Saturday, January 27, 2007

Events in Ecuador

A student, Mark Rowsey, had emailed me several days ago about the death of Ecuador’s defense minister, who had been at her job nine days. The minister, her daughter, and five officers died when two helicopters collided. He mentioned that friends of his in Ecuador indicated that rumors were really flying—Correa would run the ministry himself, the U.S. was involved, the military did it, there was no way the helicopters would crash without sabotage, etc.

The sad truth is that Ecuador’s military is so politicized that even conspiracy theories seem less outlandish. Sam Fitch, a very well known scholar who has studied civil-military relations in Latin America for years, wrote a book about Ecuador entitled, The Military Coup d’Etat as a Political Process, which says it all. It was only seven years ago (almost to the day) that the military overthrew a government.

Fortunately, however, the reaction to the deaths has been measured and fully in line with democracy. President Correa has said that not only will he name a new minister, his nominee will be another woman. He has ordered a special commission to study the circumstances of the crash. A government spokesperson advised against any speculation. She had a large funeral with full participation by the armed forces. And as far as I know, the military itself has kept totally quiet.

So far, this incident just doesn’t have the flavor of a conspiracy. There doesn’t seem to be much more tension than there ever was: at least in public, Correa and the military leadership have remained mutually respectful. Of course, there are many things we don’t know. But at the moment, you could make the argument that this is a successful handling of a potential civil-military crisis in a coup-prone country.


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