Outside editorial: On shaky ground

Posted: Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The following editorial first appeared in the Miami Herald:

The political violence that rocked Ecuador last week, endangering President Rafael Correa, exposed the fragile nature of democracy in that country and the critical need for the president to shore up the nation's democratic institutions.

Ecuador has a history of political instability. At his first inauguration in 2007, Mr. Correa became the seventh president in 10 years. Three of his immediate predecessors were ousted by street protests much like the one that engulfed Quito on Thursday.

Although Mr. Correa called it an attempted coup d'etat, it seemed more like a disorganized mutiny by members of the police force. They were angry over a new law that puts an end to perks involving medals and bonuses and extends the period between promotions.

The armed forces quickly declared their loyalty to the president, ending the possibility of a genuine coup. Soldiers eventually rescued him from the hospital where he had been trapped for 12 hours by the lawless police.

Although the United States has had its differences with Mr. Correa's government, the State Department reacted energetically with unequivocal backing for Ecuador's democracy. "The United States deplores violence and lawlessness, and we express our full support for President Rafael Correa, and the institutions of democratic government in that country," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said. She followed it up with a phone call to the president reiterating the message.

Ecuador's president must feel gratified by the unanimous show of support he's received from virtually every head of state in Latin America. Fortifying Ecuador's democracy is up to him, however, not to others.

The violence was a threat to Ecuador's democratic institutions. That's where President Correa must focus his efforts. Appearing on the hospital balcony at the height of the violence and daring the rebels to kill him is hardly the act of a statesman. It trivializes the issue. Blaming the news media and rival politicians for what happened, as Mr. Correa did, turns it into just another political brawl.

Mr. Correa can show that he's above that. He should congratulate the armed forces for loyalty to the constitution, reject violence and populist appeals (which can be turned against him) and reach out to his political foes. It's the best way to put Ecuador on the path to a solid democracy.

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