Historically, the military establishment alternated between direct or indirect control over the executive functions in general and a more limited role of exercising a veto over policies considered to fall within the area of its corporate interests. In contrast with the pattern found in the majority of Latin American countries, the Ecuadorian military, which traditionally was allied with the PLR, early on became more closely identified with the merchant class than with the landholding elite. After the decline of the traditional parties in the early twentieth century and the rise of ad hoc political coalitions, however, the military acquired greater autonomy as an institutional political force.
Constitutions between 1945 and 1979 have legitimized the role of the military in policy making by allotting to the officer corps an official seat in the Senate. Interventions between 1945 and 1963 arose most often over issues considered basic by the military leadership. For example, in 1962 the military pressured President Carlos Julio Arosemena Monroy to sever relations with Cuba and other socialist countries. When they ousted him in 1963, it was only after more than a year of encouragement by various political factions and economic interest groups, all of which were concerned over the chaotic drift in national affairs and over Arosemena's personal conduct. After assuming power, however, the military became increasingly confident of its ability to rule better than civilians. The changing attitude of the officer corps, coupled with its declining trust in civilian leaders, was attributed in part to a new emphasis in military training on technical and managerial skills and to extensive foreign training in general.
Factionalism within the armed forces has helped to account for the propensity of military plotting against civilian governments, as well as the difficulties encountered by the military establishment in its attempts to govern on its own. Civilian contenders for political power often sought the support of dissident elements of the military in order to topple an administration or to forestall an electoral outcome unfavorable to them. At the same time, factions within the military aligned themselves with civilian groups in order to strengthen their own positions vis-à-vis other military factions. For example, when widespread civilian discontent boded ill for the continuation of government by junta in 1966, important elements of the armed forces joined the civilian opposition and contributed to the fall of the junta.
On numerous occasions, the military applied its influence to ward off political developments that it opposed or to intervene indirectly. For example, when the leftist opposition in Congress undertook to impeach Febres Cordero in January 1987, armed forces representatives warned the president of Congress that the military would shut down the legislature if impeachment proceedings were not halted. Febres Cordero's interference in internal military matters, however, created resentments, as demonstrated dramatically by the military rebellions in March 1986. In June 1987, a group of about a dozen army and naval officers met with the defense minister and suggested that Febres Cordero resign. The military also reportedly threatened to intervene if Bucaram won the 1988 presidential election.
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