Elections take place regularly, and some key state institutions have recently displayed greater independence. Freedoms for media and civil society expanded under former president Lenín Moreno, the chosen successor of leftist Rafael Correa. The 2021 elections marked the first time in 14 years that neither Correa nor his preferred candidate won the presidency. Ongoing challenges include official corruption, due process violations, and violence in prisons and during protests.
- In June, Indigenous activists initiated a series of protests against the economic policies of President Guillermo Lasso. The protests, which were characterized by violent clashes between protesters and security forces, lasted for 17 days and led to nationwide fuel and food shortages; the government was eventually forced to concede to several of the protesters’ demands.
- Also in June, opposition legislators moved to impeach President Lasso over “the serious political crisis” caused by the protests. The impeachment bid did not succeed, and Lasso remained in office at year’s end.
- Violent crimes related to drug trafficking and organized criminal groups continued to escalate during the year. Authorities recorded over 4,500 homicides by year’s end, more than double the number recorded the previous year.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 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 2021, Guillermo Lasso, who had unsuccessfully run for president twice before, defeated Union for Hope (UNES) candidate Andrés Arauz, winning 52 percent of the vote.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 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. Members may serve a maximum of two four-year terms.
International and domestic observers generally praised the February 2021 legislative elections as credible and fair. While no party won a majority, UNES, the new party formed by Rafael Correa and his allies, secured 49 seats, followed by Pachakutik with 27. The Social Christian Party (PSC) and the Democratic Left (ID) both won 18. President Lasso’s party, Creating Opportunities (CREO) obtained only 12.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||3.003 4.004|
During the Correa era, the National Electoral Council (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 have generally displayed greater independence and transparency than their predecessors.
The Observatory on Latin American (OLA), a research center at The New School University in New York, praised the CNE for how the 2021 elections were organized, for successfully implementing recommendations from international election observers and the OAS, and publishing the results quickly and accurately.
|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 roll to register and participate in general elections. If a party or group fails to win 4 percent of the vote for two consecutive elections, its registration can be revoked, disadvantaging smaller parties. Recent elections have seen a significant rise in electoral competition: the 2021 elections featured 16 presidential candidates and 17 legislative party lists.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
For decades, Ecuador’s political parties have been largely personality based, clientelist, and fragile. Proud and Sovereign Fatherland (PAIS), the largest bloc in the legislature during the Correa administration, split after former president Moreno came to power, with one faction loyal to Moreno and the other loyal to Correa; ahead of the 2019 polls the latter group left the ruling party and joined the Citizens’ Revolution party.
Smaller establishment parties such as the PSC and newer parties have successfully gained representation in recent years. Lasso’s victory in the 2021 presidential election marked the first time in 14 years that neither Correa nor a candidate affiliated with one of Correa’s parties became president.
|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. Yaku Pérez of Indigenous-affiliated party Pachakutik finished in third place in the first round of the 2021 presidential election. Pachakutik became the second largest legislative bloc in the concurrent legislative polls and Pachakutik member Guadalupe Llori became the first Indigenous woman to preside over the National Assembly.
Though the Lasso administration has committed to working towards women’s equality, his government has faced criticism for failing to do so, including by not fulfilling Lasso’s promise of gender parity within his cabinet.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||2.002 4.004|
Elected officials are generally free to set and implement government policy without undue interference from nonstate actors. An escalating security crisis—marked by a rapid rise in homicides and other violent crime in the country since 2021, largely driven by drug-related gang activity—poses a threat to the ability of the elected government to effectively and freely govern. Organized crime groups routinely intimidate, bribe, and attack government officials, and their presence has weakened state control of institutions, especially Ecuador’s prison system.
Other nongovernmental groups have used violent tactics to influence government policies. In June 2022, large antigovernment protests led by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONAIE) saw protesters block roads and attack security forces while demanding that the government change its economic policies, among other things. The government was forced to concede to several of the protesters’ demands, including agreeing to lower fuel prices and restrict mining in protected areas.
Hostility between the legislature and executive has increased in recent years, impeding government efforts to make and implement policies. In June 2022, opposition legislators moved to impeach President Lasso over “the serious political crisis and internal commotion” caused by that month’s Indigenous-led antigovernment protests. Ultimately, the opposition did not garner enough votes to impeach Lasso.
Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 because the ability of the elected leadership to govern effectively has been constrained by unelected forces, including Indigenous protesters who used blockades and threats of violence to force policy changes and criminal organizations whose numerous bombings and other attacks undermined state control in some areas.
|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 have 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 September 2021, the Lasso administration estimated the cost of corruption between 2007 and 2019 at approximately $68 billion.
In October 2022, energy minister Xavier Vera resigned after becoming the focus of a corruption investigation that began when a local media outlet released audio recordings suggesting that Vera had exchanged jobs at the state-owned oil company PetroEcuador for payment.
Other high-profile corruption probes during the year included an investigation into an alleged corruption network within PetroEcuador during the Correa administration. According to former energy secretary and PetroEcuador CEO Carlos Pareja Yannuzzelli, who testified about the case before the legislature in November, Correa was involved in a corruption scheme related to “irregular practices in oil contracting” that allegedly resulted in the loss of more than $5 billion. The investigation was ongoing as of November.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||2.002 4.004|
The law guarantees citizens’ right to access public information. Although compliance has improved over the years, some government bodies remain reluctant to disclose such information. Public procurement processes are frequently opaque and malpractice involving government contracts is common.
|Are there free and independent media?||3.003 4.004|
Media freedom improved after former president Moreno took office in 2017. His administration permitted more diverse coverage in the country’s state-run media, which had previously shown clear bias toward Correa and PAIS. In 2018, the National Assembly reformed the restrictive Organic Communications Law, including by eliminating the notorious Superintendency of Information and Communication (SUPERCOM), which monitored media content, investigated journalists, and issued fines and other sanctions.
Nonetheless, challenges to press freedom remain. Members of the media face harassment and attacks, which are often met with impunity. In 2022, a number of journalists were attacked in their homes, and at least two were killed in relation to their work. Several journalists were attacked while covering the June protests. In an October report, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) noted that such violence and impunity significantly worsened between August 2021 and August 2022, limiting press freedom in the country.
|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 restored public funding for research at universities that operate in Ecuador under international agreements. In August 2021, the Lasso administration proposed amendments to the same law that would strengthen the autonomy of universities and independence of students in 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 comments for fear of reprisals, limiting the freedom of private discussion online.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||3.003 4.004|
Protests occur regularly throughout the country without incident. 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 that June, pending a full decision.
In October 2021, Indigenous communities initiated mass protests as President Lasso proposed an increase in fuel prices. Protesters blocked major roads and were prevented from entering the presidential palace by riot police.
In June 2022, CONAIE initiated another demonstration that saw Indigenous activists march to Quito to protest the government’s economic policies and demand that the Lasso administration uphold Indigenous land rights. Though the protests began peacefully, they quickly escalated into “abhorrent violence.” Protesters attacked journalists and security forces; briefly held dozens of security officers captive; and blockaded roads, leading to nationwide fuel and food shortages. President Lasso imposed a state of emergency after the protests began, limiting the freedom of assembly and mobilizing military forces. Authorities responded violently to the protests, using excessive force and arbitrary arrests to repress the demonstrations. Hundreds of protesters and security forces were injured during the 17 days of demonstrations, and at least seven people, including one soldier, were killed.
|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 heavily restricted nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and their ability to operate. However, though observers saw improvements under the Moreno administration, many criticized the retention of excessive government regulatory power. Current NGO regulations allow authorities to close organizations perceived to be participating in politics, or organizations deemed to perform activities different from those for which they were created.
|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.
|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 increased during the Moreno administration. The passage of the 2018 referendum restructured the CPCCS, a powerful body responsible for appointing the attorney general, and the Judiciary Council, which appoints judges. All CPCCS members, who were considered allies of the Correa government, and Judiciary Council members were replaced.
More controversially, the transitional CPCCS had significant influence over the composition of the Constitutional Court, despite its lack of jurisdiction. The transitional CPCCS voted to remove all nine judges on the court, citing corruption and a lack of independence within the body, and created a committee to select the court’s new members, who were selected and approved in early 2019. Later that year, the new court ratified the legality of the transitional CPCCS’s actions.
In October 2022, legislators from UNES and PSC attempted to impeach members of the Judiciary Council for their roles in the 2019 evaluation and removal of National Court justices. The motion to impeach did not pass, and was dismissed in October.
|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 former president Moreno, such blatant interference in court proceedings diminished, allowing defendants more fair public hearings of their cases.
Despite improvements in the post-Correa era, reports of due process infringements, including trial delays and “improper pressure” on the judiciary have continued during the Lasso administration.
|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 are common. In August 2022, legislation regulating the use of force by security personnel came into effect. However, reports of excessive use of force by police continued.
Multiple groups that conducted investigations into the 2019 protest violence, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), found that state agents committed human rights violations during the protests, but investigations had not yielded charges.
Prisons are overcrowded and understaffed, and gang- and drug-related violence is rampant. As of October 2022, there are more than 32,000 inmates, 41 percent of whom are awaiting trial. Major security incidents regularly occur in Ecuadorian prisons, where more than 400 inmates were killed between February 2021 and November 2022. In September 2021, 119 inmates were killed in a high-security prison in Guayaquil after a dispute between two rival criminal gangs became violent. Various media outlets reported that the aggressors were heavily armed with machetes, knives, rifles, semiautomatic weapons, and grenades. The events in Guayaquil highlighted the state’s inability to protect prisoners from gangs and drug cartels, and was the most fatal such incident in the country’s history.
Ecuador experienced a significant increase in violent crime in 2022, recording over 4,500 homicides—more than double the number recorded during the previous year—the country’s “highest homicide rate in decades,” according to Interior Minister Juan Zapata. Zapata attributed 83 percent of these deaths to drug trafficking and gang activity.
In response to a series of car bombs and explosions in Guayaquil and Esmeraldas in November, President Lasso declared a state of emergency to allow police and armed forces to conduct security operations aimed at curbing the violence.
|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 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 Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Ecuador hosted over 502,000 Venezuelans as of the end of 2022. 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 have remained.
|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.
Freedom of movement was limited during the June 2022 protests, both by demonstrators using road blockades as a protest tactic and government forces, who closed the main roads in Quito for several days. A state of emergency imposed by President Lasso in response to the protests also limited free movement until it was lifted later that month.
|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 narrowly ruled that the marriage ban on same-sex couples was unconstitutional, based on a previous opinion by the IACHR 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.
Ecuador faces significant ongoing challenges in protecting women from violence and abuse. A study from the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INEC) found that 65 percent of Ecuadorian women had suffered abuse in some form during their lives. More than 270 femicides were committed between January and November 2022 according to the Latin American Association for Alternative Development (Aldea). In one high-profile case, lawyer María Bélen Bernal was allegedly killed by her husband, a police lieutenant, on the grounds of a Quito police academy in September; an investigation remained ongoing at year’s end.
Abortion remains a crime in Ecuador, with few exceptions. In April 2022, the legislature passed a law—enacted later that month—decriminalizing abortion in the case of rape. The legislation passed in April was significantly more restrictive than an earlier version of the bill, passed by the National Assembly in February but vetoed by President Lasso in March.
|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. 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 Score70 100 free
Internet Freedom Score64 100 partly free