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Prosecuting Presidents: The Politics within Ecuador's Corruption Cases

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 November 2012

Abstract

Across Latin America, many former presidents have faced criminal prosecutions on corruption charges, with widely varied outcomes. As with an impeachment, law and politics intersect in the prosecution of a president. In this essay, I examine this nexus by mapping the actions of agents who mobilise to influence how the justice system processes presidential prosecutions: first, accountability actors located in state-based institutions and civil society; second, partisan actors in the executive and legislative branches; and third, defendants, and their partisan and civil society supporters. This study argues that variations in the make-up, resources and alignment of these sets of actors fundamentally shape the trajectory of legal cases. Proceedings against three former presidents of Ecuador are analysed: Abdalá Bucaram, Jamil Mahuad and Gustavo Noboa.

Spanish abstract

A lo largo de Latinoamérica muchos expresidentes han enfrentado juicios bajo cargos de corrupción con resultados muy variados. Como cualquier acusación legal a funcionarios públicos (impeachment), la ley y la política se entremezclan en el enjuiciamiento a un presidente. Dicho nexo es examinado mediante el mapeo de las acciones de los agentes que se movilizan para influir en cómo el sistema de justicia procesa los enjuiciamientos presidenciales. Primero, en relación a los actores en instituciones estatales o en la sociedad civil vinculados con la rendición de cuentas; segundo, los actores partidarios en las ramas ejecutivas y legislativas; y tercero, los imputados, y sus apoyos en la sociedad política y civil. El análisis señala que las variaciones en la configuración, los recursos y el alineamiento de estos grupos de actores configuran de manera fundamental la trayectoria legal de los casos. Se analizan los procedimientos en contra de tres expresidentes de Ecuador: Abdalá Bucaram, Jamil Mahuad y Gustavo Noboa.

Portuguese abstract

Por toda América Latina, diversos ex-presidentes enfrentaram processos criminais de corrupção, seguidos de desfechos altamente variados. Assim como nos casos de impeachment, lei e política cruzam-se no julgamento de um presidente. Esta conjuntura é examinada pelo mapeamento das ações de agentes que mobilizam para influenciar a maneira pela qual o sistema judiciário processa as acusações contra presidentes. Em primeiro lugar estão atores situados em instituições estatais e na sociedade civil, que pressionam pela transparencia e responsabilização; em segundo, os partidários nos setores executivos e legislativos; e em terceiro, os réus e seus apoiadores partidários da socidade civil. A análise argumenta que as variações na composição, nos recursos e no alinhamento destas conjunturas de atores definem de forma fundamental a trajetória de processos legais. Casos contra três ex-presidentes do Equador são analisados: Abdalá Bucaram, Jamil Mahuad e Gustavo Noboa.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

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References

1 The number is based on data collected from a wide range of news sources by the author along with data found in the appendix ‘List of Prosecutions of Heads of State or Government, January 1990 to June 2008’, in Lutz, Ellen L. and Reiger, Caitlin (eds.), Prosecuting Heads of State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 295304CrossRefGoogle Scholar. This country count does not include the non-Spanish-speaking Caribbean. For an overview of the phenomenon in the region see Roht-Arriaza, Naomi, ‘Prosecutions of Heads of State in Latin America’, in Lutz and Reiger (eds.), Prosecuting Heads of State, pp. 4676Google Scholar.

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12 For the purpose of this analysis, I set aside the issue of how accountability actors may be influenced by partisan considerations. Accountability actors work under a primary mandate to engage in oversight, and therefore can be distinguished from party elites who may also engage in governmental oversight (for example, congressional investigations) among other functions, but who do so in conjunction with the pursuit of partisan interests. O'Donnell highlights this as an important difference that distinguishes MHA institutions from ‘balancing’ horizontal accountability institutions such as legislatures. See O'Donnell, Dissonances, p. 88.

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17 León Febres Cordero, president from 1984 to 1988, was the first chief executive in the country's history to be charged with corruption; the case against him was dismissed in 1990. Because of length considerations, the cases against Febres Cordero and Fabian Alarcón are not included. Former president Lucio Gutiérrez was jailed for nearly five months in 2005–6 on charges of endangering national security for remarks that he made to the international media after his overthrow; the charges were later dismissed.

18 The author conducted field research in trips to Quito and Guayaquil from 2006 to 2011. The research included interviews with principal actors in the cases along with the compilation of pertinent court documents and news reports.

19 On the party system see Pachano, Simón, La trama de Penélope: procesos políticos e instituciones en el Ecuador (Quito: FLACSO, 2007)Google Scholar; and Costa, Andrés Mejía, Informal Coalitions and Policymaking in Latin America (New York: Routledge, 2009)Google Scholar.

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21 ‘14 magistrados rechazan politización’, El Universo, 13 Sep. 2003.

22 Seligson, Mitchell A., Democracy Audit: Ecuador 2006 (Quito: CEDATOS Editions, 2006), p. 67Google Scholar. With respect to the rest of Latin America in 2006, Ecuador measured last in trust in the judicial system. See Donoso, Juan Carlos, ‘Justice and Democracy: The Rule of Law in the Americas’, in Seligson, Mitchell A. (ed.), Challenges to Democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean: Evidence from the Americas Barometer, 2006–2007 (Nashville, TN: Latin American Public Opinion Project, Vanderbilt University, 2008), p. 280Google Scholar.

23 Among Bucaram's most controversial acts was launching a singing career with the release of a CD entitled Un loco que ama. For more on his political career, see Friedenberg, Flavia, Jama, caleta y camello: las estrategias de Abdalá Bucaram y el PRE para ganar las elecciones (Quito: Corporación Editora Nacional, 2003)Google Scholar; and Torre, Carlos de la, Populist Seduction in Latin America: The Ecuadorian Experience (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2000)Google Scholar.

24 Diego Araujo Sánchez, ‘Nepotismo’, Hoy, 18 Aug. 1996.

25 For the investigative reports, see ‘La Navidad de los pobres en vivo y en directo’, Hoy, 5 Jan. 1997; and ‘Mochila escolar: solo interrogantes’, Hoy, 9 Jan. 1997.

26 ‘Ecuador tiene una corrupción penetrante’, Hoy, 30 Jan. 1997.

27 For the CEDATOS data, see ‘Corrupción: mayor mal’, Hoy, 24 March 1997.

28 Interview with Simón Espinoza, former CCCC commissioner, 13 Oct. 2006; interview with Pedro Vortruba, former CCCC executive director, 25 Oct. 2006.

29 ‘Maletas de billetes’, Hoy, 28 March 1997.

30 ‘Todos se unen contra corruptos’, Hoy, 7 March 1997.

31 Interview with Napoleón Saltos Galarza, former congressman, 22 Nov. 2006. Galarza published the findings of the commission in his voluminous report, Ética y corrupción: estudio de casos (Quito: Proyecto Responsabilidad/Anticorrupción en las Américas, 1999).

32 ‘Bucaram en caso aduanas’, Hoy, 29 Jan. 1999.

33 On the CCCC's determination to continue the case, see ‘Esfuerzos contra Bucaram’, Hoy, 27 Jan. 1999.

34 ‘Asesinaron al “Pepudo Alejo”’, El Universo, 16 Aug. 2002.

35 ‘Romero sentenció con dos años de prisión Bucaram’, Hoy, 6 Jan. 1998.

36 Constitución Política de la República del Ecuador (Quito: PUDELECO Editores, 1999), pp. 75–6.

37 For Bucaram's interpretation of events, see Abdalá Bucaram Ortiz, Golpe de Estado (Guayaquil: PREdiciones, 1998). In 2010, Ecuador's Comisión de la Verdad (Truth Commission) documented the 1986 clandestine operation undertaken by the Febres Cordero government to frame Bucaram on bogus drug trafficking charges in Panama; see de la Verdad, Comisión, Informe de la Comisión de la Verdad, Relatos de Casos Período 1984–1988, vol. 3, part 4 (Quito: Comisión de la Verdad, 2010), pp. 347–52Google Scholar.

38 ‘Bucaram: apoyo a Gutiérrez para evitar un golpe’, El Universo, 3 Sep. 2004.

39 ‘De madrugada, Lucio y Abdalá pactan el retorno’, El Universo, 2 Sep. 2004.

40 ‘Magistrados de la CSJ’, El Universo, 10 Dec. 2004.

41 Gallegos, Franklin Ramírez, La insurrección de abril no fue solo una fiesta (Quito: Taller El Colectivo, 2005), p. 38Google Scholar.

42 The question of whether former presidents had to be judged by Congress before any criminal prosecution was a matter of considerable legal controversy. In both the Bucaram and Mahuad cases, Congress dismissed the CSJ's queries about the need for a political trial, and the CSJ proceeded with the cases.

43 Presidencia de la Corte de Suprema de Justicia, ‘En el juicio penal no. 16-97’, 31 March 2005, photocopy; and ‘En el juicio penal no. 10-97’, 31 March 2005, photocopy.

44 Torre, Carlos de la, ‘El regreso de Abdalá’, Íconos, 23 (2005), pp. 101–8Google Scholar.

45 Presidencia de la Corte Suprema de Justicia, ‘Juicio penal 10-97’, 7 Feb. 2006, photocopy; and ‘Juicio penal 16-97’, 1 March 2006, photocopy.

46 For a detailed analysis of the banking system in this period, see Martínez, Gabriel Z., ‘The Political Economy of the Ecuadorian Financial Crisis’, Cambridge Journal of Economics, 30: 4 (2006), pp. 567–85CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

47 North, Liisa L., ‘State Building, State Dismantling, and Financial Crises in Ecuador’, in Burt, Jo-Marie and Mauceri, Philip (eds.), Politics in the Andes: Identity, Conflict, Reform (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004), p. 201Google Scholar.

48 The president of the Congress, Juan José Pons, was from the president's own DP party. Among the congressmen petitioning the TC were Víctor Granda, Fernando Rosero and Jaime Nebot, leaders of the Socialist, PRE and PSC parties respectively. The Defensoría del Pueblo also submitted a report in support of the case. See Tribunal Constitucional, ‘Resolución nro. 078-99-TP’, 8 Nov. 1999, photocopy.

49 For a complete overview of the events, see Hernández, José et al. , 21 de enero: la vorágine que acabó con Mahuad (Quito: El Comercio, 2000)Google Scholar.

50 Interviews with Víctor Granda Aguilar, former congressman, 12 March 2009 and 8 June 2011. Letter to the Supreme Court president from Dr. Víctor Granda Aguilar, 8 Jan. 2000, photocopy; letter to Supreme Court president Galo Pico Mantilla signed on behalf of the Frente Unitario de Trabajadores (United Workers’ Front), Federación Ecuatoriana de Trabajadores Agropecuarios (Ecuadorean Federation of Agricultural Workers), Confederación Ecuatoriana de Organizaciones Clasistas Unitarias de Trabajadores (Ecuadorean Confederation of United Class-Based Worker Organisations) and Confederación Ecuatoriana de Organizaciones Sindicales Libres (Ecuadorean Confederation of Free Trade Unions), 19 Jan. 2000, photocopy.

51 Revista Estudios y Datos, Jan. 2007, p. 6.

52 In an interview on CNN, Noboa said that ‘political ends’ and animosity were at work in the legal proceedings and that he expected the case would go nowhere. The interview was cited by Jamil Mahuad Witt in the voluminous defence document he submitted to the CSJ, ‘Alegato final’, June 2011, photocopy provided by Mahuad's defence team.

53 CCCC, letter to Dr. Mariana Yépez Andrade de Velasco, Oficio no. CCCC.2000.67, 27 April 2000.

54 Letter to the Supreme Court President from Dr. Víctor Granda Aguilar, 30 May 2000, photocopy.

55 Interview with Mariana Yépez, former prosecutor general, Quito, 28 Nov. 2006.

56 The ruling in the case is found in Mantilla, Galo Pico, ‘Auto de apertura del plenario’, in Jurisprudencia: juicios bancarios y otros casos de fuero (Quito: Corte Suprema de Justicia del Ecuador, 2003), pp. 1842Google Scholar.

57 Article 121 of the Constitution could not be applied retroactively to the Bucaram cases, and because of changes in penal law, the question of what statute of limitations provision applied was another source of legal controversy in those cases. In 2009 the court ruled that the previous statute of limitations would be applicable, thus ending the cases in 2017.

58 Interview with Ramiro Aguilar, defence attorney for Mahuad, 6 June 2011; interview with Patricio Vivanco, defence attorney for Mahuad, 9 June 2011.

59 For a summary of the defence arguments, see Vivanco, Walter Guerrero, Relatos penales (Quito: PUDELECO, 2006), pp. 483502Google Scholar.

60 Mahuad responded to a DP inquiry with a written defence of his policies. See Witt, Jamil Mahuad, Para la historia: el congelamiento de depósitos (Quito: n.p., 2001)Google Scholar.

61 Corte Suprema de Justicia, Segunda Sala de lo Penal, ‘Juicio penal no. 044-2000’, 6 June 2006, photocopy; ‘El fallo a favor de Mahuad se da por falta de pruebas’, Hoy, 8 June 2006.

62 Guerrero made his comments in an interview on 9 March 2009.

63 ‘MPD y Pachacutik alistan una recepción a Jamil’, Hoy, 8 June 2006.

64 Collection of posts to Foro Electrónico, El Comercio, 6 July 2008.

65 Letter to the Supreme Court president from Dr. Víctor Granda Aguilar and Ec. Jorge Rodríguez Torres, 14 Dec. 2006, photocopy.

66 CCCC, letter to the Supreme Court president, 15 March 2007, photocopy.

67 ‘Denuncia presentada en la Fiscalía General de la Nación, 2006’, photocopy.

68 Fiscalía General del Estado, letter to the Supreme Court president from Dr. Jorge W. German Ramirez, 14 March 2007, photocopy.

69 Comisión Investigadora de la Crisis Económica Financiera, ‘Síntesis de los resultados de la investigación’, July 2007, p. 78, photocopy. Correa was displeased with what he viewed as a lack of specifics in the report and ordered that a follow-up commission continue the investigations. See ‘Las comisiones antiguas tienen partida de defunción’, Hoy, 14 April 2008.

70 Interview with Patricio Vivanco, 9 June 2011. In 2006, the CSJ modified its internal procedures; cases involving public officials were transferred from the court president's docket to judges in the penal chamber of the court.

71 Interview with Víctor Granda Aguilar, 8 June 2011.

72 ‘El invierno de Jamil Mahuad’, Vistazo, 1 Feb. 2012.

73 Revista Estudios y Datos, Jan. 2007, p. 6. No civilian president since 1979 has left office with an approval rating above 50 per cent. Setting aside the extremely low numbers of Bucaram and Mahuad, Noboa's score is just slightly above the average approval rating of 34 per cent for the period 1979–2006.

74 ‘LFC contra GNB’, Hoy, 23 May 2003.

75 Febres Cordero's appearance attracted widespread media coverage. Although a congressman, Febres Cordero rarely attended legislative sessions, citing health concerns related to a heart condition and Quito's altitude.

76 ‘Filanbanco 91 cuentas polémicas’, Hoy, 21 Sep. 2001.

77 For a compilation of the newspaper coverage of the case, see Bejarano, Gustavo Noboa, Corrupción judicial y judicializacíon de la política (Guayaquil: Artes Gráficas Senefelder, 2005)Google Scholar.

78 Interview with Gustavo Noboa Bejarano, 14 Nov. 2006. For the newspaper interview, see ‘Noboa: filanbanco fue el golpe más duro’, El Universo, 31 Aug. 2001.

79 ‘El Presidente de la Corte Suprema es amenazado’, El Comercio, 19 June 2003. While Bermeo did not identify the leader by name, journalists covering the case identified the person as Febres Cordero.

80 CCCC, Informes Memorias 2000–2004 (Quito: CCCC., n.d.), pp. 165–6; ‘Gustavo Noboa exculpado’, La Hora, 20 Nov. 2003.

81 Bejarano, Gustavo Noboa, Respuesta a una infamia (Guayaquil: Polígrafa, 2003)Google Scholar.

82 Bejarano, Gustavo Noboa, El asilo por infamias (Guayaquil: Edino, 2010), p. 29Google Scholar.

83 Interview with Joffre Campaña, defence attorney for Gustavo Noboa, 3 March 2009.

84 Presidencia de la Corte Suprema de Justicia, 30 March 2005, photocopy. Castro also dismissed a corruption case pending since 1996 against former vice-president Alberto Dahik.

85 According to Ecuadorian law, the attorney general did not have the power to issue an arrest warrant. Noboa subsequently filed a civil suit against Armas. See Bejarano, Gustavo Noboa, Cecilia Armas Erazo de Tobar y la destrucción del estado de derecho (Guayaquil: Polígrafa, 2005)Google Scholar.

86 Presidencia de la Corte Suprema de Justicia, ‘En la instrucción fiscal no. 49-2003’, 16 March 2006, photocopy; ‘El Titular de la Corte liberó a Gustavo Noboa’, El Universo, 17 March 2006.

87 Correa, Rafael, Ecuador: de banana republic a la no república (Bogotá: Random House Mondadori, 2009), pp. 93–8Google Scholar.

88 As a professor at Guayaquil's Catholic University, Noboa was active in Church circles and met Correa as a young student. Correa's brother has referred to Noboa as their ‘spiritual father’. Rafael Correa has been less kind in recent comments, dismissing Noboa as ‘completely useless but honest’. See ‘Correa: Gustavo Noboa es un tipo inútil pero honesto’, Expreso, 9 Jan. 2010.

89 ‘Mensaje del señor Presidente Rafael Correa ante la Asamblea Constituyente al cumplirse el primer año del gobierno’, 15 Jan. 2008, available at www.presidencia.gob.ec/discursos/01-15-08Mensaje_primerAnioGobierno.pdf.

90 ‘La Asamblea dio la amnistía a Gustavo Noboa y a W. Salgado’, El Comercio, 5 July 2008. For the basis of the assembly's vote, see Asamblea Nacional Constituyente, ‘Informe de la Mesa de Legislación y Fiscalización sobre la amnistía solicitada por el señor Presidente Constitucional de la República a favor del Dr. Gustavo Noboa Bejarano’, 16 April 2008, photocopy.

91 Noboa's amnesty was one of several issues that prompted Acosta to resign as president of the assembly. See Alberto Acosta, ‘Todo en función de los acreedores: acerca de una amnistía inconveniente’, Insignia, 20 July 2008.

92 Comisión para la Auditoría Integral del Crédito Público, Informe final de la Auditoría Integral de la Deuda Ecuatoriana, Nov. 2008, p. 151.

93 As demonstrated by Aníbal Pérez-Liñan, the presence or absence of a ‘legislative shield’ is a key variable in determining outcomes in presidential impeachments. See Pérez-Liñan, Presidential Impeachment, pp. 132–75.

94 As a result of the 2008 Constitution, the CCCC was disbanded. Its tasks were transferred to a new fourth branch of government, the Consejo de Participación Ciudadana y Control Social (Council on Citizen Participation and Social Control).

95 Close, David, ‘President Bolaños Runs a Reverse, or How Arnoldo Alemán Wound up in Prison’, in Close, David and Deonandan, Kalowatie (eds.), Undoing Democracy: The Politics of Electoral Caudillismo (Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2004), pp. 167–82Google Scholar.

96 Hirschl, Ran, ‘The Judicialization of Mega-Politics and the Rise of Political Courts’, Annual Review of Political Science, 11 (2008), p. 98CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

97 Ecuador's 2008 Constitution preserved this provision. See Article 233 in Constitución de la República del Ecuador, Concordancias (Quito: Corporación de Estudios y Publicaciones, 2011), p. 165.