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Emigrants as transnational political actors in the reshaping of democratic institutions and mechanisms – The Ecuadorian case

Open Panel

Abstract

Since Rafael Correa took office and launched his “Civic Revolution” in early 2007, Ecuador has seen profound changes in the setup of its democratic institutions and policy shifts in several areas. The President''s embrace of his fellow countrymen abroad exemplifies the continuum between a more participative political system and a general move towards populist authoritarianism, characterizing the current administration''s reforms. To be highlighted are the granting of comprehensive political rights to all emigrants in the Constitution of 2008, the establishment of a national secretary on migration and a political program promoting the economic, political and cultural involvement of emigrants and/or their return. On the other hand, Correa''s election does not constitute the watershed for transnational activism it might appear to be. For years migrant associations, especially in Spain and the U.S., have been lobbying for migrants'' interests and pushing for regularization and political representation in the respective countries of residence as well as in Ecuador. Also, the existence of a transnational public sphere, with common political discourses in the countries of residence and origin, can be traced back to before the 2006 elections. Consequently, the question arises whether the institutional reforms and policy shifts in Ecuador are to be understood as a political achievement by transnational actors promoting democratization and political equality or as a case of selective representation resulting from a disconnect between the nation and the state. The paper argues that in the face of increasing external pressures and challenges state actors seek to apply new strategies to extract resources from its population and implement public policies, rejecting traditional liberal patterns of representation. The result is the proliferation of social boundaries and the hardening of existing ones, manifested in unequal influence over public policies and access to positions of power, as the example of the political involvement by Ecuadorian emigrants shows.