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Rafael Correa, A Reminder Why Latin America Needs Term Limits

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa insists he will retire from politics when his term ends. Yet he has spent the past year lobbying to end presidential term limits, which a loyal parliament has now granted. Does he have a hidden agenda to remain in power?

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa on Dec. 10
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa on Dec. 10
Marcelo Ostria Trigo


QUITO — Ecuador's parliament voted earlier this month to amend the constitution and end presidential term limits, a drastic step that critics warn is terrible for democracy. Voters were told that the move would not benefit current President Rafael Correa because he has pledged not to stand for reelection in 2017, but he was the one to mobilize the effort, and who's to say he wouldn't take four years off and then run again.

Sensing that Correa is being disingenuous, voters took to the streets in mass protests, which police and soldiers violently repressed. The only other Latin American countries with provisions eliminating presidential term limits are Venezuela and Nicaragua, both ruled by authoritarian, discretionary and kleptocratic governments.

One Ecuadoran opposition leader complained that legislators from his area were prevented from weighing in on the debate, and explained that his objections go beyond the issue of whether President Correa runs for the presidency in 2017. "The only important thing here," he said, "is to defend the principle of democratic alternation, whose importance is illustrated in the experience of many generations across Latin America."

The amendment in Ecuador bucks the Latin American trend to block indefinite reelection of leaders who might be inclined to remain in power for good. Colombia provided the most recent case, when its parliament absolutely prohibited reelection, while the same applies in Guatemala, Mexico, Panama and Paraguay. A similar initiative was recently introduced in Brazil's congress.

Correa's intentions are unclear, and perhaps that's just his intention. He observed, rather glibly, that parliament had "found it hard" to accept that he would not be a candidate in 2017. The president predicted that his party would nevertheless win the 2017 presidential elections, which would assure the continuation of the populist project he calls Citizens Revolution. It is Ecuador's version of Venzeuela's 21st Century Socialism brand.

As regional analyst Carlos Malamud recently asked, how are we to interpret Correa's comments? Are they tactical, a prudent response at a time when falling commodities prices are threatening his government and complicating its future? Or do they express a legitimate desire to retire from politics for good?

Given his nature, we can practically rule out a permanent political break. Correa considers the Citizens Revolution his own creation, much too precious to be left in anyone else's hands. Unfortunately, beyond the expectations his declarations are meant to shape, it seems that personal rule will once more prevail over institutions in Ecuador.

Being — and staying — in power is a constant of populist regimes and dictatorships. Bolivia is taking similar steps through a referendum that could allow a second reelection. This clearly will benefit the sitting president, Evo Morales, who would remain 15 years in power in addition to the four years that were illegally discounted when he was re-elected in December 2014. The reason, they stated in Bolivia, was that the first presidential years were not in the new Plurinational State of Bolivia but in the old constitutional regime. Call it another take on democracy!

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Forced Labor, Forced Exile: The Cuban Professionals Sent Abroad To Work, Never To Return

Noel, a Cuban engineer who had to emigrate to the faraway island of Saint Lucia, tells about the Cuban government's systematic intimidation techniques and coercion of its professionals abroad. He now knows he can never go back to his native island — lest he should never be allowed to leave Cuba again.

Forced Labor, Forced Exile: The Cuban Professionals Sent Abroad To Work, Never To Return

Next stop, Saint Lucia

Laura Rique Valero

Daniela* was just one year old when she last played with her father. In a video her mother recorded, the two can be seen lying on the floor, making each other laugh.

Three years have passed since then. Daniela's sister, Dunia*, was born — but she has never met her father in person, only connecting through video calls. Indeed, between 2019 and 2023, the family changed more than the two little girls could understand.

"Dad, are you here yet? I'm crazy excited to talk to you."

"Dad, I want you to call today and I'm going to send you a kiss."

"Dad, I want you to come for a long time. I want you to call me; call me, dad."

Three voice messages which Daniela has left her father, one after the other, on WhatsApp this Saturday. His image appears on the phone screen, and the two both light up.

The girls can’t explain what their father looks like in real life: how tall or short or thin he is, how he smells or how his voice sounds — the real one, not what comes out of the speaker. Their version of their dad is limited to a rectangular, digital image. There is nothing else, only distance, and problems that their mother may never share with them.

In 2020, Noel*, the girls' father, was offered a two-to-three-year employment contract on a volcanic island in the Caribbean, some 2,000 kilometers from Cuba. The family needed the money. What came next was never in the plans.

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