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ECUADORIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS: APOTHEOSIS? February 14, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Latin America.
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ECUADORIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS: APOTHEOSIS? by Gerard Coffey

by lalineadefuego

There are always surprises, but probably not this time

 

Gerard Coffey**

Hugo, Chavez, South America´s best known politician may, or may not, recover from what is obviously an extremely serious illness. But even if he does manage to recover, it seems unlikely that he will be able to maintain the political rhythm he and his followers have become accustomed to. Whether dauphin Nicolas Maduro or any of the other ‘pretenders’ could steer Venezuela as successfully as Chávez is an unknown, they have had plenty of time to prepare, but that does not always make it any easier, as others in similar situations have become painfully aware.

The larger question related to Chávez is his influence outside of his home country. He is the undoubted leader of the more radical brand of ‘twenty first century socialism’ and although the oil keeps flowing, the most prominent critic of United States influence in the region, although the Brazilians and the Argentineans[i], while not receiving the same attention in US media outlets, are in practice very little behind the Venezuelan leader. Who will inherit the Venezuelan leader’s legacy is therefore an important question for the stability of the region and its continued fight to free itself from the political and economic interference of the United States.

Heinz Dietrich, inventor of the ‘twenty first century socialism’ concept, has publicly speculated about who could possibly take Chávez’ place on the international stage, if that should prove to be necessary. Dietrich´s conclusion was that Rafael Correa, the Ecuadorian President, was the most obvious candidate, while warning that “Ecuador does not have the necessary clout that would enable Correa to fill the void that Hugo Chávez is leaving”[ii]. And while Correa himself has declared a lack of interest, there is little doubt that given his charismatic personality and evident ability to communicate, that welcome or not, he could easily find himself receiving increasing amounts of international media attention over the next few years.

There is a small problem however. The Ecuadorian president´s mandate runs out this year and the post Chavez debate will hardly concern him if he is not reelected in next Sunday’s (February 17th) presidential elections. Correa has never lost an election, and the opinion polls do in fact predict a win, with possibly enough votes to avoid a second round run-off. Unfortunately, the pollsters’ research is generally considered to be unreliable, lending the process a slight air of doubt, and there is at least a slender chance that another candidate might upset Correa´s apple cart, and set the pundits scurrying to find another ‘successor’ to Hugo Chávez.

 

The magnificent seven

Of the seven candidates challenging Rafael Correa, only two, the banker Guillermo Lasso and Alberto Acosta[iii], the candidate for the left wing front, Unidad Plurinacional, appear to have any real chance of springing a surprise. The other five are in the race to position themselves for future electoral races (Mauricio Rodas of SUMA, although this could also apply to Lasso); consolidate a new party (Norman Wray, Ruptura); or to preserve their party´s seats in the National Assembly (Ex President Lucio Gutiérrez, Sociedad Patriotica, and Nelson Zavala of the PRE[iv]). The last of the eight, the curiously comic banana magnate, Alvaro Noboa, appears to be running[v] in response to a battle over taxes, using the campaign in a rather futile attempt to take some measure of revenge on Rafael Correa.

While Lasso and Acosta may have to be given some sort of chance of forcing a second round of voting, for this to happen the pollsters would have to be making dramatic errors. With only a few days to go before election day, Correa is apparently riding high. In a poll carried out by ‘Perfiles de Opinion’ the incumbent had a voting intention of more than 60%. Others are not so generous, but no one gives him less than the 40% he would need to secure a victory in the first round[vi]. Acosta´s campaign people put him higher, at 15% and growing, but even that, or Lasso´s 20%, would be far from enough to take either of them into a second round.

Guillermo Lasso´s numbers also probably represent the limit of his popularity. The banker likely has a high negative vote given that he acted as a chief economic advisor to ex President Jamil Mahuad, in exile since a financial meltdown threw the country into chaos in 2000; the destructive effects of that period have not been forgotten. Perhaps understandably, Lasso has been notably absent from the political field in the intervening years. The financier´s recent resurgence is due in part to the right´s need for a challenger who is not Lucio Gutiérrez, the very same colonel who led the military-civilian coup that toppled Mahuad, and who, despite finishing second in the last presidential election, is not viewed with much enthusiasm by the country´s right wing elites. Lasso’s campaign has also been helped by the financial resources at his disposal, and the fact the bank of which he is the major shareholder (Bank of Guayaquil) provided a convenient pre campaign promotional vehicle.

But the avuncular Lasso´s links with Mahuad[vii] have quite understandably been a problem for his now apparently stalled campaign. He is too easy a target and his presence as a major candidate speaks volumes about the lack of options on the right. The economy is another factor. The financial elites are doing quite well thank you very much; the country´s economy is rolling along at a healthy rate (last year GDP grew at slightly less than 8% and is projected to grow at around 4 to 5% in 2013) and are understandably ambiguous about fixing something that is evidently not broken.

The country´s economic health and Rafael Correa´s use of the available resources to bolster investments in Education and especially Health, an area where the results are more immediate and more than evident to those with little money have brought him high levels of approval throughout his mandate. The middle classes meanwhile have their salaries and expanding opportunities as well as a much improved highway system and a new airport. Overall social spending has, in fact, risen substantially, although in percentage terms the rise is not quite as impressive and Ecuador remains in the mid-lower ranks in terms of social spending as a percentage of GDP[viii]

The fact that corporate power has grown under the present government is one of the major reasons cited by followers of Alberto Acosta (Unidad Plurinacional or Plurinational Front) for their opposition to Correa´s re-election. And while it is evident that with a healthy economy the wealthy are bound to do well, even consolidating their power through the proliferation of economic groups and a concentration of resources[ix], the lack of change in the productive matrix (recognized by Correa himself) and the very slow reduction of the inequality index[x] lend weight to left wing claims. The weakness of the reforms is a problem in another sense: that without deep roots any transformation will be easily overturned by future right wing governments.

 

Magic Socialism

Ecuador´s governing Alianza País may not be economically right wing, but what has become clear over the years is that Twenty First Century Socialism is not socialism at all[xi], at least not in any recognizable form, even in Venezuela or Bolivia. This too is a sore point with many one time supporters of the ‘Citizen´s Revolution’, although it is hard to believe that there was ever much evidence that Rafael Correa himself was anything other than a very strong willed social democrat with a church based[xii] philosophy of ‘helping the poor’. Strong willed may be putting it too mildly. There is less talk today of dictatorship, a term promoted by the right and unfortunately adopted by the left, but there is no doubt that discipline is the order of the day. A series of punish and pardon exercises has been used to squash opposition to government policies or extraction schemes and to tame the right wing press and avoid situations such as the present standoff in Argentine where the media group Clarin and President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchener have locked horns. But the opposition press is not the only political force on the government´s list, and in fact, anything that looked vaguely as if it might comprise a political threat to Correa has been systematically attacked. The indigenous organisation CONAIE (Confederation of Ecuadorian Indigenous Nationalities) has been a major target for that very reason.

Despite having lost a lot of its political clout in recent years after a devastating alliance with Lucio Gutierrez that fractured the organization and resulted in a loss of credibility, this indigenous group is still a force in Ecuadorian politics. CONAIE and other indigenous organizations are one of only two social sectors with any real ability to put together a healthy political campaign outside the parliamentary system[xiii]. And the fact that many of the major mining and oil exploration projects are also located in indigenous territory[xiv] has lead to heightened tensions and conflict[xv].

As a consequence indigenous leaders have been branded ‘terrorists’, arrested and jailed for short periods[xvi], and while apparently none are presently in jail a many of the charges are still pending[xvii]: a time tested tactic for shutting people up. The trend is worrying, to say the least. The most recent and most serious case involves the Luluncoto 10, a group of young people arrested while planning a protest against the government as part of the mass demonstration of March 2012. Supposed members of the Group of Popular Combatants (GCP) none of the ten had committed any crime. The evidence against them consists of pictures of Ché Guevara, pamphlets, left wing books and more seriously, a manual for producing a bomb, a fact that while evidently not admissible as proof of intent, does raise serious concerns[xviii].

The major charge against the ten is that they belong to the GCP[xix], something which the state has not been able to prove, and that that group exploded a number of pamphlet bombs in November 2011, also a supposition. The ten were held without trial until only recently, a period of approximately ten months. Seven men were granted bail before Christmas but two women are still being held; the trial has now been interrupted and will not conclude until after the elections. The Attorney General is quoted as saying that the group “planned to destabilise our democracy …… there are mobile phone messages which clearly show that their intention is to take power by force of arms”.[xx] But in the circumstances that seems laughable, and, all in all, it is difficult to see the case as anything other than a bad dose of paranoia.

The episode has produced an extensive but relatively low key response in the mainstream press (the GCP is hardly looked on with great sympathy). But on the left the issue has been roundly criticised and has become a cause célèbre; the issue of class is also important here. An interesting comparison could be made with the case of a communication sent to clients by the directors of four large banks. The e-mail suggested that a proposed tax increase on their profits, [xxi] levied in order to increase welfare payments to the country´s poorest sectors, could have an impact on client´s savings. While the action produced a lot of noise from the government side, and whose results could have been extremely serious, much more so than a supposed pamphlet bomb, the only action taken was to fine eight directors of the four banks involved.

 

The constant campaigner

These events, concerns and forces (apart from the bankers) have found a voice in the Acosta campaign which is presently running well behind Rafael Correa. There are always surprises, and there may be some hidden support for Acosta in provinces whose indigenous populations are higher, but it seems more likely that the real battle will not be for the presidency but rather for control of the National Assembly. Here the left wing front lead by Acosta may have more success, although one of the major problems is that the alliance’s principal candidate on the national level, Lourdes Tiban, can only generously be described as being on the left and who does not generate much enthusiasm in the general population.

Another problem is proportional representation. The method used to take into account minority voters has recently been changed, with the result that Alianza País candidates are likely to fare better in the final count, and could possibly be elected in large numbers. Two recent polls[xxii] do in fact predict that Correa’s party could end up with a large majority in parliament.

A third factor is the efficiency that has become one of the hallmarks of the present government. The political arena is clearly part of the tendency and the constant campaign strategy already visible in governments in other parts of the world has now been instituted here in Ecuador. In the short term it seems virtually impossible for any opposition movement to overcome the electoral deficit, in particular against a President as popular as Rafael Correa. In the long term the result almost certainly signals the need for a reorganization of existing political organisations, something the new Constitution aimed at[xxiii] but which can now be seen to have been only partially successful given that 12 parties are registered officially for the February elections.

Correa´s way of doing politics is likely to become the norm, and given that no other presently existing electoral force has the capacity to mobilize resources and propaganda in the same way, any future challenge to Correa´s green machine will involve changes. What might that mean for the hard left, whose parties are generally small and operate with severely restricted financing? The options seem to be three: to operate even more marginally than at present; join forces with other less radical parties in a broad spectrum alliance; or leave the electoral scene all together. The right, with its financial resources, presently appears far better positioned to deal with this new state of affairs.

 

The consequences of victory.

On the electoral front, the Unidad Plurinacional will likely have some time to sort itself out after the elections are over. It is possible to win losing, however, and the positive side of this electoral exercise is that there is, in practice, a left wing front that, if the process can be maintained in the face of personal and organisational agendas, may be able to position itself well for the post Correa era. The big decision is whether that should be as an electoral force.

On the social front, nothing short of victory will be enough for the left wing opposition, the post oil economy proponents, the indigenous leaders or the organizers of anti mining protests. In Correa´s lexicon legitimacy is equivalent to victory at the ballot box and, as a consequence, if you do not win then you have no right to protest and impede the agenda, and if you do, then you had better watch out. And while a higher than expected vote for Alberto Acosta might have some momentary impact and strengthen the resolve of that opposition, in the longer term it is unlikely to have any great impact on the economic plan. It can be said of Correa and his agenda that ‘this man is not for turning’. The implications are a greater likelihood of mobilisation and confrontation over oil, mining and water projects and, on the part of the government, greater use of the police and armed forces and attempts to ‘convince’ local leaders of the value of these projects for their people as well for as the wider community. This local–national/rural- urban debate is in fact one of the two that underlies almost every issue, the other being how to avoid the trap of an extractivist economy and what that implies on every level.

Rafael Correa clearly falls on the National Urban side of the divide, and whether or not you agree with his methods, there is no doubt that he and his team are excellent strategists. They will be hard to defeat in any arena, including the political. As for the candidate himself, it seems likely that he will be reelected either in the first or second round of voting. And given the increasing sense that, if he lives, Hugo Chávez will no longer be the force he was, as President of Ecuador once again, Rafael Correa will be called upon to play a greater part in the ongoing battle for the soul of South America. It is a battle he clearly believes in, and an arena in which he will have the support of the majority of the regions leaders. The internal politics of his country look somewhat more complicated.

 

** Editor of the online magazine Lalineadefuego.info based in Quito

 

NOTES


[i] A Cold War has apparently developed between Argentina and the US. The most recent events in the standoff are the cooperation between Iran and Argentina to investigate the bombing of a Jewish bank in Buenos Aires in 1994 in which 85 people died, http://www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.aspx?ID=301716&R=R1 and the ruling by an Argentinean appeal tribunal that ratifies an embargo on the assets of Chevron oil company due to a ruling in an Ecuadorian court that awarded damages against the company of US$19,000 million. http://www.eluniverso.com/2013/01/30/1/1356/corte-argentina-mantiene-embargo-activos-chevron-causa-ecuador.html and the dispute with the IMF over official financial data. Brasil has just refused to recognize the Apple Iphone trademark. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-21449890

[iii] International recognized economist and ex President of the Constitutional Assembly which wrote the 2009 constitution.

[iv] Partido Roldosista Ecuatoriano, PRE, was founded after the death of President Jaime Roldos in an air ‘accident’ in 1981, the year in which President Omar Torrijos of Panama also died in similar circumstances. The PRE’s de facto leader is the deposed and exiled ex president Abdala Bucaram who presently resides in Panama.

[v] With his wife Anabella Azin as his Vice-Presidential nominee,

[vi] If is, if he wins 10% more than the second place finisher. Otherwise he would need 50% +1 to avoid a second round.

[vii] Mahuad who now teaches at Harvard University was recently, and not so coincidentally, the subject of an Ecuadorian request to Interpol for his arrest and subsequent deportation. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the request failed.

[viii] According the Economic Commission for Latin América and the Caribbean, ECLAC, Ecuador’s social spending amounted to 9.3% in 2011, up from 7.5% in 2007 but down from 9.5% in 2010. The economy has of course grown substantially and the amount of constant dollars spent has therefore increased in proportion, by (a dramatic) 28.5% in 2009, 4.8% in 2010 and 6.2% in 2011. In terms of public spending Ecuador at 36% of GDP in 2010 was amongst the highest in Latin America. (Panorama Social de América Latina. ECLAC, January 2013 p173. Cuadro IV.1 AMÉRICA LATINA Y EL CARIBE (21 PAÍSES): GASTO PÚBLICO TOTAL, GASTO PÚBLICO SOCIAL Y GASTO PÚBLICO NO SOCIAL, 2008 A 2011

[ix] There is another side to the story. Major increases in public service pay scales – teachers, police, armed forces and state bureaucrats – have also been a major feature of this government.

[x] Even though Ecuador is now amongst the least unequal countries in the region (headed by Venezuela and Uruguay) its Gini index is still just under 5. (Panorama Social de América Latina. ECLAC, January 2013. P 91. Gráfico II.2 AMÉRICA LATINA (18 PAÍSES): DESIGUALDAD SEGÚN DIVERSOS ÍNDICES, AÑO MÁS RECIENTE.

[xi] Correa´s variety of politics was recently branded ‘Magic Socialism’ by the Quito based journalist Roberto Aguilar

[xii] Rafael Correa is a practicing Catholic.

[xiii] The other being the National Teachers Union, UNE, whose political expression is the Marxist Leninist party, the Movimiento Popular Democrático, MPD. The union has successfully resisted attempts to divide it, but rising salaries and better conditions have weakened its core support.

[xiv] A new round of oil exploration concessions has been advertised and offers will be declared in March of this year. The 13 blocks, of 200.000 Ha. Each, are located principally in the south eastern –Amazon area of the country, and have been rejected by indigenous and environmental organizations http://pachamama.org.ec/?p=4473 .

[xv] Recent conflicts include oil exploration around Sani Island and the Mirador and Fruta del Norte mining projects. http://www.salon.com/2013/02/10/to_get_the_gold_they_will_have_to_kill_every_one_of_us/

[xvi] Prominent amongst these is Pepe Acacho, ex President of the indigenous Shuar Federation, who was arrested in a combined Police and Armed Forces operation and taken by Helicopter to Quito. He was charged with terrorism and sabotage in connection with a September 2009 protest against proposed water legislation in which one person died. He was held for 7 days before the charges were thrown out as invalid. He was also charged with being an accomplice to the murder of Bosco Wizuma the man who died in the protests, and those charges are still pending despite the fact that the murder has never been resolved. Acacho is now a candidate for the National Assembly. El Comercio Pepe Acacho, preso en el ex penal García Moreno 02 febrero 2011. http://www.elcomercio.com/mundo/Pepe-Acacho-preso-Garcia-Moreno_0_419958104.html

[xvii] “Según informes de organismos de derechos humanos y de la Defensoría del Pueblo del Ecuador, en el 2011 existían 129 defensores de derechos humanos judicializados por el gobierno y por empresas privadas, así como 31 activistas políticos que tiene juicios en su contra o están sentenciados” Safiqy.org En Ecuador hay presos políticos que necesitan la solidaridad y compromiso de todos y todas. 22 June 2012 http://www.safiqy.org/perspectivas/la-politica/8549-en-ecuador-hay-presos-politicos-que-necesitan-la-solidaridad-y-compromiso-de-todos-y-todas.html

As of December 2012 47 social leaders were facing charges for terrorism. Lunes, 10 Diciembre 2012 ECUADOR: 47 DIRIGENTES AFRONTAN JUICIOS POR TERRORISMO. Agencia Ane http://radioequinoccio.com/inicio/item/3458-ecuador-47-dirigentes-afrontan-juicios-por-terrorismo.html

[xviii] The presence of the manual on how to produce a bomb raises questions about who knew about the manual, and about whether this was a serious plan to produce a bomb (in all likelihood a pamphlet bomb designed to attract attention and spread propaganda) and finally at what point the police or the authorities in general should intervene, if at all, if there is a suspicion that a pamphlet bomb could be made and could be used.

[xix] The implicit accusation is that this group is the armed wing of the Ecuadorian Marxist Leninist Party, although no arms were found in the raid.

[xx] “pretendían desestabilizar nuestra democracia… Hay mensajes de celular que claramente determinan que su intención es tomarse el poder por las armas.” Quoted in LOS DIEZ DE LULUNCOTO ¿TERRORISTAS? por Ramiro Ávila Santamaría.Lalineadefuego.info 29 January, 2013 http://lalineadefuego.info/2013/01/29/los-diez-de-luluncoto-terroristas-por-ramiro-avila-santamaria/

[xxi] Bank profits have been taxed in order to pay for an increase in welfare payments to the poorest sectors

[xxii] Market and Santiago Perez.

[xxiii] The entire process of re-inscription of political parties was plagued by irregularities, principally the use of false signatures by all organizations involved, including the governing party.

 

 

lalineadefuego | febrero 14, 2013 en 6:06 pm | Categorías: Ecuador | URL: http://wp.me/pW6em-1tj

 

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Coup Attempt in Ecuador Is a Result of Sec. Clinton’s Cowardice in Honduras September 30, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Ecuador, Latin America.
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(For interesting coments on this article, please go to the original at: http://narcosphere.narconews.com/thefield/4138/coup-attempt-ecuador-result-sec-clintons-cowardice-honduras)

Posted by Al Giordano – September 30, 2010 at 5:49 pm

By Al Giordano

Oh, crap. Another year, another coup in Latin America. And while today’s attempt by police forces in Ecuador went so far as to fire tear gas at elected president Rafael Correa, the military brass in the South American country have sided with the democratic order – its top general is on TV right now strongly backing the elected government – and this one isn’t likely to go as well for the anti-democracy forces as last year’s did in Honduras.

First, because the Ecuadorean people are far more advanced in social and community organization than their counterparts in Honduras were last year. Second, because the events last year in Honduras caused other center-left governments in the hemisphere to prepare for what everybody saw would be more coup attempts against them in more countries.

Additionally, we can expect in the coming hours that the police leaders responsible for todays events – you don’t need to understand Spanish to get a pretty good idea of what went down this morning by watching live coverage – will be rounded up and brought to justice, as would happen in any other country, including the United States.

But, kind reader, do you know why this is even happening? Because the same unholy alliance of Latin American oligarchs who can’t stomach the rising wave of democracy in their countries – from the ex-Cubans of Miami to the ex-Venezuelans and others who have joined them in recent years – along with international crime organizations seeking new refuges and members of extreme rightist groups in the United States and elsewhere, saw their scheme work in 2009 in Honduras and took note of how quickly, after US President Barack Obama denounced the Honduras coup, his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began playing both sides of it.

It was this newspaper, through reporter Bill Conroy’s investigations, that broke the story last August that the State Department-controlled Millennium Challenge Corporation had poured extraordinary amounts of money into Honduras in the months leading up to the June 29, 2009 coup d’etat. And in story after story, we demonstrated with documented fact how Clinton’s Millennium Challenge Corporation went so far as to violate the ban on US aid to the Honduran coup regime. Clinton’s later endorsement of farcical presidential elections and her over-reaching attempts to pretend nothing had happened in Honduras are precisely the signals that were received by today’s coup plotters in Ecuador when they made a run at toppling the democratic government there.

At present, thankfully, the coup in Ecuador seems more likely to fail than to succeed. And there will be hell to pay for those behind it. But it didn’t have to get that far. That only happened because, last year, the US Secretary of State pulled off a kind of “silent coup” in US foreign policy while her commander in chief was buried with the urgent domestic tasks stemming off economic collapse and, as everyone knows, small nations get little attention almost always anyway.

This time, the White House would do well to put a much shorter leash on its Secretary of State, because her horrendous and unforgivable anti-democratic behavior regarding the Honduras coup only fueled, and continues to fuel, understandable speculation that if the United States doesn’t walk its talk about opposing coups d’etat, then it must have been an active participant in plotting it. The mishandling of the Honduras situation last year did lasting damage to President Obama’s stated hopes to turn the page in US relations with its closest neighbors after decades of abuse and neglect. A single misstep by Secretary Clinton today and in the future regarding the events in Ecuador, like those she repeatedly made regarding Honduras, now that the hemispheric coup plotters have moved from Central America to larger South America, will further erode the cause of democracy in the entire hemisphere. I don’t trust her. Nobody south of the border does. And nor should you, Mr. President.

Update: Narco News has translated today’s Statement from the Office of President Rafael Correa.

Update II: If it holds, this will be the first time in the history of the hemisphere that the Armed Forces of a country stood up against a coup d’etat from the first moment. Now, that would be democracy at work.

Update III: The situation in Ecuador today is further complicated by the disillusion that the very social forces that elected President Correa have with his actions in office. The CONAIE (Federation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador) is the leading national indigenous movement with strong alliances with labor and other social forces) held a press conference today to say that it is neither with the police forces nor with President Correa. The CONAIE and its hundreds of thousands of participants is not only responsible for Correa’s election, but its mobilizations caused the rapid-fire resignations of previous presidents of Ecuador in this century.

The situation thus also shines a light on the growing rift in the hemisphere between the statist left and the indigenous left and related autonomy and labor movements. The CONAIE is basically saying to Correa, “you want our support, then enact the agenda you were elected on.” Whether one sees this as a dangerous game of brinkmanship or something that actually strengthens Correa’s hand by placing him in the middle zone ideologically, it is worth seeing this at face value and beware of getting led astray by some of the usual suspect conspiracy theorists of the statist left who are predictably out there barking that the CONAIE is somehow an agent of imperialism, dropping rumors of US AID funding but never seeming to exhibit the hard evidence. Sigh. What Johnny-One-Notes! They wouldn’t know nuance if it slapped them in the face. For them, you either line up lock-step with THE STATE (if it is “their” state) or you’re a running dog of capitalism. That kind of Stalinist purge mentality should have died with the previous century.

The CONAIE’s grievances happen to be very legitimate. Of course, they do not justify a coup d’etat, but the CONAIE is not participating in or supporting the coup d’etat. It is saying to Correa; we’ll have your back, when you have ours. This, like the Armed Forces support for Correa, is also a historical first in the region. And the plot thickens…

Update IV: A boilerplate statement from the US State Department:

We are closely following events in Ecuador. The United States deplores violence and lawlessness and we express our full support for President Rafael Correa, and the institutions of democratic government in that country.

We urge all Ecuadorians to come together and to work within the framework of Ecuador’s democratic institutions to reach a rapid and peaceful restoration of order.

Now let’s see if they walk that talk…

Update V: 9:30 p.m. Quito: Ecuadorean military troops have just rescued President Correa from the police hospital where he was sequestered all day. Looks like it was a pretty violent battle, but multiple media on the scene are reporting that the president is safe and the Armed Forces stuck with the democratic order.

Ecuador: Left Turn? October 19, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Latin America.
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Ecuador: Left Turn? Print E-mail
Written by Marc Becker
Thursday, 08 October 2009
ImageSource: Against the Current

On April 26, 2009, Rafael Correa won re-election to the Ecuadorian presidency with an absolute majority of the vote. He gained broad popular appeal through a combination of nationalist rhetoric and increased social spending on education and health care. The victory cemented Correa’s control over the country as the old political establishment appeared to be in complete collapse.

Mainstream news outlets reported Correa’s triumph as another socialist win in Latin America. Barely a month earlier, Maurcio Funes of the former guerrilla Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) won El Salvador’s presidential elections, bringing the left to power for the first time in that country’s history.

Motivated by what is perhaps an unjustified optimism by the left, undue fear on the right, and the opportunism of eager politicians, socialism is increasingly seen as the dominant discourse in Latin America. Is Ecuador’s Correa justly included as part of a leftward tilt in Latin America, or is his inclusion in this trend a result of hopeful thinking?

On one hand, analysts now talk of Latin America’s “many lefts,” ranging through Chile’s neoliberal socialist president Michelle Bachelet, Bolivia’s Indigenous socialist Evo Morales, and Venezuela’s state-centered socialism of Hugo Chávez. On the other hand, this is not the first time that a new president in the small South American country of Ecuador has been warmly greeted as part of a leftward movement.

In 2003, in a seeming repeat of Chávez’s rise to power, Lucio Gutiérrez was elected president after a failed 2001 military-Indigenous coup. He quickly moved in a significantly neoliberal direction, alienating his social movement base and finally falling in an April 2005 popular uprising known the “rebellion of the forajidos” or outlaws. Gutiérrez continues to enjoy a significant amount of support from some sectors of the Ecuadorian population, particularly from evangelical Indigenous communities, but most of those on the left would now denounce him as a center-right populist.

While many outside observers either celebrated or bemoaned Correa’s consolidation of power as part of Latin America’s broader turn to the left, social movements in Ecuador have become increasingly critical of his populist positioning. Despite Correa’s claims that under his administration the long dark night of neoliberalism is finally over, Indigenous movements have condemned him for continuing basically these same policies through large-scale mineral extractive enterprises, particularly of petroleum in the ecologically delicate eastern Amazonian basin.

Rafael Correa and a New Constitution

Correa is a young economist and university professor who wrote his dissertation at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign attacking neoliberal economic policies known as the “Washington Consensus.” He does not emerge out of social movement organizing, but rather out of a Catholic left motivated by concerns for social justice.

Correa first came onto the public scene as the Minister of Finance in Alfredo Palacios’ government after Gutiérrez’s removal. Correa leveraged his popularity in that position to a win in the 2006 presidential elections.

In power, Correa appeared to attempt to follow Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez’s strategy to consolidate power through rewriting the constitution. He could then call for new elections that would reaffirm himself in office and provide for a more sympathetic legislature.

Like Chávez, Correa had run as an independent without the support of a traditional political party. The existing “party-ocracy” was severely discredited in both countries. Since 1996, not a single president in Ecuador had been able to complete a four-year term in office. Three presidents (Abdalá Bucaram in 1997, Jamil Mahuad in 2000, and Lucio Gutiérrez in 2005) were removed through massive street protests.

On April 15, 2007, three months after Correa took office, 80% of the Ecuadorian electorate approved a referendum to convoke a constituent assembly. Correa created a new political movement called Acuerdo País (AP) that on September 30, 2007 won a majority of seats in the assembly.

A year later, on September 28, 2008, almost two-thirds of the voters approved the new constitution that had been drafted largely under Correa’s control. As was the case with Venezuela’s 1999 constitution, Ecuador’s new Magna Carta so fundamentally remapped the country’s political structures that it required new local, congressional and presidential elections.

Lengthy and contentious debates in the constituent assembly resulted in a constitution that provided a basis for a more inclusionary and participatory political system. The new document rejected neoliberalism, and embraced increased resource allocation to education, social services and health care. Similar to Venezuela, it also employed gender inclusive language. It also expanded democratic participation, including extending the vote to those between 16 and 18 years of age, foreigners living in the country for more than five years, and Ecuadorans living outside the country.

The constitution also defended the rights of nature, Indigenous languages, and in a highly symbolic gesture, pluri-nationalism designed to incorporate Indigenous cosmologies into the governing of the country. The constitution also borrowed from Bolivia’s Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca the Quechua concept of sumak kawsay, of living well not just better. Sumak kawsay includes an explicit critique of traditional development strategies that increased the use of resources rather than seeking to live in harmony with others and with nature.

Following Venezuela’s lead, Ecuador also created five branches of government. In addition to the executive, legislative, and judicial, the constitution added an electoral branch and a Consejo de Participación Ciudadana y Control Social or Council of Citizenship Participation and Social Control. The last branch is in charge of nominating officials including the attorney general and comptroller general.

The purpose for the new branch is to increase citizen participation and improve political transparency, although the opposition complained that it would concentrate more power in Correa’s hands. While advocates argued that a stronger executive was necessary to bring stability to this chronically politically unstable country, social movements feared that it would come at a cost to their ability to influence policy decisions.

2009 Elections

Correa won the April 26, 2009 presidential elections with 52% of the vote. The significance of this victory cannot be overstated — the first time since Ecuador’s return to civilian rule in 1979 that a candidate won a high enough percentage of the vote to avoid a runoff election.

Most Latin American presidential campaigns are multi-party races that require either a runoff election between the top two vote getters or a congressional decision to select the victor. Salvador Allende, for example, won the 1970 presidential race in Chile with only 36% of the vote. Evo Morales’ 2005 victory in Bolivia with 54% of the vote was the first time in that country’s history that a candidate had won the election with an absolute majority.

Under Ecuador’s current constitution, in order to avoid a second round a candidate must either win more than 50% of the vote, or gain at least 40% of the vote and outpace the nearest rival by at least 10%. In Ecuador’s fragmented and contentious political landscape, it is unusual for any candidate to poll more than 25% of the vote in the initial multi-candidate round.

Correa’s closest competitor in this election was the former president Lucio Gutiérrez of the centrist Partido Sociedad Patriótica (PSP), who won 28% of the vote. Gutiérrez drew most of his support from his native Amazonian region, wining those provinces by a wide margin, and in evangelical Indigenous communities in the central highland provinces of Bolívar, Chimborazo and Tungurahua. His support rose as the election approached when the conservative opposition, including the most traditional sectors of the Catholic Church grouped into Opus Dei, recognized him as the best opportunity to defeat Correa.

Gutiérrez claimed he had evidence of a monstrous fraud that denied him victory, although the electoral commission rejected the charge. International observers, however, criticized Correa’s overwhelmingly dominant media presence as compromising the fairness of the poll.

The third-place candidate was billionaire banana magnate Alvaro Noboa of the right-wing Partido Renovador Institucional Acción Nacional (PRIAN), who almost won the 2006 elections. In 2009, with the right completely discredited but still running on the same neoliberal agenda of privatization, opening up the country to foreign capital, and lowering taxes on the most wealthy, he only polled 11%. This was his worst showing in four attempts to win the presidency.

The left did not fare any better than the right. Martha Roldós, daughter of the progressive president who returned Ecuador to civilian rule in 1979 but was killed two years later in a mysterious plane crash, only won four percent of the vote. She ran as a candidate of the Red Ética y Democracia (RED), which grouped labor leaders and other leftist militants. Her campaign was based largely on attacking Correa, without successfully presenting an alternative to his “citizen’s revolution” project.

Another leftist candidate Diego Delgado, who strongly questioned Correa’s commitment to socialism, only gained one percent. Many on the left preferred to opt for Correa instead of risking a conservative victory. Eight candidates in total competed for the country’s highest office.

Many on the left had urged Alberto Acosta, the popular former president of the constituent assembly, to run. When it appeared unlikely that he could rally the left against Correa in the face of the president’s overwhelming popularity he declined to enter the race.

The Indigenous party Pachakutik did not run a presidential candidate, and refused to endorse any of the candidates. In the 2006 elections when a possible alliance with Correa fell apart, Pachakutik ran their standard bearer Luis Macas but only polled two percent of the vote.

While Correa enjoys majority support from the voters, the same is not true for his AP, which lost its control over congress. In 2006, Correa campaigned without the support of a political party or alliances with congressional delegates. Three years later, Correa is still having difficulty pulling his new party together even though he personally remains quite popular.

The January 25, 2009 primaries for legislative and local races was fraught with difficulties and disorganization. The AP is by no means an ideologically homogenous or coherent party, which may be its greatest strength as well as its greatest weakness. While it incorporates a broad range of people, that diversity also threatens to pull the party apart into left and right wings.

In the runup to the April vote, Correa implemented several populist economic measures, such as restructuring the foreign debt, which appeared to be largely designed to strengthen the electoral fortunes of his congressional allies. The AP’s failure to win an overwhelming majority in the congressional contests complicates issues, particularly since Gutiérrez’s PSP is the second largest, and very antagonistic, power.

Even though the AP fell far short of the two-thirds majority it enjoyed in the constituent assembly, it still remains the largest party in the assembly. If it can build alliances with smaller leftist parties it might still be able to control the decisions. Such alliances are sure to be fragile. Nevertheless, the new constitution significantly strengthens executive power at a cost to the assembly, so losing congressional control may not prove so much a liability to Correa who could still rule through decrees and referendums.

Traditional parties such as the Partido Social Cristiano (PSC) continue to lose support. In fact, all the parties that largely defined the return to civilian rule in 1979 and actively contested power over the last 30 years the PSC, the Izquierda Democrática (ID), the Democracia Popular-Democracia Cristiana (DP), Partido Roldosista Ecuatoriano (PRE) -– have now largely disappeared.

The PSC did not run a presidential candidate, instead focusing its energies on congressional and municipal elections. In the coastal commercial port city of Guayaquil which has long been a bastion of opposition to Correa’s left-populist government, the conservative PSC mayor Jaime Nebot easily won re-election.

Even in Guayaquil, however, political allegiances fall out along class lines, with poor people strongly supporting Correa, including many of those who voted for Nebot as mayor. Reflecting deep-seated regional divisions, the AP’s Augusto Barrera easily won election as mayor of Quito.

Indigenous Movements in Opposition

Much of Correa’s support comes from urban professionals. Despite his seemingly leftist credentials, Ecuador’s leftist Indigenous movement has moved deeply into the anti-Correa camp. Because of his support for a new mining law that advocates resource extraction, Indigenous activists have criticized Correa for ruling with a neoliberal agenda. Furthermore, under Correa’s governance Indigenous movements have become increasingly fragmented, with militants accusing the president of attempting to destroy their organizational capacity.

The largest and best known Indigenous organization is the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), founded in 1986 as an umbrella group of regional Indigenous organizations intended to represent all Indigenous peoples in Ecuador. CONAIE emerged on the national scene through a 1990 uprising for land and Indigenous rights that shook the country’s white elite to its core.

Perhaps the most militant Indigenous organization in Ecuador is CONAIE’s highland regional affiliate Ecuarunari, the Confederation of the Peoples of the Kichwa Nationality of Ecuador. Ecuarunari has consistently run to the left of Correa, challenging him for his failure to make a clean break with Ecuador’s neoliberal past. These organizations continue to press their agenda in a variety of ways, including with a proposed water law to conserve and protect water resources.

At an April 2 assembly, CONAIE made its position crystal clear in a resolution which stated that “Correa’s government was born from the right, governs with the right, and will continue to do so until the end of his time in office.” They condemned the government for creating organizations parallel to CONAIE, and stated that they would evict anyone from their organization who occupied positions in the government or worked with Correa’s electoral campaign due to “their lack of respect for our organizational process.”

In particular, CONAIE targeted Correa’s extractive policies, and especially large-scale mining and petroleum exploration efforts “because they go against nature, Indigenous peoples, it violates the constitution, and threatens the governance of the sumak kawsay.” They were eager to use Correa’s constitution as a tool to combat what they saw as his abusive policies. (“Resoluciones de la asamblea ampliada CONAIE 2 de abril del 2009,” www.conaie.org/es/ge_comunicados/2009/0402.html)

CONAIE stated that as an organization they would not support any presidential candidate, despite earlier conversations the leftist Martha Roldós. Refusing to support a presidential candidate is an explicit reversal of a policy in previous elections to support a candidate because otherwise campaigns would prey on rural communities to gain the Indigenous vote.

In 1995, CONAIE helped found Pachakutik as a political movement for Indigenous peoples and their allies to contest for electoral office. A short-lived alliance with Gutiérrez in 2003, however, was such a horrific experience that CONAIE and Pachakutik remained very shy of entering into another such similar alliance. Nevertheless, they did urge support for local and congressional candidates running under the Pachakutik banner.

Historically, Pachakutik has fared much better in local races. In this election, however, they suffered significant losses to the AP, and barely survived with only one seat in the national assembly.

In addition to CONAIE and its regional affiliate Ecuarunari, two competing Indigenous organizations are the National Confederation of Peasant, Indigenous and Negro Organizations (FENOCIN) and the Council of Evangelical Indigenous Peoples and Organizations of Ecuador (FEINE). FENOCIN has its roots in the Catholic Church’s attempts in the 1960s to draw support away from the communist-affiliated Ecuadorian Federation of Indians (FEI).

FENOCIN broke with the church and became much more radical in the 1970s, assuming a socialist position. Today it is allied with Correa, and some of its principle leaders including president Pedro de la Cruz serve as AP deputies. FEINE tends to be much more conservative, and recently has allied with Lucio Gutiérrez.

In the past, the three organizations (CONAIE, FENOCIN, FEINE) have sometimes collaborated to advance Indigenous interests, and at other times bitterly competed with each other for allegiance of their Indigenous base. Currently they are perhaps as fractured as they ever have been.

Twenty-first Century Socialism

Correa has been very eager to speak of socialism of the 21st century, but has never been very clear what he means by this term. During a January 2009 trip to Cuba, Correa rejected the “dogmas history has defeated” including “the class struggle, dialectical materialism, the nationalization of all property, the refusal to recognize the market.” (“Correa attempts to define modern socialism,” Latin American Weekly Report, WR-09-02, January 15, 2009: 3)

Discarding key elements traditionally associated with socialism while failing to identify alternative visions raises questions as to what exactly Correa means by 21st-century socialism.

Hugo Chávez in Venezuela has faced similar criticisms. At the 2005 World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil where Chávez first spoke of the Venezuelan revolution as socialist, he said that new solutions must be more humanistic, more pluralistic, and less dependent on the state. Nevertheless, both Chávez and Correa have relied on strong governmental control in order to advance their political agendas.

Indigenous intellectuals and their close allies such as economist Pablo Dávalos argue that once one looks beyond the rhetoric of socialism of the 21st century, regional integration, and the Bolivarian dream of a united Latin America, the reality on the ground often looks quite different.

Yes, there has been state intervention in the economy, most notably in important areas such as health and education. But the basic economic model remains capitalist in its orientation. Not only does Correa continue to rely on extractive enterprises to advance Ecuador, but he uses the repressive power of the state to attack anyone who dares to challenge his policies, including presenting dissidents with charges of terrorism.

In one of the most high profile cases, Correa sent the military into Dayuma in the eastern Amazon in search of “terrorists” who had opposed his extractive policies. The environmental NGO Acción Ecológica also faced a threat of removal of legal status, seemingly because of their opposition to Correa’s petroleum policies. When faced with a massive outcry, Correa quickly backpedaled, claiming that the government was simply moving its registration to a different ministry where it more logically belonged.

Although AP managed to liquidate the previous political system and emerged with a leftist discourse, Dávalos argued that “in reality it represented a continuation of neoliberalism under other forms.” This is clear in its themes of decentralization, autonomy, competition, and privatization.” Correa continued to follow traditional clientalistic and populist policies far removed from what could be reasonably seen as radical or as a socialist reconstruction of society.

Dávalos concludes that in no sense is Correa a leftist, nor could his government be identified as a progressive. Rather, he “represents a reinvention of the right allied with extractive and transnational enterprises.” (Pablo Dávalos, “Alianza Pais o la reinvencion de la derecha,” http://alainet.org/active/29776).

After Correa’s victory, Luis Fernando Sarango, rector of the Amawtay Wasi Indigenous University, criticized the president’s talk of radicalizing his programs. “What socialism of the twenty-first century?” Sarango asked. “What about a true socialism, because we have seen almost nothing of this of the twenty-first century.” Instead, Sarango proposed “a profound change in structures that permits the construction of a plurinational state with equality, whether it is called socialism or not.” (Boletin Digital Universidad Intercultural Amawtay Wasi 12, May 2009: 2)

CONAIE leader and 2006 Pachakutik presidential candidate Luis Macas criticized Correa for pursuing a “citizen’s revolution” as part of a fundamentally liberal, individualistic model that did not provide a fundamental ideological break with the neoliberal past. In contrast, Indigenous movements pressed in the 2006 electoral campaign for a “constituent revolution” to rewrite the structures of government to be more inclusive.

Correa stole the thunder from Indigenous militants in also pressing for a new constitution, and even going one step farther in granting CONAIE their long-standing demand to have Ecuador declared a pluri-national country. It is not without reason that CONAIE resents Correa for taking over issues and occupying spaces that they previously held.

At the same time, Correa holds those to his left hostage because criticizing him plays into the hands of the oligarchy who are equally anxious to attack him from the right.

At the World Social Forum

In January 2009, Correa joined his fellow leftist Latin American presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Evo Morales of Bolivia, and Fernando Lugo of Paraguay in a meeting with representatives of Vía Campesina, an international network of rural movements, at the World Social Forum (WSF) in the Brazilian Amazonian city of Belém.

Of the five, Correa was the president with the weakest links to civil society. Lula and Morales, of course, were labor leaders before becoming president. Lugo was a priest, influenced by liberation theology, who worked in rural communities. Chávez rose through the military ranks and used that experience to cultivate his popular support.

Correa, in contrast, comes out of the academic world, but of the five presidents at the forum he presented the deepest and most serious analysis of the current economic crisis. He began with a challenge to neoliberalism and the Washington Consensus. “We’re living a magic moment, one of new leaders and governments.”

Correa noted that capitalism is commonly associated with efficiency, whereas socialism emphasizes justice. Nevertheless, Correa argued, socialism is both more just and efficient than capitalism. Latin American countries need national development plans in order to advance, and Ecuador’s new constitution was part of that process.

He appealed to support for Indigenous cultural projects, the Pachamama (mother earth), and repeated the now common call for the sumak kawsay, to live well, not better. We need to be responsible for the environment, Correa said, and conserve resources for the next generation.

Capitalism is in crisis, Correa argued, and Latin America is in search of new models, one that would bring dignity to Latin American peoples. Even though Ecuador has resisted joining Venezuela’s Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), for which Chávez publicly chided Correa at the forum, Correa still called for Latin American integration, for a United States of Latin America.

“We are in times of change,” Correa concluded. “An alternative model already exists, and it is the socialism of the twenty-first century.” Much of his rhetoric echoed that of the dominant discourse at the forum that has fundamentally shifted sentiments away from neoliberal policies.

Correa also seemed to be the most eager of the five to employ populist discourse in order to identify himself as with “the people.” Correa spoke favorably of Indigenous movements and the history of exclusion that Afro-Ecuadorians have faced. All this came in the face of his increasingly tense relations with social movements, particularly over his determination to build Ecuador’s economy on resource extraction.

Correa has not responded well to criticism, condemning what he terms as “infantile” Indigenous activists and environmentalists. At the closing of the Indigenous tent three days after the presidential presentations, longtime leader Blanca Chancoso denounced the “nightmare” that they were living with Correa who was undertaking resource extraction “at all costs.”

Perhaps the only current Latin American president broadly identified with the left who would have received more vigorous denunciations at the forum is Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega, who in particular has engaged in pitched battles with women’s movements.

Many Lefts

Following Chávez’s lead in Venezuela, Correa has sought to build his popularity on the basis of “petro populism,” which uses income from oil exports to fund social programs. But the fall of the price of oil threatens to put those programs at risk. At the same time, a growing inflation rate threatens to undermine some of his government’s accomplishments.

Although Correa talks openly of embracing a socialism for the 21st century, he has made no move to nationalize industries. Building his government on economic development without proper concern for the environment and people’s rights has cost him support, while gaining him the label of “pragmatic” from the business class.

On the other hand, Correa does follow through with enough of his policy proposals to assure his continued popular support. He promised not to renew the U.S. Forward Operating Location (FOL) lease on the Manta airbase when it comes due this fall, and it appears that Washington is proceeding ahead with his wishes to withdraw.

Last December, Correa defaulted on more than $3 billion in foreign bonds, calling the foreign debt illegal and illegitimate because they had been contracted by military regimes. Many people rallied to his defense, saying that he is defending the country’s sovereignty. In addition to tripling spending on education and health care, Correa has increased subsidizes for single mothers and small farmers. These steps played very well with his base.

Despite Correa’s attempts to mimic Chávez’s strategies, his policies are not nearly as radical as those of his counterpart. Of the many lefts that now rule over Latin America, Correa represents a moderate and ambiguous position closer to that of Lula in Brazil or the Concertación in Chile rather than Chávez’s radical populism in Venezuela or Morales’ Indigenous socialism in Bolivia.

The danger for popular movements is a populist threat with Correa exploiting the language of the left but fundamentally ruling from the right. It is in this context that a mobilized and engaged social movement, which historically in the Ecuadorian case means an Indigenous movement, remains important as a check on a personalistic and populist government. If Correa follows through on any of the hopeful promises of his government, it will be due to this pressure from below and to the left.

Correa continues to enjoy an unusually large amount of popular support in a region which recently has greeted its presidents with a high degree of good will only to have the populace quickly turn on its leaders who inevitably rule against their class interests. Chávez (and, to a certain extent, Evo Morales in Bolivia) have bucked this trend by retaining strong popular support despite oligarchical attempts to undermine their governments.

Correa is a charismatic leader, but in the Ecuadorian setting charisma does not secure longevity. José María Velasco Ibarra, Ecuador’s classic caudillo and populist, was president five times, but was removed from four of those when he failed to follow through on his promises to the poor. In recent history, Abdalá Bucaram was perhaps the most charismatic leader, but he lasted only seven months in power after winning the 1996 elections. Charisma alone does not assure political stability.

In the wake of Ecuador quickly running through ten chief executives in 10 years, Correa appears positioned to remain in power for 10 years if he can maintain his current coalition to win reelection in 2013. Correa has also said that it will take 80 years for his “citizens’ revolution” to change the country.

In quickly moving Ecuador from being one of Latin America’s most unstable countries to maintaining a strong hold over executive power, Correa appears to have been able to mimic Chávez’s governing style. Whose interests this power serves, and particularly whether it will be used to improve the lives of historically marginalized subalterns, remains an open question.

Ecuador’s Future for Canadian Transnationals: An Exchange of Indigenous Perspectives May 24, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Ecuador, Environment.
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Jennifer Moore

www.upsidedownworld.org, May 20, 2009

“The sorrows are ours; the cows are not.”

Translation of a lyric written by Atahualpa Yupanqui (born Hector Roberto Chavero; died 1992), an Argentinian Communist exiled to Paris and who lived out his life there. The original Spanish is “las penas son de nosotros, las vaquitas son ajenas.”

Image“Welcome to the future,” says the sign behind the gated area where Vancouver-based Corriente Resources is developing an open-pit copper mine in Ecuador’s Southern Amazon. Bumping along in the back of a pick-up truck on her way to visit one of several communities slated to be displaced by the project, the idea that the future is fenced off with restricted entry for local communities that have lived on the land for years, even generations, hit home for Anne Marie Sam.

From the Nak’azdli First Nation in central British Colombia, Sam is one of two indigenous representatives who visited communities affected by Canadian-financed mining activities in Ecuador earlier this month. “We don’t even want Canadian companies in our territory, so we don’t blame Ecuadorians for not wanting them here either.” The Nak’azdli Nation opposes a proposed gold and copper mine on their territory that they have determined “would not strengthen them as a community” which includes about 1,700 members.

The trip was a critical response to President Rafael Correa’s recent invitation to the Canadian Embassy to help delegitimate the position of various indigenous leaders who are critical of his mining policy. The Embassy is still responding and will soon host a second delegation of indigenous leaders. This most recent visit was coordinated by the Quito-based Pachamama Foundation in cooperation with the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE).

The CONAIE has criticized Correa for continuing with World Bank-backed policies to substitute the country’s dwindling oil reserves with metal extraction. Ecuador has been an oil producer for more than forty years, but no large scale mining project has yet entered production here. The CONAIE is worried about possible impacts on both water and local livelihoods. They further argue that indigenous peoples and other affected communities should have the right to consent over what projects take place on their lands or territories. A position substantiated by international law.

However, Correa is unequivocally opposed to local communities having “a veto” over what he sees as a matter of national interest. He calls his critics “infantile environmentalists” and the “greatest threat” to his political project.

Coming from Canada – the world’s principal source of financing for global mining activities – Robert Lovelace, a leader from the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation in Eastern Ontario, says his experiences in the Andean nation reveal that indigenous communities in both countries “share a heck of a lot in common.” Not only does Canada have its share of environmental disasters from extractive industry and not uphold the right to consent for indigenous communities, it also lags behind Ecuador for not having ratified international conventions that recognize these rights including the American Convention on Human Rights, Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“We need to see much more of each other and we need to compare notes,” Lovelace says. An ongoing relationship, he believes, could be mutually beneficial. “When people in Ecuador stand strong,” he says, “it also helps us because it tells the mining companies that nobody is going to take the stuff that they’ve been giving out regardless of where they are.”

Canada’s Glowing Reputation

While Correa hopes that indigenous leaders invited by the Canadian Embassy will drown out the CONAIE’s criticisms, the recent visit by Sam and Lovelace revealed that Canada’s story is not as harmonious as Correa would lead Ecuadorians to believe.

“[Canada] has understood how to respect and benefit its ancestral peoples,” said Correa during a national radio address. The first people to benefit in Canada from mining, he added, “are the ancestral peoples.”

But Lovelace, speaking during two events in Quito which included members of Ecuador’s Constitutional Court, the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum and an international group of lawyers, called Canadian mining a “two fold problem: for us and the rest of the world.” He insisted that within Canada it has to be seen within the context of colonialism and poor regulation.

The firm but soft-spoken leader explained that indigenous peoples are the most impoverished group in Canada, with high rates of suicide particularly for those who have lost their traditional ways of life, and that they have suffered official attempts to destroy their social and cultural fabric leading to rampant addictions and many broken homes. This, he explained, is a cost of the extractive and commercial mindset with which Canada was founded and continues to operate.

Lovelace has been opposing a proposed uranium mine on Ardoch territory, and shared his experience about how his community was sued for $77 million dollars by Frontenac Ventures and about his three and a half months in jail as a result of efforts to prevent mining activities on their lands.1 Radioactive contamination of lakes and rivers from uranium mining, occupational health hazards, and the uses of uranium for nuclear energy and arms are a few reasons why they do not support the mine.

Speaking to the national press, he added that the proliferation of Canadian mining companies can be explained by the fact that “we don’t have tough rules” and have poor infrastructure to enforce the rules that we do have. The Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) lists almost 60% of mining companies worldwide with over 1,400 projects in Latin America and more than 8,000 around the globe.2

He thinks stronger regulation, backed up by good monitoring and enforcement, should be “the cost of doing business for companies that are invited into other countries and invited onto indigenous land, as a bare minimum. Canada has to acknowledge that and do that because it is immoral not to.” The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has also urged Canada to develop such legislation.

But Canada has been reticent. It took the government four years to respond to parliamentary recommendations to strengthen its mining legislation for extractive industry abroad, and its recent decision reinforces voluntary guidelines rather than tightening regulations.

Interestingly, Ecuadorians from the northwestern valley of Intag recently launched a lawsuit against the TSX with the objective that the case will help lead to stronger regulations in Canada. Inteños have broadly opposed open-pit copper mining for over twelve years, but this has not stopped current project owner Copper Mesa Mining (formerly Ascendant Copper) from trying to use forceful means to try to reach its concessions. The TSX was warned before the company was listed that further financing could lead to human rights violations and violence in the valley.3

ImageThe Environment, an Afterthought

However, Correa would have Ecuadorians believe that TSX-listed companies who are irresponsible, well, they are simply not Canadian. “Be careful!” he has warned on national radio. “There are some companies that try to pass themselves off as Canadian because they trade on the Canadian stock market, but they’re not Canadian. Canada has strict, very strict, environmental requirements.”

But the Canadian public does not even know how much pollution mining operations have generated.

Only several weeks ago, the Federal Court released a “strongly worded decision” ordering the Canadian government to “stop withholding data on one of Canada’s largest sources of pollution – millions of tonnes of toxic mine tailings and waste rock from mining operations throughout the country.”4 Indicating the strength of Canada’s mining lobby, it has taken sixteen years since the National Pollutant Release Inventory was created for the sector to be held to the same reporting requirements as every other industrial sector.

When Anne Marie hears a question translated for her from an audience in Quito: “Mining companies say that their projects will be clean, that they won’t have serious enviromental impacts, what do you think?” she laughs at the coincidence. “We hear the same thing,” she remarks. “But the question isn’t whether a company will contaminate our water, it’s when.”

Given the industry’s track record in her home province, Anne Marie’s nation has not been swayed by company promises that environmental impacts will be mitigated. A recent press release from the Nak’azdli Nation states, “There are close to 2,000 abandoned or closed mines in BC and two third of them are still polluting the land and water.”5

So, when the Nak’azdli First Nation was approached by Terrane Metals to develop a gold and copper mine on their lands at the headwaters of the Peace River watershed, they did not jump at the opportunity for an agreement with the company. They did, however, take the chance to do some of their own investigations and accepted the company’s offer of $150,000 CDN without promising any further agreement.

Anne Marie was appointed to study the issue.

“Our elders advised us not to focus just on the economic aspect, but to also seriously consider the social and cultural implications,” she said.

With the company funds, they hired their own experts and examined the social, cultural, economic, environmental and legal ramifications of the project put together in what she calls an “Aboriginal Interest and Use Study.”

They concluded that they could not support the project. Even when they hit a period during which many of their members were without work, they determined that the kinds of jobs they could qualify for based upon their education and experience – cleaning, cooking and construction – did not outweigh the impacts.

Their disapproval has not stopped the company from seeking other nearby First Nation communities that would accept the project. Nor did it stop the provincial government from recently approving the company’s Environmental Assessment despite not having consulted the Nak’azdli Nation. However, it has been a key tool in their resistance.

It is a challenge because “time is not on the side of First Nations when it comes to a mining project. It’s always the timeline of the company.” But, she laughs, thinking about the time it took to read through the 6,000 page environmental assessment that the company provided and in which they found many weaknesses, “if I didn’t read [the study], I wouldn’t be able to tell you this story.” Education and communication, she says, “are key.”

ImageSorrow is Ours, the Cows are Not

The newly elected Prefect of Ecuador’s southernmost Amazonian province, Salvador Quishpe, welcomed the Canadian delegation to their final event in El Pangui. The Condor Mountain Range stretches along the eastern horizon of this steamy jungle town situated near some of the most contentious mining developments in the country.

Whereas Bob Lovelace contextualizes Canadian mining in terms of colonialism, Quishpe frames Ecuadorian mining around twenty five years of neoliberalism that he says continues despite Correa’s slogan “Our patrimony belongs to all.” He jokes for a moment: “the Canadians came along and said, “Belongs to all, eh?” “Hey, that’s good, then that includes us too!”

Quishpe reminded the 400-strong crowd that UNESCO has declared part of the Condor Mountains a World Bioreserve which has over 48 distinct ecosystems and is one of the highest priority areas for scientific research in the neotropics. He also reminded the audience that vast stretches have been claimed for mining exploration and that the principal concession holders are Vancouver-based Corriente Resources and Toronto’s Kinross Gold.

He observes that the industry’s principal proponents –  the Ecuadorian representatives of Canadian transnationals – are in large part former officials from the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum. So, he remarks, the same people who helped institute the neoliberal framework for mining in the 1990s are now sitting on top of some of the best deposits of gold and copper. “It is ultimately the companies, not the government, who makes mining policy in this country,” he concludes. “And while it’s a mortal sin to say it,” he continues, “mining should be nationalized.”

Having recently been called “an enemy of the government” and a “dumb leftist” by Correa, Quishpe adds, “We are not against development.” Rather, he emphasizes, his province needs proper planning with strong participation. He proposes at least one industry – tourism – that he plans to promote during his upcoming term in local office. “We want development for the well-being of our peoples, not so-called development by which a transnational company takes away our riches for itself.”

Sam has a similar comment. “Our community has always said, we’re not against development. But we need to have a say in what development happens in our area and where, and right now we’re not being given that opportunity.”

The Waterkeepers

As the event wraps up, Anne Marie hands Salvador a card. She explains that the image of a red and green frog was drawn by an artist from her community. The frog represents the waterkeepers, she says, and Salvador is a water defender just like she and the rest of her clan from the Nak’azdli First Nation.

“Coming here has opened my eyes to how connected we are,” says Sam reflecting on the visit shortly later, “and how similar the fight we have to protect the land and the connection [we have with the land] whether indigenous or not.” She thinks about El Pangui’s struggle at the headwaters of the Amazon, and recalls her own at the headwaters of the Arctic. “What we need,” she says, “is a stronger role for indigenous people that is not after the fact or after claims are made on the land.”

In British Colombia, she says they are using new technology that enables helicopters to identify and take images of what minerals are in the ground just by flying over their territories. “Instead of this information going direct to the internet so that people can begin staking claims,” she says, “the information should go to First Nations first. And then we can decide if we want to do small scale mining, or if we want to do something else because open pits are not a nice site to look at and a recreational lake in an open pit (which is what the Terrane Metals promises to leave behind in her territory) isn’t an ideal situation for us.”

Robert Lovelace also believes that a much more meaningful participation is necessary. He describes it as a spectrum that usually begins with information sessions or token consultations. “Consultation,” he explains, “is still a form of tokenism because to consult with someone does not mean that you’re going to agree with them or even take their advice into account especially when there’s a power differential, whether based on capital or politics.”

“But when the values of each of the parties are truly recognized,” he says “and we look at consensual partnerships where both parties are able to give consent, then if one party can’t give consent, a project or development doesn’t go ahead. But that’s honest partnership.”

“As long as the power of First Nations are recognized then they may assign their authority to a corporation or a level of government in order to facilitate something happening. But that’s their choice, they’re not being forced or imposed upon to do that. The last stage is true self-governance. That’s having full authority to choose to move forward with development or not, or to choose another future altogether.”

While it has yet to be seen what the Canadian Embassy’s upcoming delegation will share with Ecuadorian’s, it will most definitely get broader coverage from the Ecuadorian press. As well, one can be almost sure that free, prior, and informed consent; recognition of the inherent rights of indigenous peoples; and the possibility of different futures other than the Canadian-owned, open-pit and underground mines envisioned for El Pangui, Yantzaza, Intag, Victoria del Portete, Molleturo, Ponce Enriquez, and many other parts of Ecuador will not be up for discussion.

Notes:

1. For further detail see: Justin Podur, “Canada’s latest political prisoners” http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/17019
2. 2007 figures based upon the Toronto Stock Exchange’s Mining Presentation
3. For more information see http://www.ramirezversuscoppermesa.com/index.html
4. Press release “Court victory forces Canada to report pollution data for mines” available at http://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2009/04/24-0
5. Press release “Proposed BC mines cannot proceed without Nak’azdli First Nation” available at http://www.rightsaction.org/articles/Nakazdli_abuse_031909.html

Swinging from the Right: Correa and Social Movements in Ecuador May 19, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Uncategorized.
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Written by Jennifer Moore    
Wednesday, 13 May 2009, www.upsidedownworld.org 
On April 26, President Rafael Correa became the first Ecuadorian president in thirty years to win a new mandate after only one round of elections. A day later, the popular leader announced that he will accelerate his so-called Citizen’s Revolution and prioritize change for the poor. However, prominent civil society organizations say that Correa’s 21st Century Socialism favors powerful economic groups and bodes poorly for Ecuador’s most-excluded.“From the point of view of the social movements and the indigenous movement in particular,” says Marlon Santi, President of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), “Correa’s socialism is not socialism at all…He waves the flag of socialism, but he does other things.”

During his first two years in power, Correa made key decisions reflecting social movement demands, such as not to renew the contract for the U.S. military base in the coastal city of Manta, to declare a large part of the country’s external debt illegitimate, and to create a National Constituent Assembly to rewrite the political constitution which was overwhelmingly approved last September. The 2008 constitution declared water a human right, gave rights to nature, and made Ecuador the second country after Bolivia to be declared a plurinational state—a central proposal of the indigenous movement for decades.

But since then, new laws pertaining to mining and food sovereignty, combined with open insults and threats against organizations such as the CONAIE and Quito-based environmental organization Acción Ecológica (Environmental Action), have led these organizations to conclude that Correa is governing from the right while squeezing their ability to participate on their own terms.

Acción Ecológica President Ivonne Ramos refers to the new food sovereignty law as evidence of how Correa’s policies concentrate economic power. The legislation finalized after a presidential veto in April, she says, promotes agro-industry and favours powerful economic groups who will benefit from new subsidies. It also opens the door to Terminator seeds, agro-fuels and legalization of shrimp farming in coastal manglar forests.

Even the solidarity vouchers provided to the poor are tied with monopolistic economic groups who she says control nearly the entire national food chain.

“When the people receive their vouchers,” she explains, “they can buy products in the big supermarkets at a reduced price. So the benefit is ultimately channeled to these powerful economic groups.”

She also points out a new wave of criminalization affecting environmental and human rights defenders at the local level. Many of those now facing charges are from the hundreds previously granted amnesty by the National Constituent Assembly in March 2008. In particular, community leaders affiliated with the National Coordinator for Life and Sovereignty who are opposed to large scale metal mining have been targetted. Various members face charges of organized terrorism.

Overall, Ramos foresees a much more “restrictive” environment for groups like hers in the coming period.

Photo by Jennifer MooreAccion’s Closure, a Red Flag

Acción Ecológica first drew international attention to tighter restrictions for NGOs and grassroots organizations when it sought solidarity for what it called “a clear act of censorship” in March. The Health Minister, under whose ministry the organization is registered, closed its doors by withdrawing its legal status saying that the organization had not fulfilled the objectives for which it was created.

Acción attributed the move to its recent participation in protests against the new mining law, which favors Canadian-financed transnational mining companies which are well-positioned to develop gold and copper mines along the Western Andes and in the Southern Amazon. Such projects have generated great controversy, especially within affected communities.

A tremendous outpouring of support for the 23-year-old environmental organization resulted in a quick retraction of the minister’s initial statement. The Minister denied possible political persecution and explained the decision as part of an administrative procedure in order that Acción Ecológica become registered under the Ministry of the Environment, which did not exist when it was founded.1

However, although their legal status has been temporarily reinstated and Ramos is confident that a definitive decision will be made in their favour later this month, she is still worried about how the government is reorganizing NGOs and grassroots organizations.

New conditions include that organizations should orient their actions and programs according to the National Development Plan which is in the hands of the National Secretariat for Planning and Development (SENPLADES). She calls this “terrible,” saying, “we might differ with the National Development Plan.”

She further adds that President Correa has mentioned several times that organizations like hers should not carry out any political activity. But, she challenges, “We are political beings and we view working in the interests of nature and the common good as a political act.”

“However,” she affirms, “we have never engaged in party politics and we are not at all interested in holding positions of power. Rather, we believe that there is a power that exists outside of this: freedom of speech and freedom of action to defend what we consider worth defending.”

They are energized by the support they received in March which made them realize that they have what Ramos calls an “irreproachable reputation” upon which to continue working.

 

However, prior to the closure of Acción Ecológica, indigenous institutions were also being threatened, coupled with regular insults that the CONAIE leadership were nothing but “a few good-for-nothings.”

The indigenous movement first arose as an important political force in the early 1990s and has led key mobilizations against neoliberal policies such as US free trade agreement negotiations, while resisting expansion of extractive industries at the regional level, especially in the south and south-central Amazon.

The rift with Correa first developed a year ago for various reasons including Correa’s emphatic opposition to the inclusion of free prior and informed consent for indigenous peoples over activities taking place on their territories in the new constitution.2 More than half a dozen indigenous nationalities could be affected by planned oil and mining expansion.

More recently, in late January, on the heels of indigenous-led protests against the new mining law, President Correa surprised indigenous leaders when he announced during one of his Saturday radio programs that the Development Council of the Indigenous Nationalities and Peoples of Ecuador (CODENPE) would be closed. He alleged that the Executive Secretary was misusing funds in favor of her home province. Several days prior, the Minister of Economy stopped CODENPE’s funds.

CODENPE was established through implementation of the 1998 constitution which recognized the right of indigenous peoples in Ecuador to participate in decision making and to determine their own development priorities.

The decision led Monica Chuji, former Assembly Member and past Communications Secretary for Correa, to write that it is hardly a coincidence that the decision would take place following the mining law protests. She concluded that “like all neoliberal governments, for Correa, we indians represent ‘an obstacle to development’.” She indicated that this was also a message to other social movements “to be advised: no protests or dissidence against the neoliberal politics of the Government of Rafael Correa—or else.”3

But this was only the beginning. A month later, President Correa issued a decree retracting the autonomy of the National Directorate of Intercultural Bilingual Education (DINEIB), placing it under control of the Ministry of Education. More recently in the lead up to the April election, the indigenous justice system has come under heavy criticism.

CONAIE President Marlon Santi says “In the preamble of the new constitution, it says that this is a plurinational state, but the government does not really want to recognize this.” Plurinationality is the recognition of multiple nationalities coexisting within the same state. The concept also encompasses proposals such as autonomous control of health care, education, and justice.

Santi sees what is taking place as a racist process of “disaccreditation,” such that “the movement loses representation and participation in whatever agenda or economic process are taking place through the state.”

Funding and operations at Codenpe have begun again, but the CONAIE now has several cases before the Constitutional Court as a result of these decisions, and another that it is preparing against the President’s Office to be presented before the Inter American Human Rights Commission.

An Extension of World Bank Policies

Economist Pablo Dávalos, a professor and former advisor to the CONAIE, was critical of Correa even before he was first elected in November 2006. He says the distance between social movements and Correa is comparable to the relationship between the Landless Workers Movement (MST) in Brazil and President Lula.

Dávalos is concerned about the growing concentration of power and growing state influence over social organizations, especially the CONAIE, as part of efforts to advance the government’s economic program.

He comments that Correa is building upon accumulated efforts to weaken the CONAIE, which is still recovering from a failed alliance with the government of Colonel Lucio Gutierrez (2003-2005), who came to power with the help of the indigenous movement and then quickly proved itself a closer friend of former US President George W. Bush. However, he suggests that Correa’s approach is closer to “intervention strategies developed by the World Bank toward social movements in the 1990s through projects geared at specific groups including women, peasant farmers, youth and indigenous.”

From Dávalos’ perspective, particularly with regard to the CONAIE, the goal is “to neutralize the ability of the indigenous movement to mobilize and to destroy it as a historic social actor.”

Although much has been made of the new 2008 political constitution—and notwithstanding social organizations including the CONAIE that are actively defending their constitutional rights as they were voted upon last September—Dávalos says that in contrast with the constitution of 1998 “the new political system is more vertical, more heirarchcal, and more dependent on the president than before.”

He adds that while certain rights have been obtained, “such as the right to water, the untouchability of indigenous territories and some collective rights, economic planning prevails over these rights. So if a right comes into tension with the planning process, then planning will come first. So the rights are there, but they are neutralized at the same time.”

Change from Below

Dávalos says the first step for social movements, before rebuilding capacity to mobilize and developing strategic alliances, is to “take back the [socialist, revolutionary] discourse because it permits resistance and locates the government with respect to social groups. But right now this has been kidnapped and assimilated into the government.”

Lastly, he says, “an international lobby needs to be developed to indicate that this government is far from a leftist government and corresponds more closely to the interests of powerful groups that are emerging with the new mining and agro-fuels sectors.”

From the perspective of the CONAIE’s Marlon Santi, it is all part of a lengthy process for inclusion that the indigenous movement has been fighting for decades and living through for centuries.

“We have been in this process as an indigenous organization through left wing governments and right wing governments. Neither really suits us because the left does not take into count of the full dimension of every sector…That is why the CONAIE has life plans strategically developed to last for twenty years.

Stressing that it has been as a result of their past struggles rather than state programs by which they have achieved their currently recognized rights, “about 0.2%” of what they are aiming for, Santi says, he considers that change will continue to come from below despite Correa’s discourse.“Our challenge is to develop public policies from us for the government to meet the needs and requirements of the most abandoned sectors.”

Ideally for Santi, their involvement will be a 21st Century priority: “We are in the century in which we as human beings with our range of races, customs, cultures, and ways of thinking, have to respect these various differences that we have.”

Under the current conditions, however, this will be difficult.

Notes
1. Daniel Denvir, 16 March 09 “Ecuadorian government shuts down leading environmental group” http://www.grist.org/article/ecuadorian-government-shuts-down-leading/
2. Daniel Denvir, 16 May 2008 “CONAIE indigenous movement condemns President Correa” http://upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/1288/49/
3. Monica Chuji, 27 January 2009, “El cierre del CODENPE: Otro ejemplo del racismo y autoritarismo del presidente Correa” http://www.llacta.org/notic/2009/not0127a.htm

 

 
 
“If the world is upside down the way it is now, wouldn’t we have to turn it over to get it to stand up straight?” -Eduardo Galeano
En Español
Brasil: Vigilia contra ofensiva agropecuaria en la Amazonia
 

 

Paraguay: Protestas y balas de goma por el retorno al país de Sabino Montanaro
 

 

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Ecuador: Mining and the Right of Way April 9, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Environment, First Nations.
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Written by Jennifer Moore   

 

www.upsidedownworld.org, Wednesday, 25 March 2009

 

ImageIndigenous leaders delivered a lawsuit in Quito last Tuesday before Ecuador’s Constitutional Court asking that the country’s new mining law be declared unconstitutional. The case is the next step that the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) is taking to try to put the brakes on large scale metal mining which has achieved unwavering support from President Rafael Correa’s administration.

“The burning issue in our province and on our ancestral territories is mining,” said Angel Awak, President of the Shuar Federation of Zamora Chinchipe. “It is going to contaminate the rivers and result in social conflict.”

Ecuador has been an oil producer for more than forty years. Now that oil reserves are running low, the Correa administration views metal mining as a future source of state revenues. However, even before any large scale project has reached production, indigenous and non-indigenous communities alike are divided over whether it will result in net benefits or net destruction.

CONAIE’s lawsuit alleges that the mining law is unconstitutional for having failed to consult with indigenous organizations whose territories will be affected by the activity. It also criticizes as “absurd” a final disposition in the law that defines it as superior to others.

“The constitution clearly states that organic laws (the highest category of laws in Ecuador before international conventions and the political constitution) can only include those that regulate personal rights or norms pertaining to state institutions,” explained Lawyer Wilton Guaranda from the Regional Human Rights Advisory Foundation in Quito, and one of the signatories on the case.

With this legal status, Guaranda believes that the mining law becomes a “barrier” limiting judicial decisions and the development of new laws, such as those to regulate water and nature.

Awak’s biggest concern is water, a right achieved in the 2008 political constitution that Ecuadorians overwhelmingly approved in September and that government representatives affirmed this week during the Fifth World Water Forum in Turkey.

“Mining companies consume millions of liters of water,” said Awak, “which effectively privatizes it.” He envisions that the precious resource could become scarce and speculates that they will end up having to buy back water from the companies. “We will struggle so that our water is not privatized.”

ImageHowever, Canadian companies situated in Awak’s home province and hoping to develop some of Ecuador’s biggest gold and copper deposits have already secured government approval. The same day that CONAIE presented its lawsuit, both Vancouver-based Corriente Resources and Toronto-based Kinross announced that they have received notice fromthe Ministry of Mines and Petroleum to resume exploration work following a suspension on all large scale mining.

From chaos to closer alignment between Correa and Canadian interests

“The rules of the game are clear for everyone now,” Undersecretary of Mines Jose Serrano said speaking to Reuters. “The mining decree has been fulfilled…it can’t be revived.”1

But what is most clear is the importance of Canadian investment to Correa.

All large scale mining was suspended last April when the National Constituent Assembly passed a mining decree that ordered the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum to revoke most mineral concessions for reasons such as failure to consult with communities, or for overlap with protected natural areas and sources of water. It also gave the government 180 days to rewrite the mining law.

At the time, Correa met with Canadian investors and explained that the decree was necessary “to put the sector in order,” which had been open to speculation and weak regulation since legal reforms were implemented following a World Bank sponsored study in the 1990s.

But in addition to the controversy that the new law has generated, application of the mining mandate has also been limited. Most notably, Copper Mesa Mining (formerly Ascendant Copper Corporation) in the northwestern Intag valley lost two of its main concessions for failure to consult with local communities. In contrast, companies such as IAMGOLD, Corriente, Kinross, and International Minerals maintain key holdings in the south despite heated conflicts over similar complaints.

In the case of Corriente Resources, its suspension dates back to late 2006 when violent repression of local protests was carried out by state security forces making use of company installations. With such issues yet to be fully investigated and Corriente now on the verge of selling its project to an industry senior, Correa continues courting Canadian business leaders.

With assistance from the Canadian Embassy, investors met with Correa in February to discuss how to deepen relations across various sectors including mining, tourism and hydroelectric generation – also necessary for large scale mining. Correa gushed to the national press afterward saying that “Canada has always been a good friend of Ecuador.”

In a possible new offense to delegitimize the CONAIE, he added that he has invited Canadian Ambassador Christian Lapointe to bring indigenous leaders from Canada to Ecuador “so that they can testify for themselves, because here some of the leaders of our ancestors have taken up the flag of anti-mining.” He called such leaders “false” adding “they are just radical indigenous leaders,”2 even if they represent about 90 percent of first peoples across Ecuador.3

“In the mining sector,” he added, “they are the best investments, they respect the environment and our laws the best.”4 This simplistic claim is backed up with images of Ecuador’s small scale and artisanal miningsector which is short on investment and environmental controls, and long on devastating impacts to rivers and local communities.

Top-of-the-line technology will prevent any future disasters, he argues, echoing industry promises while calling activist concerns over watercontamination “absurd.”5

Foolproof technology?

But groups protesting large scale metal mining have heard these promises before.

“We will use the latest technology…[and] The steel being used meets international norms…which will diminish the risk of rupture in case of seismic movements,” recalled Quito-based environmental organization Accion Ecologica in a press release entitled: “You were warned, the OCP spill confirms that secure technology does not exist.”6

The privately-owned Heavy Crude Pipeline (OCP) was built in 2003 after years of multi-sector opposition. As another major contract that benefitted Canadian investors, the OCP faced its first major accident on February 25. The company says a tremor caused the spill which dumped approximately 14,000 barrels of oil into the Santa Rosa river in Orellana Province.

The pipeline travels from the Amazon region to the coast, crossing 94 seismic fault lines and 6 active volcanoes.7 Designed to boost oil production previously limited by the capacity of the state-owned SOTE pipeline, Canada’s EnCana was the country’s biggest investor at the time of its construction with a 31.4 percent share in the $1.2 billion project.8

For lawyer Wilton Guaranda “the accident is clear evidence that the geographic and natural conditions of Ecuadorian territory are not compatible with such a highly contaminating and toxic activity.” He added that the CONAIE is considering a lawsuit against the OCP consortium.

“This event should be cause for reflection so that a much more critical examination takes place of the natural reality of Ecuadorian territory to really determine the costs and benefits of [mining],” said Guaranda, “not just in relationship to the environment but alsowith regard to its social dimensions to know whether or not in the long term it will provide us with the opportunity for development and progress, or if this will become a barrier so that we have to obtain international loans or other debts in order to recuperate the nature that has been affected.”

So far, Minister of Mines and Petroleum Derlis Palacios has congratulated company remediation efforts while asking social organizations to be “a little more objective with the hope that certain communities or leaders don’t try to benefit from this misfortune by making a business out of it.”9


Good living before big business

But for communities living in constant conflict over mining whose benefits and protections are stacked on the side of big business, leaders like Angel Awak are trying to avoid unnecessary risk.

Awak sees greater potential in ecotourism and micro-credit programs for small farmers over the long term and adds that their wealth and well being is in their territory: “When the Shuar have territory, they have everything they need, they can hunt, they can fish, they have the river and all of the elements that are necessary for the Shuar to live well. This is what we want to defend so that our youth are also conscious of this and work to defend the natural environment.”

Explaining that this is what “Sumak Kawsay” or right living means for the future of the Shuar nation, he said the government should be behind them.

“We are not saying anything beyond the law. Rather we are demanding that our rights be respected within the framework of the constitution,” he said, noting that Sumak Kawsay is a central principle of Ecuador’s new Carta Magna.

However, given Correa’s current stance and his likely success in upcoming national elections at the end of April, social-environmental conflicts over mining are anticipated to grow with groups promising to halt projects at the local level. A response from the Constitutional Court to the CONAIE’s lawsuit is anticipated within six to twelve months.

Notes:

1. Reuters, 10 Mar 09 “Ecuador lifts ban on miners, sees them as priority”

2. President Rafael Correa, National Radio Address, 31 Jan 09

3. Kintto Lucas, IPS 22 Jan 09, “Los indigenas vuelvan al camino de la protesta” http://www.ipsnoticias.net/nota.asp?idnews=91081

4. El Comercio, 19 Feb 09 “Ecuador desea la inversion Canadiense”

5. President Rafael Correa, National Radio Address, 18 Oct 08

6. See: http://www.biodiversidadla.org/content/view/full/47723

7. Lorna Li, June 25th 2007, “Ecuador’s OCP Pipeline – A False Promise of Wealth”

8. Dr. Leslie Jermyn, 2002 “In Whose Interest? Canadian interests and the OCP crude oil pipeline in Ecuador”

9. EFE, Mar 5th 2009 “El ministro Palacios habla del buen manejo en la solución al derrame de crudo en la Amazonia”

Ecuador: The Logic of Development Clashes with Movements March 21, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Environment, Latin America.
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Written by Raúl Zibechi   
Thursday, 19 March 2009 www.upsidedownworld.org
Source: Americas ProgramIn spite of proclaiming himself socialist and a defender of the general “well being,” President Rafael Correa has been promoting the open-pit mining industry, which has provoked serious environmental and social damage throughout the region.

“The nascent left, indigenous, and ecological movements are starting to rise, having meetings to promote an uprising against the mining companies.” “With the law in hand we will not allow these abuses, we cannot allow uprisings, which block paths, threaten private property, and impede the development of a legal activity; mining.”

It was not a political conservative who said these words, but Rafael Correa, the president of Ecuador, who proclaimed himself a member of “21st century socialism” and an enemy of neoliberalism. The first sentence he said in a speech before the Provisory Congress in early January and the second he gave in a speech on Jan. 12 on the balcony of the president’s house in Quito.1 In addition, he accused social movements that reject the Ley de Mineria (Mining Law) of being “allies of the right.” The government minister, Fernando Bustamante, spoke of a potential insurgent link between indigenous organizations and the military.2

Tensions were already high at the beginning of January when the police brutally repressed community members protesting in the south of the country against the law. “We will not negotiate with criminals and thugs” was Minister Bustamante’s response to the indigenous leaders who defended themselves against repression by holding a police captain captive.3

Mobilization, Repression, and Beyond

On Jan. 20 two different worlds collided in Ecuador. Correa’s government, which had recently promoted and won a referendum for constitutional reform inspired by the logic of “healthy living” (“Sumak Kausay,” in Quichua) and the abandonment of the neoliberal model, pressed Congress to approve the Mining Law. The Legislative Commission approved the law on Jan. 12. Social movements called for a national mobilization to oppose the transnational exploitation of mining. The forces which met on the street were far from equal: the results were injuries, detainees, tear gas, and violent attacks.

Since the beginning of January there have been protests throughout the entire nation, organized both by indigenous groups and urban, environmental, and humanitarian organizations, along with the federation of evangelical indigenous peoples. All have questioned the Mining Law, considering it unconstitutional and rushed through into law without ample national debate for such a serious issue. The protests were particularly large in the south, in the Andean and Amazonian regions, consisting of the blocking of highways, marches, and hunger strikes.

On Jan. 20, designated “Day of Mobilization for Life,” thousands of indigenous people took to the highways as they had done previously in other protests. Some 4,000 indigenous people blocked the Latacunga-Ambato highway in the southern mountains, and tens of thousands of others engaged in similar acts throughout the country, including protests in Quito and Cuenca, the two principal Andean cities. There were also protests in the Amazon and along the coast. Multicolored marches animated with drums, flutes, horns, and whistles, in which families and entire communities took part.

Although CONAIE (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador) made clear that the movement would be peaceful, repression was still a major component, with the use of tear gas and even bullets, resulting in dozens of injuries, many of the wounded requiring hospitalization. The repression was not much different from that which occurred when the right governed Ecuador.

When it came time to explain the government’s response, Humberto Cholango, president of Ecuaraunari, an indigenous organization of Quichuas from the Andes, said that the problem is that the right surrounds Correa. “The president needs only to look to his side if he wants to see the right,” he said in relation to accusations directed by the president at indigenous movements.4 Nevertheless, CONAIE should recognize that the protests led to acts of violence against a diverse group of people and police, an act that was created by the presence of “infiltrators in a legal and legitimate movement.”5

What is certain is that there was no national debate about the law, but there was violence in the streets, and a crisis of relations between the government and social movements that should have been the social base of a government that promotes a “citizens’ movement.” The media played an important role in the growing division between the social movements and the government creating a confrontational climate.

In the attempt to strike a balance between the movements and the mining industry, Acción Ecológica demonstrated its satisfaction at the “new urban-rural alliance being born that embraces the principles of ecology.” It pointed out that “the arguments to protect water, strengthen community food sovereignty, vindicate the right to consultation, and the general mistrust of transnational corporations, are now understood and adopted by many Ecuadorians.” It lamented the government’s movement to the right in spite of sovereign positions such as the new constitution and the declaration of illegitimacy of foreign debt. “History shows when a government turns to the right it is very difficult for it to once again turn to the left,” the organization concluded.6 

 

Days later, CONAIE sent an “Open Letter to the World Social Forum,” in which it explained their “opposition and rejection” of Correa’s presence in “a space that has historically constructed alternatives and guarantees to the rights of the people and the right to life and cannot be a tribune for a president with impregnable discriminatory, sexist, and violent positions on racism, machismo, and paternalism.” They alerted the Forum that behind the language of the “citizens’ revolution” was repression and attempts against dignity and human rights, assuring that “the long neoliberal night is present in Ecuador.”7

Arguments in Dispute

The sociologist Alejandro Moreano attempts to analyze the Mining Law in terms of the contradictions of Correa’s government. At the beginning of his presidency Correa assured the people that when the privatized cellular telephone contracts (Spain’s Telefónica and Mexican entrepreneur Carlos Slim’s América Movil)expired, those services would return to the hands of the state. But he then renewed the concessions for 15 additional years. Something similar occurred with the audit of the public external debt: after it became apparent that there were illicit proceedings in its formation last November, Correa retracted his initial idea of not repaying it.

“From the beginning, the government has acclimated us to a policy in which reforms are implemented through a neoliberal method, or vice-versa. One from the right and another from the left. How can we understand such discrepancies? Are the leftist measures merely smokescreens for those of the right?” asks Moreano.8 At first glance, it seems only time can answer these questions. In any event, various analysts maintain that one of the central problems is that the government’s party, Acuerdo Pais, has at its core important divergences from the left and a sizeable right-wing voice.

The Mining Law was rigorously analyzed by the social movements. In the “antecedents” section of one of the bodies of work, we are reminded that foreign investment in Ecuador has always focused on extraction and agro-exports and that international division of labor condemns the country to be an exporter of primary goods and resources such as cacao, coffee, bananas, and others, without any industrialization. “For every dollar that stays in the country, four have been yielded for foreign investments.”9

After the Second World War a process of import substitution industrialization (ISI) started. There were nationalizations and a Welfare State was established. But the country continued supporting itself based on exports of one or two primary products, making it very vulnerable to economic fluctuations. In the last few years Ecuador’s main export has been oil, which nevertheless has been unable to stimulate national production of capital goods or crude derivatives exports. “The exportation of oil has arrived as an inexhaustible source of social and environmental damage.”10

Also in question is the fact that the law has been approved by the Legislative Commission or “Little Congress,” a transitory organization put in place until the general elections take place in April under the banner of the new constitution. In the same vein, critics maintain that the Mining Law “does not correspond to the national vision that the constitution of October 2008 lays out,” in large part because “it disrupts the balance among communities and thus impedes the free exercise of rights,” and “corrupts the multi-ethnic character of the Ecuadorian state.”11

In terms of the Mining Law articles, Article 2 (Applications) does not include community members as it does with public, mixed, or private figures. Article 3 (Supplementary Norms) incurs the omission of not pointing out “the supremacy of the political constitution and the international instruments of human and environmental rights.”12 

 

Article 15 (Public Utility) is one of the most questioned articles. Acción Ecológica’s report points out that it is not explicitly established that the concessions “should never again compromise the right to water, community food sources, protected natural areas, indigenous territories, and lands dedicated to the production of food. Mario Melo, lawyer for the Pachamama Foundation, emphasizes that by declaring mining activity to be a “public utility,” the constitution is authorizing the expropriation of lands in indigenous territories “by simply citing a supposed collective benefit.”

At the same time Article 16 (State Dominion over Mines and Oil Fields) places “national interests” at the forefront. These national interests are of course defined by the government in power, and according to its critics, will respond to “the requirements of fiscal income, which will end up imposing permanent damage to the well-being of those who live in the country.”13

Article 28 (Prospection Freedoms) states that any business “has authorization to liberally prospect to search for mineral substances,” which allows them to do mining studies on community and indigenous lands (in Ecuador there are 14 nationalities and 18 indigenous peoples). Similarly, Article 90 (Special People’s Consultation Proceedings) makes references to said proceedings, which conform to article 398 of the constitution and not article 57. The difference is vast. “In the first it clearly states that if a community or indigenous people oppose prospecting, the issue “will be resolved with the decision of the higher administrative authority.” In the second, the same conflict may be resolved “to conform to the applicable international instruments, among which is the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, signed by Ecuador. The mandatory result of the proceedings must be in accordance with those being consulted in order to undertake said activity.”14

Ultimately, one of the most controversial aspects of the new law is related to respect for both the environment and indigenous territories. Both issues are established within the new constitution but are completely ignored in the Mining Law.

Acción Ecologista concludes that the law “is written in the neoliberal model,” since it favors foreign investment, grants priority to income over social and environmental concerns, the extraction of minerals is put above human rights and affected communities, as well as the conservation of biodiversity and water sources. It also includes the potential opening of protected natural areas, while at the same time “criminalizing protest and the right to exercise resistance.”

According to the report from Acción Ecológica, the state’s object is that mining activity be “an important source of fiscal incomes, which would complement and ultimately replace oil.” Although the policy of increasing state income is defended, it is considered by many that the regressive aspects reinforce Ecuador’s neocolonial dependence. Lastly, and this is very serious, this extraction model further removes itself from the new constitution which claims to defend “a model of human, integral, and holistic development to achieve well-being, with the essential ingredient of nonviolence toward man or nature, with which a purely harmonious relationship should be maintained.

The defenders of the law assure that it will create 300,000 jobs, which is vital to the development of the country, and that there will be no pollution. This cannot be corroborated and differs from Ecudor’s oil-laden past. In either case, strengthening the role of the state seems to be one of the current government’s top priorities.

The total area destined for mining exploration are 5.6 million hectares, which equals roughly 20% of the country’s total area, including national parks and natural reserves granted since the 1980s.

 

Ecuador has never been a mining country, but the eruption of this activity can place it in the same category as its neighbors, particularly Peru. Throughout the entire Andean region mining has led to the pollution of water sources, threatening the existence of thousands of communities. This fact is at the root of the birth of a new generation of social movements.

 

Continental Uproar Against Mining

Mining activity is the main cause of environmental conflict in Latin America. Along the Andean mountain range, there are a number of social movements engaging in permanent actions against the savage exploitation of open-pit mining. Put in perspective, the movement against open-pit mining, in spite of its short life thus far, is growing exponentially.

In Argentina new gold, silver, and copper mines are now functioning. Five more are under construction, and another 140 are being explored. There are 70 towns in 13 provinces affected by large scale mining exploration. There are 5,000 kilometers of the Andean range where companies are setting up base: from the United States, South Africa, Great Britain, Switzerland, and above all Canada, the seat of the main multinationals in the sector.

In 2002, when the Vecinos Autoconvocados de Esquel (self-organized neighborhood group of Esquel) first started to meet, they were the only organization that fought against mining in Argentina. Today there are more than 100 assemblies of self-organized neighborhood groups that have mobilized to denounce the large mining projects undertaken by multinationals. Additionally, they have organized to denounce monoculture farming. These groups are linked through the Union of Citizen Assemblies (UAC).

 

In Chile there has been a prolonged movement against the Pascua Lama Mine. It is a binational project (in Argentina and Chile) of the Canadian company Barrick Gold that is extracting gold and silver. The process uses 370 liters of water per second, blasts 45,000 tons of dynamite into the mountain per day, and has reserves of roughly $20 billion dollars. Until now the project has been blocked by legal issues and the opposition of social movements. The resistance movement, consisting of farmers, indigenous people, and churches, denounced Barrick Gold’s hiding of the fact that the fields were located beneath three glaciers.

Yet it is in Peru where one of the fiercest battles against mining in Latin America is being fought by the largest social organization, CONACAMI (National Confederation of Peruvian Communities Affected by Mining). It is a young organization born in 1999 in response to the “mining boom” that took place in Peru beginning in 1993 under the authoritarian regime of Alberto Fujimori. It consists of 1,650 communities from the coast, mountains, and jungle, and has more than 1,000 leaders currently being pursued by the law.

Peru has become the world’s largest silver producer, third in tinand zinc, fourth in lead and copper, and fifth in molybdenum and gold. The minerals make up 45% of Peruvian exports, but mining activity accounts for merely 4% of the state’s income and 1% of the active population. Contamination costs the nation 4% of its annual GDP (Gross Domestic Product). It is estimated that nearly a quarter of the nation’s area, roughly 25 million hectares, has been granted to mining companies.

Ecuador can be seen in the same light. On the one hand, the social and environmental conflicts of the 90s may continue to grow, as CONAIE has already proclaimed. The violation of indigenous rights and their territories “will make the projects unviable,” the organization warned mining companies, since the Mining Law violates article 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO), which recognizes collective rights.15 But Correa has a 70% approval rating and will emerge victorious in the general elections due to take place at the end of April with the seal of the new constitution.

End Notes

  1. Kintto Lucas, ob. cit.
  2. Memorandum 3 of the CONAIE, 20 Jan. 2009, at www.conaie.org.
  3. From the Ecuadorian Newspaper Hoy, 7 January 2009, at www.hoy.com.ec.
  4. Kintto Lucas, ob cit.
  5. “CONAIE to the national and international public opinion,” 12 January 2009 at www.conaie.org.
  6. “The Plight of the Protests Against Mining,” Acción Ecológica, Quito, 24 January 2009.
  7. “Open Letter to the World Social Forum, at www.conaie.org.
  8. Kintto Lucas, ob. cit.
  9. “Report of the Mining Law,” ob. cit.
  10. Idem.
  11. Mario Melo ob cit.
  12. “Report of the Mining Law,” ob. cit.
  13. Idem.
  14. Mario Melo, ob cit.
  15. “Mining and Attempts Against the Right to Education,” CONAIE, 6 de marzo de 2009.

 

 

Translated for the Americas Program by Eliot Brockner.

Raúl Zibechi is an international analyst for Brecha of Montevideo, Uruguay, lecturer and researcher on social movements at the Multiversidad Franciscana de América Latina, and adviser to several social groups. He writes the monthly “Zibechi Report” for the Americas Program (www.americasprogram.org).

To reprint this article, please contact americas@ciponline.org. The opinions expressed here are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the CIP Americas Program or the Center for International Policy.

 

Sources

 

CONAIE (Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador): www.conaie.org.

Conflictos y resistencia frente a la actividad minera,” en Acción Ecológica, www.accionecologica.org.

CONACAMI: www.conacami.org.

“Informe sobre el proyecto de Ley de Minería,” en Acción Ecológica, www.accionecologica.org.

Kintto Lucas, “El indigenismo en pie de lucha,” semanario Brecha, 30 de enero de 2009.

Mario Melo, “Cinco razones jurídicas para oponerse a la nueva Ley Minera,” en revista Petropress No. 13, enero 2009, www.cedib.org.

 

Movimientos sociales de Ecuador: www.llacta.org.

 

 

Ecuador: Mining Protests Marginalized, But Growing January 23, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Environment, Latin America.
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Written by Jennifer Moore    www.upsidedownworld.org
Wednesday, 21 January 2009

ImageOn Tuesday, nation-wide protests over large scale metal mining called by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) demonstrated growing, broad-based participation. Roughly 12,000 people from indigenous, environmentalist, human rights, campesino and rural water organizations participated in diverse actions across eleven provinces of the small Andean nation.

Taking place only a few days after the popular President Rafael Correa celebrated two years into his first mandate, government and media reactions aimed to diminish the day’s significance. The press and government insisted that protests were poorly attended trying to infer that national consensus has been reached over a new mining law.

Ecuador has been an oil producer for over forty years. Although large scale metal exploration has been ongoing since the early 90s, no project has yet reached production. Mining activities are currently suspended until the new law is passed.

Attempts to minimize conflicts aim to clear the path for largely Canadian transnational corporations to bring gold and copper finds into production. Future mining revenues are promoted as the next source of state revenue for recently expanded social programs.

ImageThousands protest in the central highlands

Particularly strong participation took place in the central highlands where around 9,000 indigenous people shut down transportation along the Panamerican Highway in the provinces of Cotopaxi and Tungurahua.

In Cotopaxi, men and women of all ages maintained blockades in high spirits animated by jokes and even laughter as they faced police and angry bus drivers. These demonstrations passed without serious incident.

While Cotapaxi is not the focal point of major mineral exploration, indigenous people in the area showed solidarity with communities in other parts of the highlands and the Amazon affected by large-scale metal mining. Defence of their right to water, enshrined in Ecuador’s newly approved constitution, unites them.

Nancy, a young woman from the community of San Juan, emphasized the importance of access to clean water for indigenous communities. “In San Juan, we already have poor access to water. Without water, what can we do?”

ImagePresident of the CONAIE Marlon Santi pointed out that the “majority of mining concessions are on indigenous and campesino lands.” He also challenged President Correa’s program of “change,” saying that “the people who grow potatoes, who grow maize, who live in the Amazon and the mangroves, we are where change is coming from.”

Santi added that today’s mobilizations shows that the opposition to mining is not relegated to “four nobodies,” as Correa has charged.

Protesters violent and subversive

However, while government declarations and media coverage downplayed the day of action, they also portrayed activists as subversive and police as victims.

The President and the Minister of Government Fernando Bustamante were quoted by various national press saying that the indigenous confederation is trying to destabilize Correa whose popularity hovers around 70%. These unfounded allegations are based on the fact that the national indigenous movement has played an important role in the overthrow of two past governments, most recently in 2001.

The CONAIE emphatically denies that this was part of their objectives. Rather, the day of action was carried out in the spirit of building alliances between urban and rural organizations, as well as indigenous and non-indigenous communities. Demands focused on the need for greater democracy and respect for the collective rights of communities.

ImageBut media coverage emphasized injuries and arrests, emphasizing injuries sustained by eleven police in isolated confrontations with protesters. Police forces were more than doubled Tuesday and came into conflict with activists during efforts to reopen highway transportation north of the capital and in the Province of Imbabura.

“At the end of the day, we are always painted as the bad guys,” says Janeth Cuji, Director of Communication for the CONAIE. The CONAIE reported ten arrests as well as two hospitalized with injuries. They added that several buses of activists were held back from attending demonstrations taking place in Quito and denounced heavy police presence saying that “repression and detentions aim to silence voices in defence of life.”

Various Ecuadorian human rights and urban-based organizations also denounced the detentions. They expressed their solidarity with demands for debate over the country’s dependence on extractive industries considering the social and environmental costs of large scale metal mining.

A long term struggle

Tuesday’s mobilization is also seen as just one more step in lengthy struggles by communities already affected by large scale mining.

These groups, many of which have been struggling against mining at the local level for years, first coalesced in a national movement shortly following Correa’s inauguration in 2007. Their key aim was that Correa declare Ecuador free of large scale metal mining. Most recently, ongoing efforts have taken place in protest of the new mining law which they say privileges transnational companies.

Within the last two weeks in the South of Ecuador, three days of road blockades were sustained in the Province of Azuay followed by a six day hunger strike in the provincial capital of Cuenca with participation from the highlands and the Southern Amazon. Demands focused on dialogue with the government and reiterated opposition to gold and copper mining in headwaters in high wetlands (paramos) and Amazonian rainforests. As a result of these earlier actions, two activists remain imprisoned and many others face charges.

Yet despite further anticipated repression this week, around 2,000 people from across the province joined a peaceful march Tuesday. A wider range of organizations and communities participated than has been seen for about a year and a half. The demonstration concluded with a pampamesa, or a mass communal lunch, in the city’s central park.

Nidia Soliz from the Peoples’ Health Movement of Cuenca outlines some persistent concerns with the new law.

She observes that it gives top priority to mining activities by declaring them a public utility in all phases of development, guaranteeing access to infrastructure, water, and energy for companies which could come in conflict with needs of local communities and lead to expropriation of their land. She concludes, “The bill pertains to an economic objective of the government, as well as the greater interests of multinational organizations and transnational mining companies, regardless of possible impacts on remarkable biodiversity and headwaters, as well as community health and well being.”

Despite growing dissent, the government says community needs will be met and that the new mining law is ready for final approval this week. But hopes that those involved will simply accept that decisions around mining are already made is wishful thinking. Instead, it appears that a broader movement based upon the defence of water, nature and collective rights now enshrined in the country’s constitution is emerging to continue the struggle for more profound changes in Ecuador.

Daniel Denvir contributed reporting from Cotapaxi. Photos are by Daniel Denvir, Klever Calle and Carlos Zorrilla.

Ask the Ecuadorian Government to Protect Human Rights During Upcoming Anti-Mining Demonstration January 23, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Environment, Latin America.
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www.upsidedownworld.org

Written by The Ecuador Solidarity Network   

Monday, 19 January 2009
ImageThe Ecuador Solidarity Network, an organization based in Canada and the United States, is joining human rights and indigenous peoples organizations in calling on President Rafael Correa to respect human rights during nation wide protests against large-scale mining that will begin on Monday January 19th. The protests will spread from the Amazon and reach Quito, Ecuador’s capital, on January 20th.  

Anti-mining protests earlier this month were met with police violence in the Southern provinces of Azuay, Loja, Zamora Chinchipe and Morona Santiago. A number of activists were beaten and detained, and one leader was critically injured after being shot in the head.  

The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and a number of farmer and environmental organizations are protesting the recent approval of a mining law by Congress, opening the country to large-scale metal mining. Canadian mining companies would benefit from many of the concessions.

The CONAIE and other organizations contend that the new law will allow large-scale mining in protected areas and contaminate critical community water supplies. The CONAIE is also protesting government plans to drill for oil in the Yasuni National Park, the rainforest home of two indigenous communities in voluntary isolation.

Following recent statements from the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights (APDH) and the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), the Ecuador Solidarity Network calls on activists around the world to support the human rights of protesters demonstrating against large-scale metal mining in Ecuador.

The CONAIE emphasizes that the demonstrations will be peaceful and calls on President Correa to not use police or military forces against protesters.  

E-mail President Rafael Correa and President of Congress Fernando Cordero and ask that the government take preventative action to ensure that protesters’ human rights are respected.

We also denounce any attempt by right-wing organizations in the U.S. or Canada to opportunistically use the upcoming mobilizations to attack President Correa for motives that have nothing to do with indigenous rights or environmental protection.  

Please send emails to:

 Presidencia de la República, Presidente
Rafael Correa: Rafael.CorreaDelgado@presidencia.gov.ec  and presidencia@presidencia.gov.ec 

Presidencia Legislativa, Presidente de la Comision Legislativa y de Fiscalizacion, Fernando Cordero Cueva: presidencia@asambleaconstituyente.gov.ec 

Please send a carbon copy of the messages to ecuadorsolidarity@gmail.com

Media Contacts:

Ecuador: Jennifer Moore, Ecuador Solidarity Network  (593) 8-877-8928 / jenmoore0901@gmail.com

Canada: Jamie Kneen, Mining Watch  (613) 761-2273

The Two Sides of Rafael Correa’s Government January 14, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Environment, Latin America.
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“From the Equator, from this territory that harbored the Bolivarian struggles, we have come to the Ciudad Libertad to express our jubilation at these past fifty years. And we do so with the same conviction that led us to establish, in our own land, one of the most advanced constitutions in Latin America.

“We have come from this continent reinforced and revived by the social memory that is permitting us to settle the scores of history.

“This settling of scores begins with the genuine vindication of the indigenous population, pillaged, exploited, humiliated, offended and, paradoxically, also used and manipulated. For that reason, today, the Ecuadorian state is pluri-national, it is intercultural, and pursues equality in its diversity; in other words, the most authentic execution of true democracy…In the same way, with the African-Ecuadorian people which, like the Cuban people, are the drum and the flag of our homeland.”

Excerpt from speech by His Excellency Mr. Rafael Correa Delgado, president of the Republic of Ecuador, at the commemoration event for the 50th anniversary of the entry of Commander in Chief Fidel Castro into Havana, at Ciudad Libertad, January 8

and

Ecuador Anti-Mining Blockades Met With Repression, National Mobilization Called for January 20

Written by Daniel Denvir for UpsideDownWorld, Photographs by Ximena Warnaars
Friday, 09 January 2009

ImageThe ongoing conflict over mining in Ecuador escalated this week as blockades shut down highways throughout the country’s Southern Andean highlands and Amazon rainforest, while nationwide protests have been called for January 20.

The government of President Rafael Correa has assumed an aggressive posture, insulting indigenous and environmental activists and pledging to secure approval for a controversial new Mining Law. Canadian companies hold the majority of mining concessions in Ecuador and are pressing for a new law that would allow for large-scale, open pit metal mining.

ImageA number of leaders have been arrested and other protesters were beaten and shot at by police. Campesino and indigenous protesters, who depend on clean water to farm and for drinking water, are demanding that the government shelve President Rafael Correa’s proposed Mining Law, saying that it would be a social and environmental disaster. The rural blockades follow months of regular protests in Quito and other parts of the country.

Protesters also argue that the law contradicts important provisions of the new constitution protecting water, the environment and indigenous peoples’ rights. The document drew international attention for awarding legal rights to nature. The new constitution, approved by popular referendum in September, is the centerpiece of Correa’s first term.

After emergency meetings on January 7, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) called for a national mobilization on January 20, calling the government “dictatorial.” It is unclear whether the January 20 mobilization will spread road blockades to other provinces in central and northern Ecuador. Protesters are demanding a dialogue with central government leaders and for a broad national discussion on mining before any legislation is passed.

Some protesters in the Southern provinces of Zamora Chinchipe and Morona Santiago suspended their blockades for 24 hours in response to the provincial governor’s promise to reach out to Francisco Cordero, the President of the Congresillo, Ecuador’s interim legislature. Other blockades were suspended in anticipation of the nationwide actions.

The blockades began on Monday January 5 in the Southern province of Azuay, cutting off much of the traffic into and out of Cuenca, Ecuador’s third largest city. Over the next few days, the protests spread to the neighboring Andean province of Loja and to the Amazonian provinces of Zamora Chinchipe and Morona Santiago.

ImageIn Giron, Molleturo, Tarqui (Azuay), Limon Indanza (Morona Santiago) and in El Pangui (Zamora Chinchipe) protestors have been beaten or shot by police. Police officials and journalists were released after being briefly detained by campesinos.

On January 6, campesino leader Vicente Zhunio Samaniego was arrested in the Southern province of Morona Santiago, showing up 16 hours later in a hospital with bullet wounds to the head. On January 7, protest leader Miguel Ángel Criollo and his son Orlando were arrested in an early morning raid on the village of Pueblo Nuevo in Azuay province. The newspaper El Universo reports that over fifty police officers from the Special Operations Group (GOE) took part in the raid. When villagers tried to defend the Criollos from arrest, police fired tear gas, forcing the evacuation of a local school.

In the city of Cuenca, police violently repressed protests at the Court of Justice. As six leaders began a hunger strike inside the building, the police attacked a press conference taking place outside the building, arresting Water Board leader Carlos Pérez Guartambel. Police used tear gas to disperse protesters attempting to defend Pérez. Police then forced hunger strikers and four women supporting them out of the Court building, dragging them by their necks. The governor of Azuay denied that Pérez was arrested, and he was freed later that day. The six hunger strikers are now in Cuenca’s San Roque Church.

According to the newspaper El Comercio, Minister of Mines and Petroleum Derlis Palacios said that the government would push forward with the Mining Law. Palacios said that Ecuador “was a poor country that could not afford to just sit on these large resources.” He added that protests were the result of manipulation by indigenous leaders who mislead community members by claiming that mining would harm their access to clean water. Palacios said that the new law would ensure that water sources are protected. Congresillo President Cordero told El Comercio that protesters were using the demonstrations to advance electoral ambitions.

The CONAIE condemned the government’s description of protesters as “criminals and subversive terrorists,” saying that “the only thing we are fighting for is life and dignity for all of Ecuador’s citizens.” The CONAIE that such comments are aimed “to stigmatize [protesters] and prepare public opinion for even more severe repression.”

Correa is coming into increasing conflict with social and indigenous movement activists. On Thursday January 8, the United Labor Front (FUT), Ecuador’s largest labor federation, announced mass protests for a higher minimum wage increase for January 15. They say that Correa’s proposed increase of $18 a month, to $218, is a step back and fails to meet provisions in the new constitution ensuring that all Ecuadorians are paid a living wage.


Ximena Warnaars is an anthropologist and PhD student from the University of Manchester, UK living in Cuenca, Ecuador. Daniel Denvir is a Quito, Ecuador based journalist in the process of moving to Philadelphia, and a 2008 recipient of NACLA’s Samuel Chavkin Investigative Journalism Grant. He is an editor at www.caterwaulquarterly.com.

 

 

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