Ecuador | Freedom House

Countries at the Crossroads



Countries at the Crossroads 2007

2007 Scores

Accountability and Public Voice
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Civil Liberties
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Rule of Law
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Anti-Corruption and Transparency
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


For the past 10 years, Ecuador has been trapped in a downward spiral of political conflict and instability that has eroded the rule of law and kept the country perched on the brink of breakdown. At the time of writing, newly elected president Rafael Correa is weathering a political storm caused by his controversial strategy of bending elected and independent government branches, including the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) and congress, to his will regarding his plans for a constituent assembly. While President Correa's plan to overhaul the decayed political system boosted his election campaign, it also placed him in confrontation with the parties in the legislative branch that control the appointment of oversight bodies such as the comptroller general, the attorney general, and the TSE.

By the end of March 2007, the battle over the constituent assembly and its larger implications for political control had led to inter-institutional war in Ecuador. A political battle to determine the operating rules of the prospective constituent assembly culminated in an attempt by the congressional opposition to dismiss the head of the TSE on questionable grounds. In what appears to be a race toward institutional obliteration, the TSE responded by dismissing 57 (of a total of 100) legislators who opposed the assembly in the form proposed by Correa. As the path toward the assembly proceeds and the 57 ejected legislators undertake both violent and legal attempts to return to their seats, the rule of law in Ecuador is close to nonexistent. Despite these flagrant violations of the constitution, however, Correa remains a highly popular president in Ecuador, thus demonstrating the disdain felt by Ecuadorians toward congress and other political elites.

Political instability has become the trademark of the Ecuadorian state. In April 2005, President Lucio Gutiérrez was ousted on the spurious charge of abandonment of office by a simple congressional resolution. A few months before the unconstitutional sacking, the third in eight years, President Gutiérrez had openly violated the rule of law by sponsoring the congressional removal of Supreme Court (CSJ) magistrates, as well as TSE and Constitutional Tribunal (TC) members. This vicious pattern of political retaliation and open conflict has dramatically affected the most salient dimensions of democratic performance. In recent years, the rule of law has been severely affected by repeated interbranch conflict; democratic accountability has been displaced by the rise and success of outsider political candidates with authoritarian tendencies; anticorruption efforts have been rendered ineffective by the political capture of oversight mechanisms; and the effective protection of civil liberties has become a political privilege rather than a right in and of itself. The problem lies not in the legal protection of civil and political freedoms but in the effective functioning of democratic practices and institutions. Ecuador's chronic political instability has eroded the capacity of the state to protect or improve individuals' quality of life.

[UPDATE: On April 15, 2007, nearly 82 percent of Ecuadorians voted in favor of convoking a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution. Elections for the 130-member assembly were officially scheduled for September 30, 2007.]

Accountability and Public Voice: 

The 2006 presidential and legislative election represented a democratic setback in many respects. While electoral legislation was slightly improved (see below), the election was plagued by widespread accusations of fraud, vote-counting irregularities, and impunity for campaign finance violations. Organized political parties obtained less than 25 percent of legislative seats, as voters were lured by campaign promises of constitutional overhaul voiced by candidates with thin democratic credentials.

According to the constitution, all Ecuadorian adults, with the exception of the military, have the right and the obligation to vote. The TSE is appointed by the legislature for a four-year term, and its seven members mirror the political composition of congress. Presidents are elected for four years according to a majority run-off formula and cannot seek consecutive reelection.[2]

Legislators are elected for four-year terms and have no term limits. The use of a proportional representation formula for the legislature, combined with lenient electoral registration thresholds, has contributed to the proliferation of political parties, making Ecuador's one of the most fragmented party systems in Latin America.[3] This political fragmentation, which to some degree reflects the country's rich ethnic and regional diversity, has also contributed to the chronic instability and short duration of political alliances in Ecuador.

The 2006 election increased public mistrust of the TSE, and presidential candidates exchanged multiple accusations of fraud. Political controversy even reached the chief of the Organization of American States (OAS) electoral mission to Ecuador, Rafael Bielsa, when Correa accused him of bias against Correa's campaign. To avoid further controversy, Bielsa was swiftly recalled to OAS headquarters just one day prior to the presidential runoff. Alleged irregularities in the contracting of a Brazilian exit-poll company (E-Vote) led to the invalidation of its contract and the resignation of the TSE president after technical failures left E-Vote unable to deliver a quick vote count on election day.[4]

Existing legislation establishes fixed and progressive funding allocations to all parties, offers presidential candidates free media exposure, and provides clear sanctions for candidates who do not observe spending caps or who fail to turn in campaign expenditure reports.[5] The TSE, however, has systematically failed to enforce the law--especially with respect to the imposition of sanctions for campaign finance violations--due to the highly politicized nature of its executive board. At the height of campaigning for the first round of the 2006 presidential vote, the TSE froze the bank account of presidential candidate and businessman Álvaro Noboa for exceeding the spending limit by more than 50 percent. Noboa--who had paid electoral penalties with devalued bonds for similar abuses during the 2002 election--was acquitted five days later by TSE members, some of them with close ties to his party.[6] Similar overspending was reported during the runoff elections by Citizen Participation--Ecuador (PCE), an electoral watchdog; Noboa's overspending was reported at 348 percent of the spending cap, while Correa's surpassed it by 65 percent.[7]

The Ecuadorian constitution provides for proper oversight mechanisms that in theory ensure appropriate checks and balances across government branches. In practice, however, the fragmented and shifting nature of political coalitions has turned mechanisms of oversight and control into instruments of political blackmail. In December 2004, President Gutiérrez sponsored the formation of a legislative coalition that illegally dismissed and replaced the majority of CSJ magistrates, as well as TSE and TC members. This deliberate encroachment by the executive and legislative branches on the judicial branch, which was an overt violation of democratic principles, gave the president absolute control over all three branches of the state (see Rule of Law). The sacking of Supreme Court magistrates also enabled one of the coalition parties (Roldosista Party-PRE) to annul a pending trial on corruption charges against former president and PRE founder Abdalá Bucaram, thus allowing him to return from exile in Panama. Bucaram's return triggered widespread antigovernment protests in Quito, which met with a violent response from the government. As in the 1997 crisis, when Bucaram had been declared "mentally unfit" to remain president, Ecuador's powerful congress removed a president on questionable grounds, this time dismissing Gutiérrez on the grounds of "abandonment of office," even though President Gutiérrez was still in the presidential palace.[8]

The politicization of government appointments has percolated to the middle and lower ranks of the government bureaucracy.[9] Legislation enacted in 2004 sought to establish merit-based and equal opportunity criteria for the selection, promotion, and remuneration of civil servants, and further legislation was adopted in 2006 to standardize these procedures across government offices. Although there is little evidence available to assess the effective impact of these norms, critical decisions regarding selection, promotion, and dismissal appear to remain for the most part a discretionary privilege of political bosses.[10]

Civic engagement and monitoring have improved thanks to the proliferation of watchdog groups that now possess greater capacity to influence the policymaking process. In recent years, a group of NGOs gathered under the name of Coalición Acceso (Access Coalition) to improve auxiliary legislation to the Organic Law for Transparency and Access to Public Information.[11] In general, the creation and funding of NGOs is fully allowed by the state, although the Gutiérrez administration was accused of exerting pressure on some organizations who criticized the government.

The media in Ecuador are privately owned and outspoken. During the Gutiérrez administration, however, freedom of the press quickly deteriorated. The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) reported several violations against press freedom and journalists' rights in 2005, especially during Gutiérrez's last months in office. Several reporters were reportedly targeted in February 2005 by the Deposit Guarantee Agency (AGD)--a banking insurance bureau--and accused of outstanding debts.[12] Similarly, the government banned helicopter news coverage of protests in Quito and Guayaquil in the months leading to Gutiérrez's fall in April 2005.

Other troubling incidents related to the Gutiérrez crisis included the death of independent Chilean photographer Julio Augusto García due to asphyxia produced by tear gas, an attack on Spanish journalist Daniela Kraemer from El País newspaper, and the repeated intimidation and sabotage of Radio La Luna, an opposition radio outlet. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported that radio director Paco Velasco and his family received death threats, seemingly associated with their active role in opposing the Gutierrez government.[13]

The situation normalized when President Gutiérrez left office, as reflected by the country's world ranking in press freedom: RSF's freedom score for the year 2005 ranked Ecuador in 87th place, with a score of 21.75; by 2006, the ranking had improved to 68th, with a score of 15.25. [14] Despite this favorable trend, in 2006 the SIP reported two gunshot attacks on Gráficas Nacionales, the company responsible for publishing the important Guayaquil newspapers Expreso and Extra, in a clear attempt to intimidate the press.[15] In addition, there were widespread accusations of press bias during the presidential campaign, especially from losing candidate Noboa, who shunned the press and labeled journalists for the television station Ecuavisa "accessories to the destruction of the country."[16] Correa, for his part, has also taken an aggressive stance toward the press in his first months in office, though it remains to be seen what concrete effects this will have on Ecuadorian media freedom.

Generally, the state has refrained from using libel laws to punish journalists who offend powerful actors, although libel and defamation remain criminalized. Despite isolated concerns, there is no systematic evidence that the state has imposed direct or indirect censorship of print or broadcast media. The state does not hinder access to the internet.

Civil Liberties: 

Ecuadorian legislation contains a wide array of provisions to prevent unjustified imprisonment, torture, and abuse by both state and non-state actors, and ensures citizens' right to petition when their civil and political rights are violated by state authorities. In practice, the Ecuadorian government--especially during the Gutiérrez administration--has not prevented repeated cases of politically motivated persecution of government critics as well as cases of police brutality and military misconduct. For instance, former vice-president Leon Roldós was severely beaten in January 2005, shortly after criticizing the government.[17] A month later, Patricio Acosta, a former cabinet minister during the Gutiérrez administration, joined other public officials in reporting the existence of a sophisticated government-sponsored espionage network that targeted government opponents.[18] In April 2005, human rights organizations denounced 62 cases of human rights violations against 173 citizens associated with the opposition, including death threats, beatings, and attacks on property.[19] While these accusations remain uninvestigated, reports of such incidents have declined since the end of the Gutiérrez administration.

Police brutality, disappearances, and impunity remain pervasive problems in Ecuador. Human rights watchdogs such as Amnesty International (AI) and the Ecumenical Commission of Human Rights (CEDHU) have reported many cases of severe violations committed by the police. On August 30, 2005, the Permanent Committee for Human Rights (CDH), together with other human rights organizations, organized a rally in Guayaquil called "Acción contra el olvido" (Action against Forgetting) to protest 59 cases of people who had disappeared in recent decades after being arrested as subversives by the security forces.[20] Despite these actions, the police have not yet been held accountable.

In January 2007, police arrested 17 year-old Paul Guañuna, accused of graffiti painting, in the presence of his two friends; the next day his body was found in a ravine with signs of torture--but the police argued that he had committed suicide.[21] Although unexplained deaths are the exception, Amnesty International sometimes reports on cases of arbitrary detention and intimidation of regular citizens, as well as human right activists and people who have raised complaints about police brutality.[22]

Ecuadorian citizens are increasingly exposed to non-state violence as a spillover effect from Colombia's military conflict. In 2005, a mission composed of national and international organizations reported several cases of sicariato (assassination for hire) and other crimes in the border provinces of Sucumbíos, Carchi, and Esmeraldas, which were believed to be closely linked to drug trafficking activities. According to the same report, the Colombian conflict has posed other challenges, including the devastating effects of Colombian airborne herbicide spraying of coca fields on the quality of food, water, and health on the Ecuadorian side of the border. It also highlights the fact that the local population is living under constant physical and psychological threat from members of the Ecuadorian and Colombian armed forces as well as groups of paramilitaries and guerrillas. [23]

Although the constitution establishes an ombudsman to ensure people's right to petition when constitutional rights have been violated, this office is severely constrained by its lack of legal power to enforce resolutions. Additionally, the office lacks a full national presence, and people--especially those in remote or violent areas (such as border zones)--often prefer not to complain for fear of exposing themselves to even greater danger.[24]

The problem of weak law enforcement has been aggravated by the chronic crisis in the country's jails. According to the Andean Commission of Jurists (CAJ), inmate rights are severely violated by prison overcrowding, threats to personal safety, and extended detention without sentence.[25] Prison riots and strikes are occasionally reported as inmates demand speedier and fairer trials and improved sanitary conditions. Jail workers, in turn, have demanded higher salaries and a general increase in prison budgets. An April 2006 strike led the government to declare a nationwide prison emergency.[26] Riots and violence have not decreased, and the press continues to report on deaths and injuries among inmates and prison workers.[27] Citizen watchdogs like the Latin American Development Corporation (CLD) report that as of April 2006 nearly 90 percent of inmates had been arrested for drug-related crimes, ranging from high-level trafficking to street dealing or illegal possession, while nearly 70 percent of inmates had not been sentenced.[28]

In an attempt to address this problem, the Palacio administration signed the Strasbourg Treaty in June 2005 to facilitate the repatriation of foreign prisoners within signatory nations. However, attempts to repatriate Colombian prisoners have been ineffective due to political indecisiveness and legal impediments.[29] In March 2006, congress reformed the Code of Penal Procedures and Social Rehabilitation to stress its rehabilitating role. The National Council of Social Rehabilitation has been in charge of producing enabling regulations to implement the reform since May 2006.[30] Finally, the TC declared long-term detención en firme (pretrial detention) to be unconstitutional in September 2006, though controversy continues over whether the resolution should be retroactive.[31]

The government has made significant formal progress in ensuring the protection of gender and minority group rights, but the reality has not fully matched the spirit of the many legal conventions to which the country is a signatory. In 2006, President Palacio launched the Equal Opportunities Plan 2005-2009 in order to give the protection of women's rights the status of state policy and provide greater policy visibility to women's issues.[32] Women have made considerable gains in political representation in the past two years, and 7 out of 17 cabinet positions in the Correa government are held by women, including the defense and foreign affairs ministries. In terms of legislative representation, the electoral law established in 2000 required that at least 30 percent of candidates on each ballot must be women, with the quota to increase by 5 percent in each national election until it reaches 50 percent. Additionally, it established that the names of men and women competing in multimember districts should be allocated in a sequential and alternating pattern.[33] A 2006 TSE resolution, however, violated the alternation principle, allowing party leaders greater discretion regarding where to place women on the ballot.[34] As a result, 26 out of 100 legislative seats were occupied by women.

The Ecuadorian constitution provides equal opportunities for men and women in the workplace, but much remains to be done to effectively prevent job and salary discrimination. According to the first time usage survey conducted in Ecuador, women work, on average, 18 hours more per week than men. This inequality stems from the fact that there are hidden activities--like housework--that are not recognized socially or economically as work.[35] In June 2006, women's groups protested against the violations of their sexual and constitutional rights after the Constitutional Court banned the commercialization and use of the day-after pill.[36] Women and children's organizations successfully lobbied congress in June 2005 to adopt a penal code reform that strengthened sanctions against sexual felonies and penalized activities like sexual exploitation, child pornography, and human trafficking.[37]

People with disabilities face a greater gap between legislation and practice. The state has not been able to provide for the special needs or guarantee the rights of people with disabilities. The Ecuadorian Federation for Disabled People reports that 45 percent of the 1,600,000 disabled people in the job market work in the informal sector.[38] The labor code was reformed in December 2005 to demand that employers hire a proportional share of people with disabilities, but this law has been largely ignored.[39] By contrast, religious groups have continued to enjoy full recognition and accreditation by the Ministry of Interior, which has contributed to their proliferation over the past few years.

Although the Ecuadorian Constitution of 1998 is considered one of the most progressive charters in Latin America for the multicultural and plurinational nature of its legislation, the extensive collective rights contained within have not yet been implemented as congress has not passed enabling legislation to date. During the Gutiérrez administration, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), which has been a crucial actor during the political upheaval of the last decade, suffered a severe schism around the decision to support the government. Only one branch of the movement, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Amazon (CONFENAIE) stayed allied with the government; its head, Antonio Vargas, was appointed Minister of Welfare. CONFENAIE communities also received agricultural tools, and some leaders obtained political appointments.[40] According to some, this split was the result of a deliberate government strategy to weaken indigenous influence.[41]

While the indigenous movement maintains a strong national presence and plays a leading role in the region, its political wing, the Pachakutik party, has not avoided the electoral setbacks that affected most traditional parties; its candidates won only 6 out of 100 seats in the National Congress. Pachakutik endorsed the winning presidential bid of Rafael Correa but is not part of Correa's cabinet. Nonetheless, both the indigenous movements and the highly marginalized Afro-Ecuadorian community hope to achieve substantial representation and influence in the constituent assembly.

Amnesty International has reported that oil companies have violated the civil and political rights of indigenous communities. These incidents have included death threats and intimidation against environmental and indigenous activists who opposed the Gutíerrez and Palacio governments' oil extraction policies. The state has remained inactive in the face of these violations, and in some cases it has sent the military to support oil companies.[42]

While the Ecuadorian constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, organizations including Amnesty International and CEDHU have reported several cases of human rights violations and police brutality during street protests. Victims of police brutality--and even torture--include several students arrested during street protests in Quito in April 2005 and January 2006.[43] Indigenous leader María Iza Quinatoa reportedly received death threats following her public opposition to the government's potential signing of a free trade agreement with the United States.[44] Other protesters in the eastern provinces of Orellana and Sucumbios encountered police brutality while demanding fairer distribution of oil resources in August 2005. During the protests, more than 60 people were reportedly injured.[45] Governments have used the declaration of state of emergency to react quickly to issues ranging from political unrest to natural disasters, but without effective oversight of executive powers, this state of expanded presidential power carries the potential for negative effects on individual civil and political liberties.

Labor unions have encountered several obstacles to forming industry and sector-wide associations. According to Human Rights Watch, Ecuadorian legislation contains loopholes that have allowed employers to bypass the freedom of association and collective bargaining rights of their employees. In September 2005, Human Rights Watch released a petition against Ecuador's being granted preferential trade benefits (ATPA) from the United States, arguing that the government has made little progress in protecting workers' right to unionize.[46] This accusation comes on top of the labor ministry's insufficient efforts to eliminate child labor, especially on banana plantations.

Rule of Law: 

The constitutional provisions that enable the formal separation of powers have been converted into mechanisms of blackmail and control in Ecuador. Fundamental democratic principles of checks and balances, including key tenets of the rule of law such as judicial independence and judicial review, have been systematically violated by political factions in both the government and the opposition.

Between December 2004 and April 2005, two entire and formally independent CSJs were illegally dismissed by congressional resolution, with the president's consent. The removal of judges in December 2004 was the result of a political alliance formed between President Gutiérrez and two congressional parties, the PRE and Álvaro Noboa's PRIAN. Gutiérrez was seeking legislative support to preempt possible congressional impeachment for using state resources to campaign in local elections, while congressional parties were keen on replacing CSJ magistrates associated with opposition parties.[47] Initial public support for the replacement of the CSJ magistrates, who were perceived as corrupt, disappeared when the new court invalidated the pending embezzlement trial against PRE leader and former president Abdalá Bucaram (see Accountability and Public voice). In an attempt to calm citizen outrage over Bucaram's return, and days before his own removal from office, President Gutiérrez dismissed the entire new Supreme Court in April 2005 through presidential decree.. The decree was ratified by congress, but the pre-December, legitimate Supreme Court was never reinstated.

A new CSJ was appointed in November 2005 following an eight-month period of consultation and a rigorous, merit-based selection process that was monitored by the United Nations, the Organization of American States (OAS), and civil society groups. Preliminary evidence, unfortunately, suggests that the new CSJ judges and their rulings have not been exempt from political pressures.[48] The politicization of the judiciary has also undermined the rule of law in civil and criminal matters. Several months after leaving office in 2005, Gutiérrez was arrested and accused of sedition by the interim government, even though the processes necessary to enable such a charge had not been carried out.[49] The attorney general has also acted in favor of political interests. For example, interim attorney general Cecilia Armas was accused of facilitating former president Bucaram's escape from justice in December 2005.[50] Not only did the government fail to properly investigate Armas, she actually stayed in office until 2007.

Prosecutorial independence is affected by the political maneuvering that characterizes the appointment process for the nation's top prosecutors. In principle, congress appoints the Ministro Fiscal General (Public Prosecutor) upon a nomination received from the National Judiciary Council (CNJ), an administrative body within the judiciary; congress also appoints the Procurador General (Attorney General) from a pool of three presidential nominees. Finally, congress has the power to appoint the comptroller general, Ecuador's top auditing authority, through approval by a two-thirds majority of its members. In practice, the highly fragmented congress has been unable to produce the necessary votes to appoint the comptroller general since January 31, 2003, and the attorney general since 2005. In the absence of officials leading these independent oversight mechanisms, it is fair to say that the actions of both the Gutiérrez and Palacio administrations remained de facto unchecked.

These appointments became highly controversial in 2007, as shifting legislative coalitions rallied to secure ownership of the institutions that control accountability in Ecuador. For example, the congressional appointment of the comptroller general was perceived to reflect a political concession to the Gutiérrez-led opposition in exchange for its support for the Constituent Assembly.[51] Conversely, Noboa's PRIAN party led the fight over the controversial appointment of Francisco Cucalón Rendón as attorney general; he eventually resigned in the face of protests regarding irregularities in the legislative appointment process and because he had faced corruption charges while serving as attorney general during the Bucaram administration.

The presumption of innocence until proven guilty is granted by the constitution. The 2006 declaration of unconstitutionality of extended pretrial detention by the TC marked an important step toward protecting this basic principle of justice (see Civil Liberties). The constitution establishes that all citizens are equal before the law, but it is well known that those who have money or influential connections are likely to benefit from better legal advice and speedier verdicts.

The constitution also guarantees a fair trial to all citizens and grants the accused access to independent counsel when they cannot afford it. The effective application of these rights remains severely undermined by a chronic shortage of defense attorneys. According to the CLD, the situation has not improved over the past several years. The total number of public defenders in the country is just 31, they are required to defend in every single legal field without regard to specialization, and they are significantly outnumbered by the body of prosecutors in every province. In Guayas Province, for example, the ratio of prosecutors to public attorneys as of mid-2005 was 15 to 1.[52]

The armed forces remain a pivotal player in democratic politics. During periods of crisis, the armed forces have played a significant role by recognizing or withdrawing support to civilian politicians beyond their constitutional prerogatives. During the ouster of President Gutiérrez, for example, it took the armed several hours to recognize the mandate of Vice-President Palacio as the new president. However, the armed forces have not systematically repressed civilians or civil movements for political purposes in recent years.

Existing legislation provides mechanisms to ensure the accountability of the police and armed forces to civilian authorities. Due to the politicization and weakness of the judiciary, however, accountability is weak, and the security forces enjoy significant autonomy when dealing with civilians. The police have received repeated warnings from international human rights organizations and have faced accusations of human rights violations and of police brutality (see Civil Liberties). An estimate by the Public Prosecutor's Office claims that the state has been obliged to pay almost US$5 million in compensation related to murders and other violations committed by the police, but the authors of such atrocities remain unidentified and unpunished.[53] According to the daily newspaper El Comercio, 248 police officials have been dismissed from the force by police tribunals in the past two years for violations of the police code of conduct. While this represents a noteworthy effort, the same paper reported that during 2005, the police received a total of 6,466 denunciations of rights violations.[54]

Both police and armed forces were discovered to be involved in a corruption scandal when a spectacular clandestine financial operation was uncovered in October 2005. The operation consisted of a parallel financial system that paid up to 10 percent monthly interest rates to high-profile clients, such as national politicians and high-ranking officers in the police and armed forces.[55] This shadow banking system, involving more than 160,000 deposit holders and monthly movements of between US$400 million and US$1 billion, became public upon the accidental death of its mastermind, a public notary. Although it is believed that money deposited by investors was used to finance illegal activities, such as drug and arms trafficking as well as money laundering, state authorities have not revealed official results of the investigations more than a year after the scandal was first discovered.[56] Other scandals involving law enforcement officials that have been reported by the media without receiving proper investigation from the state include accusations of police and border patrol participation in coyoterismo (human trafficking),[57] alleged police protection of drug trafficking suspects,[58] and theft of goods confiscated from arrested suspects.[59]

The Ecuadorian constitution recognizes and protects the right to own private property, including intellectual property rights. However, indigenous groups remain vulnerable regarding the protection of their ancestral knowledge, which has been utilized by pharmaceutical companies that seek medicinal properties in native plants and subsequently patent the useful compounds. Under current legislation, which is based on international legal instruments, this knowledge does not meet the legal criteria that would enable indigenous groups to request protected status for ancestral knowledge. The main legal limitations are the facts that intellectual property protection only covers inventions defined as "novelties" and that the owner of the rights must be an individual rather than a collective entity.[60] While this is a problem facing indigenous people around the world, the Ecuadorian state has adopted a passive attitude regarding protection of patentable knowledge by indigenous groups.

In general, contract enforceability in Ecuador is severely hindered by the weakness of rule of law. Given the conflicting nature of existing laws, court decisions are uncertain, the judiciary is prone to erratic judgments, and processes remain vulnerable to corruption. Moreover, future foreign investment is uncertain given the current political instability. A contentious dispute with the U.S. broke out in relation to the treatment of Occidental Petroleum, whose Ecuadorian assets were confiscated in May 2006. The U.S. regarded the penalties as disproportionate and pushed for international arbitration, while talks on a free trade agreement between the two countries, already foundering, were indefinitely suspended.

Anti-Corruption and Transparency: 

Despite legal reforms and greater civic activity, Ecuador continues to be perceived as a highly corrupt country. In the 2006 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, the country received a score of just 2.3 out of 10. Worldwide, Ecuador ranks 138th out of 163 surveyed countries, sharing the bottom of the scale in Latin America with Venezuela.[61] According to a recent country survey, more than 50 percent of respondents described themselves as victims of corruption, with bureaucrats and the police cited as the main agents of corruption.[62]

President Gutiérrez's efforts to adopt stricter anticorruption legislation at the beginning of his mandate were damaged by accusations of corruption and cronyism against him and other members of his administration. The Anticorruption System (SAE), established in 2005, sought to strengthen existing anticorruption watchdogs and obliged high-ranking officials to present asset declarations, but the effort remained ineffective due to low levels of compliance and the overregulation, overlap, and even contradictory nature of the existing legal framework.[63] Like his predecessor, President Correa announced the creation of a National Anticorruption Office shortly after his inauguration. It remains unclear, however, what relationship it would have with the preceding SAE and the existing Civic Committee against Corruption (CCCC).

The state plays a predominant role in the economy. According to the Heritage Foundation's 2007 Index of Economic Freedom, the country is considered "mostly unfree," with a score of 55.3 out of 100 points, which places Ecuador 24th out of 29 Latin American countries, and 108th out of 157 countries worldwide. The report stresses low scores in areas such as business and investment freedom, where "government officials use regulatory schemes and questionable legal interpretations to solicit bribes from and otherwise take advantage of foreign investors." [64]

Independent investigative and auditing bodies have been rendered ineffective due to the increased politicization of their authority. The failure to elect a comptroller general and an attorney general for more than four and two years, respectively, illustrates this point. The internal audit and control units of the Internal Revenue Service (SRI) have limited sanctioning capacities, and some inquiries and audits of influential businesspeople, government cronies, and strategic political actors have been stalled or discouraged.[65]

The state has been unable to effectively prevent, detect, and punish cases of corruption among public officials. Obstacles include the presence of many legal loopholes and non-codified corruption activities;[66] the weak sanctioning power of anticorruption entities; and the low number of sentences and sanctions imposed in corruption cases, which reinforces the perception of impunity.[67] A government program aimed at protecting victims and witnesses of corruption has had little impact because it only covers protection in criminal cases, leaving out disciplinary or administrative ones, and it does not protect all whistleblowers (e.g. those in the workplace); therefore, people continue to fear retaliation.[68]

Individuals responsible for upholding the country's legal standards have also commonly advanced personal economic interests at the expense of the public good. In May 2006, the director of the board of the Deposit Guarantee Agency (AGD), the government banking insurance bureau, was sent to jail for allegedly trying to collect government debts from influential bankers currently in jail or exile. Months earlier, she had denounced the fact that the state had done nothing to prosecute bankers facing corruption and embezzlement scandals.[69]

One such alleged case of impunity and exile involves Guillermo Dueñas Iturralde, CEO of the Banco de los Andes. The Superintendencia de Bancos (Banking Authority) had declared Banco de los Andes bankrupt in 1999, but a controversial judicial resolution overruled the previous declaration against the bank, allowing it to reopen in 2004. The bank, however, was forced to close again in 2006, defaulting on more than 8,000 deposit holders.[70] Dueñas fled the country to escape embezzlement charges. Although he was arrested in the United States, he was later released as the arrest warrant had been revoked by the President of the Superior Court of Justice of Quito.[71] Examples of thorough state investigation into corruption scandals and the application of legitimate and effective sanctions against private actors and public officials accused of wrongdoing are rare.

In an unprecedented move in January 2007, the CCCC made public 197 videos showing administrative personnel within the judiciary receiving money for their services. Although the videos are not admitted by the law as bona fide proof of a crime, thus shielding the accused from prosecution, those accused could face serious administrative sanctions imposed by the CNJ. In practice, there is widespread concern that the CNJ is not keen on or committed to imposing such sanctions.[72]

Privately owned media outlets are actively involved in uncovering corruption scandals, but media moguls may have significant conflicts of interest between their own assets and the corruption scandals being reported on. In a personal letter addressed to President Gutiérrez in April 2005, businessman Fidel Egas Grijalva--owner of Ecuador's largest bank and a TV station--reminded the president of a previous commitment to protecting his bank "and the financial system" from instability and warned him that his TV channel will not have a problem in uncovering repeated political mistakes of the administration. In his response, President Gutiérrez reminded the banker that his administration chartered two flights carrying a total of US$350 million in cash from the United States to boost his bank's reserves.[73] Despite the fact that a wave of corruption accusations followed this exchange, the scandal itself was never prosecuted. Journalists lack the proper training and professional incentives to investigate corruption scandals thoroughly, and new corruption cases often eclipse unsolved ones due to judicial inefficiency.[74]

In 2004, the government adopted an Organic Law for Transparency and Access to Public Information (LOTAIP), but its impact has been compromised by very low levels of compliance. According to the Access Coalition, 98 percent of the 345 institutions monitored failed to report on their websites the basic amount of information required by law.[75] Another watchdog, the Catholic University Human Rights Clinic, reported that only 14 percent of the clinic's 22 requests for information from government institutions and organizations received a favorable response in 2005.[76] According to CLD, this low degree of compliance is explained by the lack of awareness of both public officials and citizens of their obligations and rights, as well as the absence of proper sanctions for defiance.[77] Moreover, auxiliary legislation intended to complement the LOTAIP has sometimes contradicted and limited the full application of the law.[78]

However, there are a few success stories of LOTAIP being correctly applied to facilitate the monitoring of government activities. For instance, after a prolonged legal battle, on September 8, 2006, the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of an appeal presented by the Guayaquil newspaper El Universo and asked the National Congress to disclose all expense reports and other relevant administrative information.[79]

Legal framework is in place that seeks to regulate government contracting, such as the Public Contracts Law (PCL) and the Law of Consultancy (LC). In practice, these laws are often bypassed through subjective legal interpretations, and most of the bidding process remains under the control of each government contracting entity. According to an experts' report commissioned by the Inter-American Commission against Corruption, more than 36 percent of contracts placed during June 2003 and December 2005 were not regulated by the PCL or LC (accounting for roughly US$437 million).[80] Although there are provisions for reporting on the bidding, allocation, and contracting processes through an online service (Contratanet), it is mandatory only for offices and dependencies of the executive and merely optional for other public institutions, thus its potential to become a truly effective mechanism of control and information is limited.[81] Some aspects of the energy and oil sectors, such as contracting for the provision of services and equipment, remain outside the competitive and transparent bidding process; therefore, they present significant opportunities for corruption.

The government enables the fair and legal administration and distribution of foreign assistance.

  • The government should provide the necessary legal and administrative resources to apply and effectively enforce campaign finance laws. With the support of existing civil society watchdogs, it should ensure full disclosure of campaign expenditures.
  • The state should strive to maintain the effective separation of powers between government branches, establish clearer legal boundaries and prerogatives for each government body, and penalize government officials whose actions encroach on other government branches.
  • The prospective constituent assembly should reconfigure the appointment process and design new rules to ensure the independence of control and oversight entities such as the comptroller and prosecutor general.
  • The government should confirm its commitment to press freedom by refraining from making inflammatory statements that increase polarization between the government and the press.
  • The government should increase the financial resources and level of personnel at the ombudsman's office in order to ensure that all Ecuadorians have the ability to report human rights violations.
  • The government should conduct an independent enquiry to investigate allegations of the existence of a network of espionage aimed at government officials and opposition leaders over the last five years.
  • The government should continue its efforts to address the issue of prison overcrowding by doing more to facilitate the rehabilitation process and applying sentences that are proportional to the magnitude of the crime.
  • The state should work to ensure the effective protection of freedom of assembly and association for all citizens, especially minority groups, by strengthening the ability of control bodies to investigate cases of abuse.
  • Significant government efforts are required to investigate, effectively sanction, and accelerate pending judiciary actions against former presidents and government officials accused of wrongdoing. The government should form an autonomous commission charged with investigating and sanctioning former officials' wrongdoings.
  • The government should continue to devote financial resources to expanding the capacity of the judiciary by professionally training more judges and public attorneys nationwide.
  • The repeated incidents of human rights violations by police and armed forces should be investigated by an independent commission with the full backing of the government.
  • The government should revise and adopt the necessary legal structure for the protection of collective and ancestral intellectual property rights.
  • The government should strengthen existing efforts to fight corruption by defining the respective roles of the National Anticorruption Office and the CCCC and augmenting their power to investigate and recommend sanctions for corruption to the judiciary.
  • The government should enforce existing legislation requiring public officials to present asset declarations before and after taking office and should invoke sanctions in cases of noncompliance.
  • The government should encourage and enable the active participation of civil society watchdogs to disseminate more widely the contents of the Public Access and Transparency Law, as well as ensure that contracting and other government information is disclosed in an accurate and timely manner.
  • The government should extend whistleblower legislation to guarantee job security during corruption investigations for those who report workplace corruption.
  • Significant government efforts are needed to prevent private-public conflicts of interest and properly investigate and prosecute private actors, such as bankers, accused of corruption and embezzlement. These efforts could include the appointment of an independent investigating commission to handle cases of special public relevance.

[1] I want to acknowledge the invaluable research assistance and insightful comments of Juan Carlos Machado Puertas. I also thank Santiago Basabe, Julio Muñoz, Michel Rowland, and Ruben Dario Useche for sharing valuable information to include in this report.

[2] No second round is needed if the leading candidate obtains more than 40% of the vote and leads the second candidate with more than a 10-point difference (Constitution, Article 165).

[3] J. Mark Payne, Daniel Zovatto G., Fernando Carrillo Flórez, and Andrés Allamand Zavala, Democracies in Development: Politics and Reform in Latin America (Washington, D.C.: Inter-American Development Bank [IADB], 2002).

[4] "Xavier Cazar presentó renuncia oficial al TSE," El Universo, 3 January 2007,

[5] "Ley Orgánica Reformatoria a la Ley Orgánica de Control del Gasto Electoral y de la Propaganda Electoral," Official Journal, 31 March 2006, 241.

[6] "Imprevista mayoría 'revive' a Álvaro Noboa," Hoy on line, September 21, 2006,

[7] Participacion Ciudadana Ecuador, "Gasto General de los Candidatos a la Presidencia de la Republica en Medios de Comunicación al 24/11/2006,"

[8] Boletín "Viviendo la democracia," No. 18, Quito: Corporación Latinoamericana para el Desarrollo [CLD], March 2005).

[9] Caridad Araujo, Andrés Mejía-Acosta, Aníbal Pérez Liñán, Sebastian M. Saiegh, and Simón Pachano. 2005. "Political Institutions, Policymaking Processes, and Policy Outcomes in Ecuador" unpublished manuscript, InterAmerican Development Bank.

[10] Cucalón became attorney general during the Bucaram administration but was forced to step down three months after his appointment in 1997. "Cucalón quedó fuera del Ministerio Fiscal," El Telégrafo, 31 January 2007,

[11] Michel Rowland, project consultant for Proyecto Si Se Puede. personal communication, 15 January 2007.

[12] SIP, "Ecuador: Informe ante la Reunión de Medio Año, Panamá" 2005.

[13] Reporters Without Borders (RSF), "Un miembro del Congreso insulta y amenaza públicamente a un periodista", 14 November 2005,

[14] RSF, "Annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index -2006", (Paris: RSF, 2006),; RSF, "Annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index -2005", (Paris: RSF, 2005),; RSF, "Annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index – 2004", (Paris: RSF, 2004)

[15] SIP, "Ecuador: Informe ante la 62ª Asamblea General, Ciudad de Mexico, Mexico," 29 September–3 October 2006, (Miami: SIP, 2006),

[16] "Ecuador: Noboa es acusado de poner en riesgo a periodistas opositores," Agence France Presse, 6 November 2006, accessed through, 14 March 2006.

[17] SIP, "Ecuador: Informe ante la Reunión de Medio Año, Panamá" 2005 .

[18] In January 2007, the newly elected minister of energy, Alberto Acosta, denounced the existence of spying devices in his office. Shortly afterward, Rosa Maria Torres, former minister of education, supported Acosta's concerns, announcing that she was also spied upon in 2003, when she worked for the Gutiérrez administration. "Ex- Ministra pide tomar en serio denuncias de espionaje a funcionarios de Gobierno", Ecuador Inmediato, 22 January 2007,

[19] Boletín "Viviendo la democracia" No. 19, Quito, (CLD, April 2005).

[20] Amnesty Internacional (AI), Online documentation archive: Ecuador, accessed 20 August 2007; Comisión Ecuménica de Derechos Humanos de Ecuador, Archivo de Noticias,, accessed 20 August 2007..

[21] Comisión Ecuménica de Derechos Humanos, "¡Ni un hombre mas a la cronología de la impunidad!," , Boletín de Prensa, 7 February 2007,

[22] AI, Online documentation archive: Ecuador.

[23] Food First Information and Action Network (FIDH), Federación Internacional de Derechos Humanos (FIAN) , Red de Acción contra los Plaguicidas en América Latina (RAPAL), Observatorio Control Interamericano de los Derechos Humanos de los Migrantes (OCIM), Centro de Estudios y Asesoría en Salud (CEAS) & Organizaciones e instituciones ecuatorianas miembros del Comité Interinstitucional contra las Fumigaciones (CIF): Defensoría Nacional del Pueblo, INREDH, Acción Ecológica, CEDHU, Acción Creativa, FORCCOFES, PUCE, CAS/AFSC, Plan País, SERPAJ, Comité Provincial de Derechos Humanos del Carchi, COPOCCAR, Fundación Altrópico, ECOLEX "Report of the International Mission concerning fumigations in the Ecuadorian and Colombian Border: Provincias de Carchi, Esmeraldas y Sucumbíos", No. 434/3, December 2005.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Comisión Andina de Juristas (CAJ), "Documento de trabajo actualizado al 5 de mayo del 2005. Sucesos en el Ecuador. Situación de la Democracia y los derechos humanos en el Ecuador" (Lima: CAJ, 2005),

[26] "Cárceles Reclaman presupuesto", Hoy on line, 24 November 2004,; "Pese a la crisis carcelaria, no se transfieren recursos," Hoy on line, 12 April 2006,

[27]"Peligrosa violencia carcelaria", Diario Hoy, 28 September 2005,

Fernando Carrion, "La violencia carcelaria" Diario Hoy, 26 Noviembre 2005,

[28] Boletín "Viviendo la democracia" No. 32, Quito, (CLD, May 2006).

[29] [29] Colombia and Ecuador signed a convention on prisoners' repatriation in 1994, but the lack of compatible legislation and political volatility has hindered the application of the convention since then. For example, the repatriation process lasts longer than sentences for minor crimes (one year). Additionally, the process is not applicable to drug-related offenses, which are the prime cause of detention of Colombian nationals in Ecuador. The first repatriations took place only in 2005. Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Ecuador, "Comercio/ 86 prisioneros piden su repatriación a Colombia", 24 October 2006,
; Comisión Andina de Juristas, Cronología Andina, Ecuador, Abril 2004,

[30] Boletín "Viviendo la democracia" No. 32 (May 2006).

[31] "Fin de la prisión en firme," Hoy on line,19 October 2006,

[32] Consejo Nacional de las Mujeres (CONAMU), "Boletín Informativo No. 11", March 2006,
; "Plan de igualdad de oportunidades de las Mujeres Ecuatorianas", (Quito: CONAMU, 2004),

[33] Ley Orgánica de Elecciones, Article 59. It is worth noting that the 1998 constitution had already recognized a quota of 20% of women on the ballot.

[34] CONAMU, "Boletín 16", 4 August 2006,

[35] CONAMU, "Boletín 16",4 August 2006.

[36] "Mujeres de Ecuador quieren que se venda píldora del 'día después'", Ecuador Inmediato, 26 May 2006,

[37] "Interpretación al Código Penal lista para publicarse en Registro Oficial<," Ecuador Inmediato, 4 September 2006,

[38] "La gente con discapacidad se alista para empleos de calidad",El Comercio , 15 February 2007,

[39] Ibid.

[40] "Gobierno en su intento de 'tomarse' la CONAIE", Ecuador Inmediato 26 December 2004,

[41] According to Bolívar González, under-secretary of welfare during the same period, "the indigenous population is divided and it has to be kept that way. Otherwise they could control all the powers". "Según Bolivar González Indígenas 'tienen' que estar divididos," Ecuador Inmediato, 17 January 2005,

[42] FIDH, et al, No. 434/3, December 2005.

[43]Observatorio de Derechos Humanos, Comisión Ecuménica de Derechos Humanos de Ecuador, Archivo de Noticias..

[44] AI, Acciones urgentes, AU 102/06 Temor por la seguridad / amenazas, 21 April 2006,

[45] Comisión Ecuménica de Derechos Humanos de Ecuador , "Las Organizaciones de DD.HH. sobre la represión en Sucumbíos y Orellana", Observatorio de Derechos Humanos: online news archive, 11 December 2005,

[46] Human Rights Watch (HRW), "Petition Regarding Ecuador's Eligibility for Atpa Designation" September 2005,, 5.

[47] CAJ, "Documento de trabajo actualizado al 5 de mayo del 2005" 2005.

[48] In 2006, members of the leftist Izquierda Democrática party (ID) denounced a pact among coastal parties (PRE, PSC, and PRIAN) that allowed the return of the Gutiérrez brothers to the political arena as an electoral strategy to weaken the political opposition from the highlands. "Preocupación en la ID por nuevos vocales del TC", Ecuador Inmediato, 24 February 2006,; "Para el PRE triunfo de Noboa es gestión directa de Bucaram", Ecuador Inmediato, 19 October 2006.

[49] The constitution allows for presidents and former presidents to be tried by the Supreme Court only when they have been previously impeached by congress (Article 130, 9). In this case however, the order was issued by the president of the high court of Quito, responding to a request from the interim government. SIP, "Ecuador: Informe ante la Reunion de Medio Año, Quito, Ecuador," >2006.

[50] Four days after the fall of Gutierrez's government, Armas assured Bucaram over a telephone conversation, that a prison order would not be issued against him and that no one will be alerted about his leaving the country. "La Fiscal está en la polémica por una grabación," Explored, 14 December 2005,; "Fiscal se niega a renunciar", El Mercurio, 27 December 2005,

[51] "Terna para contralor,"Cuenca, El Mercurio, 19 January 2007.

[52] Boletín "Viviendo la democracia" No. 22, Quito, (CLD, July 2005).

[53] "Impunidad luego de una sancion", El Comercio, 27 February 2007,

[54] "248 policías separados de la Fuerza," El Comercio, 27 February 2007,

[55]"Cabrera registró a 31 781 clientes", Ecuador Inmediato, 22 November 2006,

[56] Santiago Basabe, lawyer.> personal communication with author, 15 January 2007.

[57] "Se destapa un nuevo escándalo para la Policía Nacional", Ecuador Inmediato, 17 November 2006,

[58]Noticias del Congreso Nacional de la Republica del Ecuador, "Para verificar denuncias de Óscar Caranqui Comision de Fiscalización Citará a Oficiales de la Policía", 21 November 2006,

[59]"Otro escándalo envuelve a la Policía", Ecuador Inmediato, 10 November 2006,

[60] Intellectual Property Law, Article 121 and articles that follow.

[61] Transparency International (TI), "Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2006",

[62] M. Seligson and A. Córdova, "Auditoria de la Democracia, Ecuador 2006", Proyecto de Opinión Pública [LAPOP] (Nashville, TN and Quito: Vanderbilt University and Centro de Estudios y Datos [CEDATOS/Gallup Internacional], 2006,

The study is based on sample survey of 3,000 people.

[63] Michel Rowland, project consultant for Proyecto Si Se Puede. personal communication, 15 January 2007.

[64] It ranks countries across different indicators related to 10 broad areas impacting upon economic freedom, such as business, trade, fiscal, monetary, investment, and financial freedom.

The Heritage Foundation, "2007 Index of Economic Freedom" (Washington, D.C. and New York: The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal,January 2007),

[65] Miguel Angel Játiva, public sector employee. personal communication, 22 January 2007.

[66] "Informe Final Relativo a la Implementación en la República del Ecuador de las Disposiciones de la Convención Seleccionadas para ser analizadas en la Segunda Ronda, y Sobre el Seguimiento de las Recomendaciones Formuladas a dicho País en la Primera Ronda", Comité de Expertos del Mecanismo de Seguimiento de la Implementación de la Convención Interamericana Contra la Corrupción, Décima Reunión Del Comité De Expertos, Sg/Mesicic/Doc.185/06 Rev. 4, 11–16 December 2006 (Washington, DC: OAS, 2006,),

[67] Michel Rowland, project consultant for Proyecto Si Se Puede. personal communication, 15 January 2007.

[68] "Informe Final", 2006.

[69]"Cantos: Se ha violentado los derechos de una persona común", Ecuado Iinmediato, 16 February 2006,

[70]"Súper' ponía buenas notas a Los Andes", Ecuador Inmediato, 10 December 2006,

[71]"Policía Nacional explica sobre libertad de Guillermo Dueñas", Ecuador Inmediato, 20 February 2007,

[72]"Nada concreto sobre ‘videojudiciales'", Ecuador Inmediato, 22February 2007

[73]"Reactivada pelea entre Fidel Egas y Grupo Isaías", Ecuador Inmediato, 15 June 2005,

[74] Michel Rowland, project consultant for Proyecto Si Se Puede. personal communication, 15 January 2007.

[75] Boletín "Viviendo la democracia" No. 32, Quito, (CLD, May 2006).

[76] Ibid., No. 20.

[77] Ibid., No. 32.

[78] Miguel Angel Játiva, public sector employee. personal communication, 22 January 2007.

[79] SIP, "Ecuador: Informe ante la 62ª Asamblea General, Ciudad de Mexico, Mexico" 2006.

[80] "Informe Final", 2006, 23.

[81] "Informe de Sociedad Civil sobre la Implementación de la Convención Interamericana contra la Corrupción – Cicc Segunda Ronda de Evaluación y Seguimiento de las Recomendaciones Formuladas en la Primera Ronda" (Quito: CLD, July 2006),, 9.