"Six months ago, who would have imagined this situation?"
For former Ecuador president Rafael Correa, the future of his fractured PAIS Alliance hangs in the balance, just six months after the leftist movement won its fourth presidential election in a row.
The public rift between Correa and his successor Lenin Moreno has escalated dramatically, and now Correa is charging his former ally with staging a "coup d'etat" following Moreno's decree to move forward with a controversial referendum vote.
"I hope Ecuador and the entire world understands we are facing a coup d'etat," Correa said at a press conference with international media at the Quito headquarters of the PAIS Alliance Thursday. "They want to call an unconstitutional referendum by intentionally ignoring the constitutional courts report, which is mandatory."
Correa referred to Moreno's issuing of a decree Wednesday directing the country's electoral council to convene his "Popular Consultation," in which Ecuadoreans would vote on seven questions ranging from extending the size of a protected area in the Amazon, to disallowing public servants found guilty of corruption from running for office.
"Because it is the right of the people, and because Article 105 of the Organic Law of Jurisdictional Guarantees and Constitutional Control protects me, I have sent Executive Decrees 229 and 230 to the National Electoral Council (CNE) calling for the popular consultation," Moreno tweeted Wednesday morning.
Former head of state Correa maintains, however, that two of the questions, including one that would eliminate the possibility of reelection, are unconstitutional and that Moreno's decree is illegal given the pending ruling at the country's constitutional court on the questions.
"They know that the questions in that referendum are unconstitutional and wouldn't have been approved by the ccourt: this is very serious, a violation of the Constitution that is taking place; a coup is taking place," Correa said, notng that the head of the Constitutional Court, Alfredo Diaz, called for a meeting on Dec. 5 to deal with concerns from court members.
Correa alleges that Diaz informed the current president that the questions would not be approved by the court, prompting Moreno to issue the decree.
Following the directive, National Electoral Council head Juan Pablo Pozo resigned from the body, prompting media speculation about a possible disagreement with the decree by the election chief.
Divisions Coming to a Head
After taking office in late May, Moreno, who served as vice president and ambassador under Correa, began to distance himself from his former ally. This was in part due to Moreno's decision to meet with leaders of right-wing opposition parties as part of what the new leader called a "National Dialogue."
Correa criticized his former ally for brokering deals with politicians and parties that Correa saw as responsible for the state of the country prior to the start of his "Citizen's Revolution" in 2006.
As the two leaders traded barbs over social media, Moreno began to signal that he would look to disallow reelection, effectively barring Correa from running for office.
The disagreements since have been numerous and constant, and Correa and his allies in PAIS have accused Moreno of supporting what they see as a political persecution against current Vice-President Jorge Glas in the Odebrecht case. Glas was placed in preventative detention stemming from corruption allegations, but his supporters maintain no proof has been presented while his accusers have been offerred deals that could see them walk free.
The divisions in PAIS took their most decisive turn last month, when the party's national directorate voted to oust Moreno as its president for not having attended meetings. Moreno's faction has appealed to courts to reverse the decision and instead remove the party's directorate.
Both factions of the PAIS Alliance are due to hold meetings in a “Congress” in early December, with Correa loyalists calling their gathering for Dec. 3 in the coastal province of Esmeraldas. Correistas say they are determined to take back the party and finalize Moreno's removal as president, though a split – and even the foundation of a new party – may be inevitable if courts rule against them.
While Correa returned to Ecuador to participate in the meeting and help his allies, he maintains that he is not planning on returning to the country. Instead he will stay with his family in Belgium “for the next couple of years” - a statement that will surely disappoint the scores of people that came out across the country to welcome him back this week.
But they are not the only ones disappointed.
Despite his determination to salvage his movement and the legacy of the 'Decade of Gains' that sought to recuperate Ecuador from the financial collapse of 1999 and the years of instability that followed, Correa's disillusion with the state of the 'Citizen's Revolution' is evident. "I thought we had done enough so that the past would not return, but I was wrong."