.
In May 2020, media outlets reported on cases of corruption in public hospitals, including irregularities in the purchase of protective equipment and body bags. Another large corruption network that allegedly sold medical supplies to state hospitals at vastly inflated prices was linked to former president Abdalá Bucaram and two of his sons, all of whom remained under investigation at year’s end. In June, Guayas Province governor Carlos Luis Morales was arrested for allegedly collaborating with family members to defraud the government on contracts for medical supplies; Morales died of a heart attack later that month.
The most politically significant corruption-related development in 2020 was the April conviction of former president Correa on charges that he and political allies orchestrated a system in which illegal payments from state contractors were diverted to finance political campaigns. Along with 17 other former officials and contractors, he was sentenced to eight years in prison and barred from participating in politics. Following confirmation of the sentence on appeal at the National Court of Justice in September, Correa’s attempt to stand for the vice presidency in the 2021 elections was disallowed. Correa, who claimed the evidence used to convict him was doctored, has resided in Belgium since leaving office; as of year’s end, he had not returned to Ecuador to serve his sentence or confront the multiple additional judicial processes that remain pending against him.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||2.002 4.004|
The law guarantees citizens’ right to access public information, and although compliance has improved over the years, some government bodies remain reluctant to disclose it. In 2018, the government took steps to enhance access to information, including the establishment of a transparency-monitoring mechanism to ensure that public agencies provide relevant information online. Public procurement processes are frequently opaque, as illustrated by repeated corruption scandals involving the purchase of overpriced medical supplies and the distribution of public works contracts to friends and family members of public officials. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic’s first wave in April—and following heavy criticism from the media and civil society—President Moreno admitted that the government’s stated numbers of cases and deaths represented a significant undercount.
|Are there free and independent media?||3.003 4.004|
Media freedom improved after President Moreno took office in 2017. Upon his election, Moreno met with the owners of private media outlets and pledged to usher in a new, more open environment for journalists. His administration has permitted more diverse coverage in the country’s state-run media, which had previously shown clear bias toward Correa and the PAIS alliance.
In 2018, the National Assembly approved a reform of the restrictive Organic Communications Law, including the elimination of the notorious Superintendency of Information and Communication (SUPERCOM), which monitored media content, investigated journalists, and issued fines and other sanctions.
In 2020, investigative journalism, which was effectively muzzled during the Correa government, played a key role in Ecuador, including by discrediting official COVID-19 statistics, exposing corruption in the public health sector, and revealing new details about the mechanics of corruption in the Correa administration.
Major challenges to press freedom still remain. Reporters and media operations were severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic: local press freedom group Fundamedios reported that 24 journalists died from the virus during the year, even as the pandemic-induced economic contraction led to hundreds of layoffs. As in previous years, reporters and media outlets suffered threats and occasional physical attacks. Some forms of defamation remain criminalized, and in October, journalist Juan Sarmiento received a 10-day prison sentence and fine following a conviction on charges that his criticisms of the Napo provincial government’s coronavirus response dishonored the province’s governor.
Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 due to continued improvements in the freedom and capacity of private media, which played an important role in exposing multiple high-profile instances of corruption and official misdeeds during the year.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of religion is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected in practice.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||3.003 4.004|
In 2018, the National Assembly approved reforms to the Organic Law on Higher Education, which restores public funding for research at universities that operate in Ecuador under international agreements. The legislation that removed the funding, passed in 2016, had threatened the viability of two graduate institutions, Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar and FLACSO Ecuador.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||3.003 4.004|
Discussion of controversial topics among private citizens is generally free. However, crackdowns on social media have led some online outlets to disable sections for public commentary for fear of reprisals, limiting the freedom of private discussion online.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||3.003 4.004|
Numerous protests occur throughout the country without incident, and restrictions on assembly rights initially eased under President Moreno. However, national security legislation provides a broad definition of sabotage and terrorism, extending to acts against persons and property by unarmed individuals, which can be used to limit assembly rights. In May 2020 the Ministry of Defense issued a regulation authorizing soldiers’ use of lethal force in situations that potentially included protests. Following a challenge by rights groups, the Constitutional Court suspended the regulation in June pending a full decision, which had not occurred at year’s end.
In October 2019, a government move to eliminate fuel subsidies triggered massive, countrywide demonstrations and strike actions by unions, Indigenous movements, and other sectors of society. Some demonstrations turned violent, featuring looting, clashes between protesters and police, and attacks on private property. In response, the government declared a nationwide state of emergency that imposed a curfew and other limits on freedom of assembly rights. A number of demonstrations also saw mass arrests of participants and excessive police violence against protesters. After days of negotiations, Moreno canceled the order eliminating subsidies for gasoline and diesel, and activists in turn called off the demonstrations.
No similar violence or mass arrests occurred in 2020, although several smaller-scale protests were repressed by police, including demonstrations in May against the government’s inadequate COVID-19 response in Guayaquil and a September protest in Quito by medical students demanding wages owed by the government.
In March 2020, assembly rights were restricted throughout the country under the state of emergency declared by President Moreno as the pandemic struck. While the Constitutional Court validated the legality of the emergency restrictions, the court imposed a monitoring mechanism to ensure fundamental rights were not curtailed. In August, the court ruled against additional extensions of the state of emergency, which subsequently expired in September.
Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 because there were fewer instances of protest-related violence and mass arrests compared with the previous year.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||3.003 4.004|
In 2017, the Moreno administration rescinded controversial Correa-era decrees that had introduced onerous requirements for forming a nongovernmental organization (NGO), granted officials broad authority to dissolve organizations, and obliged NGOs to register all members. However, while observers say the new regime for NGO regulation is an improvement, it has also drawn criticism for retaining excessive government regulatory power. For example, current NGO regulations allow authorities to close an NGO deemed to be performing activities different from those for which it was created, or to be participating in politics.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||3.003 4.004|
Private-sector labor unions have the right to strike, though the labor code limits public-sector strikes. Only a small portion of the general workforce is unionized, partly because many people work in the informal sector. In 2018, the National Union of Educators (UNE), which had been dissolved by the government in 2016 under restrictive NGO regulations, was able to resume operations when it was registered as a union.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||2.002 4.004|
Ecuador’s highest-ranking judicial bodies are the 21-member National Court of Justice and the 9-member Constitutional Court. Both courts faced attacks on their autonomy during the Correa era, but judicial independence has increased during the Moreno administration. One of the measures passed in the 2018 referendum involved restructuring the National Council of Citizen Participation and Social Control (CPCCS), a powerful body responsible for appointing the attorney general, and the Judiciary Council, which appoints judges. The referendum’s passage led to the sacking of all CPCCS members, who were considered allies of the Correa government. In 2018, the transitional CPCCS appointed by Moreno replaced all members of the Judiciary Council.
More controversially, the transitional CPCCS had significant influence over the composition of the Constitutional Court, despite the CPCCS’s lack of jurisdiction over the court under the terms of the referendum. The transitional CPCCS voted to remove all nine judges on the court, citing corruption and a lack of independence within the body, and then created a committee to select the court’s new members. The new Constitutional Court members were selected in early 2019 and approved by the transitional CPCCS; later in the year, the new court ratified the legality of the transitional CPCCS’s actions. The CPCCS has remained unstable: four members were removed by congress in 2019, and the council’s president was removed in November 2020 for improperly obtaining a disability certificate that confers tax benefits.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||2.002 4.004|
Judicial processes remain slow, and procedures designed to expedite cases have been implemented at the detriment of defendants’ due process rights. Many people are held in pretrial detention for longer than is permitted by law. While the number of public defenders has increased in recent years, the state is still unable to provide adequate legal counsel for all defendants who are unable to supply their own.
During his tenure, former president Correa and his allies frequently intervened in court cases, telling judges how they should rule, and sometimes removing judges who refused to comply. Under President Moreno, such blatant interference in court proceedings has diminished, allowing defendants more fair public hearings of their cases.
Following the March 2020 declaration of a state of emergency, reports that judicial institutions were failing to address human rights and due process violations prompted an April ruling by the Constitutional Court directing the Judiciary Council to ensure continued access to justice.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||2.002 4.004|
Allegations of police abuse of suspects and detainees continue. In October 2020, municipal police officers in Durán were filmed attacking a mentally disabled woman who was caught selling toothpaste outside a public building. The officers involved were detained.
Accountability efforts related to the 2019 protest violence remained limited in 2020. As of October, hundreds of investigations were open, but only a handful of trials had begun; nearly all focused on protesters accused of inciting or committing violence, some of whom were indigenous leaders or members of the political opposition. Multiple groups that conducted investigations, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Human Rights Watch (HRW), and the governmental Ombudsman’s Office, found that state agents committed human rights violations during the protests, but investigations had not yielded charges as of October.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2.002 4.004|
Indigenous people continue to suffer widespread societal discrimination, and oil-drilling and mining projects on Indigenous lands are frequently carried out without consulting local Indigenous communities, as required by the constitution. In July 2020, the Constitutional Court issued a ruling that reinforced consultation requirements for proposed changes to the status of Indigenous ancestral territories.
Ecuador is one of the largest recipients of refugees in Latin America. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Ecuador hosted over 415,000 Venezuelans as of the end of 2020. In October 2020, the government announced that it had granted over 44,000 humanitarian visas to migrants from Venezuela. Many Venezuelan immigrants have reported facing discrimination and xenophobia, amid unfounded accusations that their arrival has caused a spike in crime and violence in the country. In addition, approximately 250,000 refugees from Colombia have entered Ecuador since the late 1990s, and thousands are still there.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||3.003 4.004|
Freedom of movement outside and inside the country is largely unrestricted. Workers in the palm oil industry, however, have faced restrictions on their movement imposed by employers, including curfews. Individuals may generally determine their place of employment and education.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||2.002 4.004|
The government does not impose significant restrictions on the right to own property and establish private businesses. However, widespread corruption by both public officials and private-sector actors can obstruct normal business activity and weakens the protection of property rights.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||3.003 4.004|
In June 2019, the Constitutional Court, by a vote of 5–4, ruled that the marriage ban on same-sex couples was unconstitutional, based on a previous opinion by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that recommended the recognition of same-sex marriage. The Constitutional Court ruling divided public opinion, but same-sex couples successfully applied for marriage licenses in the following months. Civil unions had previously been recognized in Ecuador.
In a May 2020 report, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women highlighted significant ongoing challenges in protecting women from violence and abuse, and cited a study from the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INEC) that found that 65 percent of Ecuadorian women had suffered abuse in some form during their lives. Abortion remains a crime in Ecuador, and in September 2020, President Moreno vetoed an ambitious health code reform that would have decriminalized abortions resulting from obstetric emergencies.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||2.002 4.004|
Men, women, and children are sometimes subjected to forced labor and sex work in Ecuador; Indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian individuals, as well as migrants and refugees, remain most vulnerable. According to data published in a 2020 World Bank report, 6.6 percent of Venezuelans in Ecuador reported being subjected to forced labor within the previous month, and the economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic further increased migrants’ economic precarity and vulnerability.
The government has taken some action to address the problem of economic exploitation, including by increasing trafficking-related law enforcement operations. However, services for victims are inadequate, and some public officials believed to be complicit in trafficking operations have escaped punishment.
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Global Freedom Score67 100 partly free
Internet Freedom Score62 100 partly free