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“To Get the Gold, They Will Have to Kill Every One of Us First” Tribal Leaders Fight Gold-Hungry Investors February 11, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Ecuador, Energy, Environment, First Nations, Latin America, Mining.
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By Alexander Zaitchik

http://www.alternet.org, February 11, 2013

Ecuadorian officials want to sell gold-laden land to China, but not without a fight from the legendary Shuar tribe.
 Of the thousands of “Avatar” screenings held during the film’s record global release wave, none tethered the animated allegory to reality like a rainy day matinee in Quito, Ecuador.

It was late January 2010 when a non-governmental organization bused Indian chiefs from the Ecuadorean Amazon to a multiplex in the capital. The surprise decampment of the tribal congress triggered a smattering of cheers, but mostly drew stares of apprehension from urban Ecuadoreans who attribute a legendary savagery to their indigenous compatriots, whose violent land disputes in the jungle are as alien as events on “Avatar’s” Pandora.

The chiefs — who watched the film through plastic 3-D glasses perched beneath feathered headdress — saw something else in the film: a reflection. The only fantastical touches they noticed in the sci-fi struggle were the blue beanstalk bodies and the Hollywood gringo savior. “As in the film, the government here has closed the dialogue,” a Shuar chief told a reporter after the screening. “Does this mean that we do something similar to the film? We are ready.”

Three years after “Avatar’s” Quito premiere, declarations of martial readiness are multiplying and gaining volume throughout the tribal territories of Ecuador’s mountainous southeast. The warnings bare sharpest teeth in the Shuar country of the Cordillera del Condor, the rain forest mountain range targeted by President Rafael Correa for the introduction of mega-mining.

In recent years, the quickening arrival of drills and trenchers from China and Canada has provoked a militant resistance that unites the local indigenous and campesino populations. The stakes declared and the violence endured by this battle-scarred coalition is little-known even in Ecuador, where Correa has made muscular use of state security forces in arresting activists and intimidating journalists who threaten his image as an ecologically minded man-of-the-people. This repression has only intensified in the run-up to Correa’s expected reelection on Feb. 17.

My guide to this simmering “Avatar” in the Amazon was a 57-year-old Shuar chief named Domingo Ankuash. Like many elder Shuar, Ankuash does not appear to be blustering when he says he will die defending his ancestral lands in the province of Morona-Santiago, which borders Peru. Early in my month traveling the Condor, he took me deep into the country for which he is prepared to lay down his life. After a steep two hours’ hike from his village, we arrived at a forest clearing of densely packed earth. Through the trees and hanging vines, a 40-foot waterfall replenished a deep rock-strewn lagoon. The cascade is one of thousands in the Condor cordillera, a rolling buffer between the cliffs of the eastern Andes and the continental flatness of the Amazon basin.

“We have been coming to these sacred cascades since before the time of Christ,” said Ankuash, preparing a palm-leaf spread of melon and mango. “The government has given away land that is not theirs to give, and we have a duty to protect it. Where there is industrial mining, the rivers die and we lose our way of life. They want us to give up our traditions, work in the mines, and let them pollute our land. But we will give our lives to defend the land, because the end is the same for us either way.”

Beside the bright melons, Ankuash unfolds a frail map of the Condor to come. The industrial future overlays the natural present in a dense geometric circuitry that blots out the region’s rivers and mountains with a patchwork of oddly patterned boxes, as if some madcap Aguirre had gerrymandered the jungle. Rafael Correa’s PAIS Alliance was elected in 2007 with heavy indigenous support, but the map’s vision is the president’s own. His economic development plan, enshrined in a series of controversial laws and strategic declarations, centers on prying Ecuador’s southern rain forests of their rich placer deposits of base and precious metals, which fleck the Condor’s soils and loams like the stars of the universe. Ecuador, Correa has declared, can no longer be “a beggar sitting atop a sack of gold.”

To help him grab these shiny metals, Correa has invited foreign mining firms to deforest and drill much of the country’s remaining pristine forests. Not far from where Ankuash and I are sitting, a Chinese joint venture led by the China Railway Corp. is building infrastructure for an open-sky copper mine with the “Lord of the Rings”-sounding name of Mirador. To the north and east of the Chinese concession, the Canadian gold giant Kinross is prepping its 39 lots, including the envy of the industry, Fruta del Norte, believed to be Latin America’s largest deposit of high-grade gold. These projects are merely the first wave; others wait in the wings. Together they threaten more than the Shuar way of life and the sustainable agricultural and tourist economies of Ecuador’s southern provinces. The Condor is a hot spot of singular ecological wealth and a major source of water for the wider Amazon watershed to the east. What happens there is of global consequence.

But there’s no international outcry on the horizon to concern Rafael Correa and his commercial partners abroad. What they face is a local security problem. It is the same security problem known to regional colonial powers dating back to the Inca. As Correa has always known, and as the Chinese are learning, the Condor is ancestral home to 8,000 Shuar, the most storied warrior tribe in the annals of colonialism in the New World.

“The strategy is to unite the Shuar like the fingers of a fist,” Ankuash tells me as I prepare to dive into the icy waters of the lagoon below. “The forest has always given us everything we need, and we are planning to defend it, as our ancestors would, with the strength of the spear. To get the gold, they will have to kill every one of us first.”

*   *   *

Among the tribes of the Amazon, only the Shuar successfully revolted against Inca and Spanish occupation. The Incan emperor Huayana Capac led the first attempted conquest of Shuar territory in 1527, an adventure that ended with his rump army bestowing gifts in retreat. The first European to follow Capac’s footsteps, Hernando de Benavente, ran briskly ahead of Shuar arrows back to Lima, where he complained to the Royal Court of “the most insolent [tribe] that I have seen in all the time that I have traveled in the Indies and engaged in their conquest.” Years of gift-bearing Spanish peace missions eventually won Shuar acceptance of trading posts at Maca and Sevilla del Oro. But these were never tranquil. “The Shuar are a very warlike people [and] are killing Spaniards every day,” observed a visitor to the outposts in 1582. “It is a very rough land, having many rivers and canyons, all of which in general have gold in such quantity that the Spaniards are obliged to forget the danger.” Some Shuar, he noted, worked the mines in exchange for goods, but did so “with much reluctance.”

The most famous case of Shuar “insolence” occurred in 1599, when the Spanish governor of Maca demanded a gold tax from local Indians to fund a celebration of the coronation of Philip III. The night before the tax was due, Shuar armies slaughtered every adult male in the Spanish hamlets and surrounded the governor’s home. They tied the governor to his bed and used a bone to push freshly melted gold down his throat, laughing and demanding to know if he had finally sated his thirst. According to the Jesuit priest and historian Juan de Velasco, the “the horrendous catastrophe” at Maca caused “insolences and destructions” by the “barbaric nations” up and down the Andean spine of New Spain. For the next 250 years, the Spanish mostly stayed away. Occasional attempts by Jesuit missionaries to reestablish contact were met with a welcome basket of skulls pulled from the shrunken heads of gold-hungry Spaniards.

Most people have heard of the Shuar, even if they don’t realize it. They are the storied Amazonian “head shrinking” tribe. Each of a long succession of enemies have learned firsthand of their tzantza ritual, in which the heads of slain invaders are removed at the collarbone, relieved of their skulls, and shrunk by seasoned boiling in a multi-day ceremony. Tzantza is just one of many rituals rooted in a cosmology of animist spirits. Collectively, these spirits are known as Arutam, a shape-shifting pantheistic godhead whose name loosely translates as “soul power.” Atop a bridge leading to Shuar territory in the southern province of Zamora-Chinchipe, I encountered an oversize statue of Arutam in human form wielding a staff astride a giant toucan, redolent of the dragon-like beasts of “Avatar.”

If James Cameron’s fictional Na’vi of “Avatar” reflect the essence and predicament of one real-world tribe, it’s the Shuar. While they do not expect an action-hero savior to fall from the sky, they recognize that avoiding further bloodshed and protecting the Condor ultimately depends on getting the attention of the wider world, and quickly.

“The world needs to know what is happening in Ecuador, because the destruction of the Condor will have effects for the Amazon, and what affects the Amazon affects the planet as a whole,” said Ankuash. “The world must understand the Condor is not an ordinary patch of jungle.”

*   *   *

The biologist Alfredo Luna walks with a limp and a cane, the legacy of a plane crash in the Condor that killed two of his colleagues nearly 20 years ago. The plane was carrying a team assembled by Conservation International to conduct the first and only systematic study of the Condor’s hydrological system and the abundant flora and fauna it supports. The team’s findings catapulted the Condor into the elite ranks of global hot spots as ranked by conservation significance. A synopsis of these findings is the subject of a slideshow Luna gives around the world in an attempt to catalyze the conservation community. “The Condor combines the diversity of the Andes and the Amazon in the middle of cloud forest,” Luna said one evening at an NGO office in Quito, pausing his presentation on the image of a marsupial species recently discovered in the Condor. “There is more diversity of life in one hectare of the Condor than all of North America combined.”

Luna stresses that his slideshow only hints at the majesty of the Condor’s biodiversity. “Researchers have just scratched the surface,” he said. What is known is that the Condor breathes with more than 2,000 vascular plants and flowers, including 40 unique varieties of orchid. It is home to hundreds of endemic species of birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, dozens of which were new to science when first cataloged by Luna’s team. “Unleashing industrial-scale mining in the region is a catastrophe equal to using the Galapagos Islands as a bombing range,” said the biologist. “Its flora has enormous potential to benefit man. So much of it, we’ve only seen from helicopters. Before we even know what’s there, they’re going to destroy it.”

The Condor’s ecological riches are a consequence of unusual wetness. The mountains of the Condor sit on massive aquifers containing a fair chunk of the continent’s fresh water. This water trickles out of innumerable crevices and pours forth from countless cascades. The streams feed famous rains. The volume of rain produced in the Condor’s water cycle is enormous, says Luna, thanks to a unique commixture of altitudes, endemic soils, and solar and wind patterns. The heavy rainwater feeds dozens of small rivers that wind east into the Rios Zamora and Santiago, which sustain the region’s agricultural economy. These eventually merge with Peru’s Marañón River, a major tributary of the continental Amazonian watershed.

The amount of water pulsing through the Condor, says Luna, makes laughable government and industry claims that large stores of toxic mining waste can be contained in tailing ponds, and that samples of the region’s wildlife can be preserved in greenhouse Arks for future replanting. “The Condor cycle is supported by at least two dozen kinds of fragile soils and vegetation cover,” he said. “This web of microclimates will not survive the violence of major mining. It all begins with the rain and the rivers, and the mining will affect rainfall, drying up and contaminating important hinges in the larger Amazon River system. The fools don’t understand that disturbing one part disturbs the whole.”

*   *   *

Shuar life in the Condor remained largely unchanged until well into the last century. Regular contact with the modern Ecuadorean state began at mid-century, when the government began a settlement program in what it called tierra baldia — “no man’s land.” Thousands of mestizo farmers were moved into the mountains and given plots of land. With them came state schools, paved roads, cattle ranching, artisanal miners and frontier towns. Beginning in the 1960s, a new character began appearing in these frontier towns: the wildcat geologist seeking El Dorado. Drawn by the old myths and encouraged by the new infrastructure, they surveyed the mountains, broke rock, sifted soils and bagged samples. “They always said they were studying the flowers,” remembers an old Shuar woman who served many first-wave geologists at her roadside grill, where she sells fish baked in leaves that sweeten the meat. “They walked around with maps and little axes. They came from many countries.”

The samples they took revived the legend of Condor gold. In the 1990s, the first mining concessions were handed to politically connected firms. The World Bank funded a geological survey of the region that turned up traces of more than 300 minerals. International mining juniors were lining up to find the biggest deposits in 1995 when the country went to war with Peru for the third time in half a century, suspending exploration. The Shuar lived along the disputed border and played an important role in the war, reinvigorating their reputation as the Gurkhas of the Amazon. In multiple Shuar villages, veterans of the war spoke of decapitating Peruvian soldiers they killed in jungle firefights and carrying the heads back home for skinning and shrinking. “The tzantza ceremony protects against us from further invasion and shows that we do not kill lightly,” explained a Shuar veteran named Patricio Taishtiwiram. With a twinkle in his eye, he added, “It also makes us feel like we are winning.”

The foreign mining firms who set up exploratory bases in the Condor after the war probably did not know the tzantza is a living tradition. But they knew enough about the local population to stay low and mask their purpose. “They came in very quiet, always changing names as they grew,” said Tarcisio Juep, a 50-year-old Shuar from a village near the proposed Mirador site. “First it was Gemsa, then Billington, then the Canadian ECSA, and now it’s the Chinese ECSA. They never asked permission. They never explained their plans. Then some years ago they told us they had bought the land, that mining was coming, that they’d give us jobs, that they would be the only jobs. It was a crime in pieces.”

In 2005, Corriente went public with the scale of the Mirador project. The Canadian firm announced it would build an open-pit copper mine dwarfing anything in Ecuador’s history. The mine required hollowing out one of the region’s largest mountains and clear-cutting several others. A massive tailing pond would hold the 200-plus million tons of toxic effluvia generated over the mine’s 18-year lifespan. The site designated for the waste sits half a mile from the Rio Quimi, a tributary of the Rio Zamora, whose waters support the local agricultural economy on their way into the Amazon basin. Roads and bridges are being built for 18-wheel truck traffic to carry hundreds of tons of copper concentrate on a daily nonstop loop between the mine and a port on Ecuador’s Pacific coast. (Such projects receive much of President Correa’s “populist” infrastructure spending.)

Corriente announced its plan coated in absurd assurances that the mine and the waste pool were nothing to fear. The company even claimed that after the mine had closed, the tailing pond could be converted into a “resort lake” for swimming and water sports. Corriente printed up leaflets showing people swimming in the crystal waters of this man-made lake that once contained millions of tons of cancer soup. “They think we are stupid and will believe their children’s stories,” said Ankuash, the Shuar chief. “But even our children can see through them. We know what oil drilling has done in the north of Ecuador. We know what industrial mining does. We are in contact with our indigenous friends in Chile and Peru and have learned from them. We know the companies will come in and take all the minerals, leaving devastation behind. Wherever companies are most active, the communities are weakest. Where people used to help each other, they begin to think only of themselves. Families are not as strong. Correa’s mining policy will be the end of everything. Already the exploratory drills are polluting the water.”

In Tundayme, the community closest to the Mirador site, the old agricultural economy has withered. “The exploratory machines create dirty runoff by drilling huge 7-foot holes,” said Angel Arebelo, a farmer who last year moved to the nearest frontier town to drive a cab. “You can taste it in the rivers of the Quimi Valley. It is just beginning. Eventually everyone here will die from the chemicals.”

“We used to grow our own food, corn and yucca, and sell the rest in Pangui. Now they come here to sell,” said Eva Correa, a young Shuar mother in Tundayme. “Everything is upside down. They took our land away and now we need money, but the company pay is not enough and the work is dangerous. The new model is not working.”

One afternoon, I stopped by ECSA’s two-story mirrored-glass corporate office, which sits at the end of El Pangui’s short and dusty commercial strip. In the lobby, a poster showed Chinese managers and local employees in hard hats working together. Another poster featuring bright green frogs advertised the company’s sponsorship of an environmental-photography contest. I was directed to the office of Ruth Salinas, ECSA’s garrulous light-skinned communications officer. She dismissed the idea that mining would undermine local agricultural and tourism and launched into a rant against the Shuar. “The Indians can’t lecture anyone on the environment!” she huffed. “They hunt, you know? They fish with poison leaves that ruin the rivers. They cut down trees. They only want money from us, but they are not responsible enough to use it. They don’t do anything but grow yucca and drinkchichi beer.”

As I got up to leave, she reached into a box and handed me some ECSA literature. One of the pamphlets had on its cover a pretty indigenous girl in traditional dress, squatting by a stream. Above her it said, “Copper: A New Era for the Nation.”

*   *   *

In October 2006, mestizo and Shuar leaders organized the first action against the introduction of mining in the south: a peaceful march to the Mirador site. The protesters didn’t get far before trucks blocked their path and unloaded dozens of ski-masked men armed with rifles, machetes, sticks, and knives. The organizers of the march were badly beaten. “That was the turning point,” said Ricardo Aucay, a local farmer and leading figure in the local resistance. “The company started the chaos, the mess, the vengeance and the hatred.”

A group of Shuar communities next declared a “mining sweep” of their territory. They gave a Corriente subcontractor until November 1 to vacate the village of Warints, where it had set up a base. When the deadline passed, hundreds of Shuar swept into the camp from the forest side at dawn. They trapped company managers inside while the women and children used long spears of chonta wood to block rescue helicopters from landing. The mining staff was only allowed to leave the following day with their equipment. The Shuar army continued by foot to a site near the main Mirador complex, where they slipped past a military guard and took over the buildings. After a three-day standoff, all of the company’s machines were hauled away on military trucks. The state responded by militarizing the other mining camps. Throughout the area, road protests erupted that blocked mining traffic with burning tires, boulders, and bodies. The protests escalated in response to news that a massive dam and power lines were being built near Macas to provide Mirador with cheap energy. Spreading beyond rural hamlets, a general strike was called throughout the southern provinces.

On November 12, the government of Alfredo Palacio announced a suspension of Corriente’s mining activities and agreed to discuss turning the Condor region into an ecological and tourism reserve. Corriente and its subcontractors simply ignored the decree. On December 1, after the state made clear it was with the company, hundreds of protestors again marched to the Mirador site. While attempting to cut razor wire that had been placed in their path across a narrow bridge, police and private security units attacked. The tear-gas-beclouded battle lasted one hour. Bullets rubber and real ripped through several protestors amid Indian war whoops, chants of “Ecuador!” and old mestizo women crying, “Teach them with your blood, Oh Lord!”

Among the dozens of protestors arrested and beaten was the anti-mining prefect of Zamora-Chinchipe, a Suraguro indian named Salvador Quishpe. Six years later, Quishpe remains in office and organizes with the seven-party alliance contesting Correa in February’s election. “Quito has slowed down payments to the province as punishment for my position on mining,” he told me one afternoon in his home on the outskirts of Zamora. “But money isn’t all. They don’t have enough to pay off the conscience of the entire country. More conflict is coming.”

Those who fought alongside Qichspe echo his conclusion. Vinicio Tibiron was shot through the chest at the bridge protests and expects to be shot at again. “It will be wars throughout the region,” Tibiron told me over a bowl of yucca beer at his remote Shuar village of Ayantaz. “They will send police and military, and we will gather our weapons. Outsiders have always called us savages because they could not conquer us. If they continue, their actions will compel us to show them savagery, to act like the Indians we are.”

Sitting near and observing us is a thick middle-aged woman named Mercedes Samarent, herself a veteran of several violent clashes. “They will be fighting all of us,” she said, holding up a machete. “The men have their weapons, and we have ours.”

*   *   *

Rafael Correa was elected president in the weeks following the bloody bridge protest. Upon taking his oath, his left-wing PAIS Alliance fulfilled a campaign promise and convened an assembly to draft a new constitution, Ecuador’s twentieth. Burning questions of indigenous rights and environmental protection, it seemed, would be addressed democratically before the entire nation.

The constituent assembly gathered in the western town of Montecristi toward the end of Correa’s first year in office and ratified 500 articles. Among them were reforms allowing the president to run for a second term and dissolve Congress. But the bits that made international news, and promised a resolution to the mining conflict in the south, was the surprise enshrining of the Indian concept of sumak kawsay, or “good living in harmony with nature.” Ecuador’s new constitution also formalized the rights of nature itself. It was with nature’s new constitutional rights in mind that the assembly temporarily suspended all mining activity until the passage of a new mining law, which the president promised soon.

Correa, meanwhile, had pivoted away from the indigenous rights rhetoric of his presidential campaign. In televised speeches, he dismissed Indians as backward “donkey-riders” who were blocking access to the country’s “pot of gold.” Fatal road protests from Zamora to Quito flared back up as it became clear that Correa’s forthcoming mining and water bills would ratify and expand industrial mining and water privatization. After running clashes with police in which a Shuar schoolteacher was killed, the government attempted and failed to shut down the Shuar radio station, Arutam.

In January 2009, Correa reactivated hundreds of mining permits and granted foreign companies access to indigenous territory and resources in any projects he deemed “in the national interest.” All of this occurred just before the start of the Mining World Fair in Ontario, where Correa administration officials told the gathered, “In Ecuador, large-scale exploration has begun.”

The primary target for this message was and remains China. Ecuador is a serial defaulter with a radioactive credit rating, and Correa’s entire economic program is dependent on loans from China in return for wide access to its minerals. As in Venezuela and Bolivia, China has become a happy lender of last resort, offering Quito a credit line of up to $10 billion in long-term, low-interest loans collateralized with the stuff in the ground. Where Western development banks once attached strings of political, economic and regulatory reform, the China Development Bank wants the resources. Toward this end, China has become Latin America’s biggest banker with $75 billion loaned since 2005 — which is more than the World Bank, the IDB and the U.S. Export-Import Bank combined. Beijing’s top regional borrowers are Ecuador and Venezuela, where Hugo Chavez has described his nation’s oil as “at the service of China.” As of this writing, Ecuador’s debt to China approaches a quarter of its GDP.

Mirador is just one of a number of recent Chinese strategic investments in Latin American mineral reserves. The firms Zijin, Minmetals and Chinalco have snatched up the largest copper mines in Chile, Peru and Mexico. But Mirador is the prize. The concession is estimated to hold up to 11 billion tons of copper, with a large secondary store of gold. Adding another layer of strategic depth to the holding, the contract includes rights to the waste rock, possibly a signal of Chinese expectations that the site contains uranium and even molybdenum, a coveted rare earth suggestive of Avatar’s unobtainium.  Even before estimates had been made of Mirador’s bounty, Chinese gentlemen are said to have lurked among Zamora’s dirt-floor provincial gold markets, examining bags of rock and sand brought in by small-scale miners in rubber boots, who understood the Chinese had interests beyond their ken.

*   *   *

On the morning of my return north to Quito, I attended an environmentally themed panel discussion in a swank downtown hotel. Vandana Shiva, the globetrotting Indian anti-GMO and water-rights activist, was the star. Shiva had just returned from an official tour of Rafael Correa’s showcase conservation project, Yusani National Park. Flanked by the leaders of Ecuador’s largest indigenous groups, Shiva praised the president for his vision and happily announced her acceptance of a post as “goodwill ambassador” to Yasuni. Her comments were more suited to an international audience than an Ecuadorean one. She seemed taken aback when local activists challenged her on Correa’s mining policy and an emerging corporate police state in the southern provinces. Shiva isn’t alone in praising Correa without knowing much about his policies. John Perkins, author of “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man,” penned a column for CommonDreams.com gushing about a “new consciousness” in Correa’s Ecuador that “honors the dream of the people of the forests.”

The indigenous groups that supported Correa in 2007 do not share Perkins’ enthusiasm. Nor does the seven-party left-wing alliance campaigning against him. The leading figure of this alliance is Alberto Acosta, Correa’s former minister of mines and the first president of the 2008 constitutional assembly. “There is nothing new in Correa’s development plan for the next century. He has simply replaced Uncle Sam with Uncle Chen,” Acosta told me after a campaign stop in Zamora. “He cites the dependency school theorists, but his idea is the same center-periphery economic model of exporting raw materials. The government is thinking short-term about sustaining its social programs and political position at the expense of long-term sustainable industries. There’s a modern parallel to the Conquistadors, who gave the indigenous mirrors for gold. It’s happening again.”

Those who have organized against Correa’s policies have not fared well. If they’re lucky, they are merely harassed. More than 200 other non-violent activists end up in court and face serious jail time. “Like a dictator, everyone in government repeats his pro-development themes and slogans: Responsible mining, man over nature, Indians versus progress,” said Fernanda Solis, a weary-eyed campaign coordinator for the Quito group Clinica Ambiental. “There is no independent judiciary. The three powers of government are acting with Correa and everyone knows it. Because Correa represents the left, opposing him opens you up to the charge of supporting the U.S., or the old right that bankrupted everyone. He’s betrayed the new constitution and proven himself a neoliberal with redistributive touches. He’s avoided pacts with the U.S. but has sold the country to China.”

Last March, Solis helped organize a 370-mile march from Zamora to Quito under the banner, “For water, for life, for the dignity of the people.” Seven thousand people walked boisterously under enormous flags of indigenous rainbows and Popular Front red. Correa’s government issued the permit request only after he organized a counter-protest to meet the marchers in Quito. In a radio address that described anti-mining Indians as tools of “the old right,” Correa mobilized his supporters against what he warned was an indigenous-led coup attempt.

Amid stacks of reports in her cluttered office, I asked Solis about the upcoming election, as well as the narrowing political route open to the opposition through international forums such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

“Correa will win reelection and nothing will change,” she said. “Like the Mapuches in Chile, it is going to get violent.”

*   *   *

When I last saw Domingo Ankuash, he was celebrating the birth of his latest grandson, whose name is Espada, or sword, but which he defined with a flourish as lanza de Guerra. He was also organizing two summits of anti-mining forces, including a meeting of Shuar and their ancestral enemies, the Achuar, living on both sides of the Peru-Ecuador border. The first summit concluded with a statement citing the 2008 Constitution and urging the world to take notice: “We warn the country and the world that the government intends to militarize the Amazon region to promote the interests of mining and oil companies. The Cordillera del Condor and the rest of our territories are inalienable, indefeasible, and we state our decision to defend them to the end.” Similar declarations continue to emerge like smoke signals from across the Condor. A recent statement of the Yaupi village declares, “We will not take a step backward in defending our territories. Interlopers will be submitted to the punishment of our ancestors. Any such bloodshed will be on the Government’s hands.”

The hour of renewed escalation may be near. Last month, Ecuador’s indigenous organizations filed legal action in Ecuadorean courts; they are currently preparing another suit for international bodies citing conventions on indigenous consultation. Both are seen as acts of desperation, final attempts at a peaceful solution few expect. The state, meanwhile, is already spending China’s money, and developing budgets on the expectation of more to come. Other international mining firms, having been told Ecuador’s south is open for business, are lining up on the door.

The Shuar are not without an alternative plan. They say they can develop the region sustainably with agriculture, small-scale ranching, dairy, and regulated small-scale traditional mining. “Industrial mining is not sustainable,” said Ankuash. “The gold and the copper will be gone in a few years, leaving behind nothing but poisoned earth for our people. We can have an economy here without destroying nature and the culture. We are open to the world. Let the people come here and see the native way — the bears, the monkeys, the trees, the cascades.”

And the visions. Some Shuar villages have taken advantage of growing Western interest in ayahuasca, the potent hallucinogen and healing plant used throughout the Amazon. As we walked back from the waterfall to Domingo’s village, I saw what looked like an apparition: a young blonde woman in a white cotton dress sitting by the river directly under a beam of sunshine. She had traveled from Berlin for a week-long ayahuasca regimen under the guidance of a local Shuar shaman named Miguel Chiriap. She pointed me down a nearby path, at the end of which I found to a large open-air structure of wood and thatch. Sitting on one of a dozen pillows arranged in a circle was a young herbalist from Hull, England, named David. One of several westerners at the retreat, he was paying hundreds of dollars a week to work with Chiriap, he glowed with the kind of serenity earned from drinking ayahuasca 15 consecutive nights. He was surprised and saddened to learn he was sitting in the middle of a soon-to-be exploited mining concession. “It would be a shame to see all this ruined,” he said. “It’s paradise, isn’t it?”

The government continues to exploit the promise of paradise even as it prepares to annihilate the reality. Police cars and tourism posters in Los Encuentros, the company town of Kinross Gold, display scenes of nature above the slogan “Jewel of the Amazon.” When I met with the mayor of El Pangui, a nervous little yes-man from Correa’s ruling alliance, he dutifully muttered industry lies while sitting beneath yellowing tourism posters touting the area’s pristine forests, roaring cascades, dew-kissed orchids, and smiling Indians.

The dissonance between Ecuador’s tourism pitch and the imminent destruction of the south followed me back to Mariscal, Quito’s hostel district. There, a Jumbotron lords above the clubs and cafes day and night, beckoning backpackers south with high-definition images of happy natives and brightly plumed birds of paradise. “This,” declares the a slogan on continuous loop, “is Ecuador.”

I spent much of my last day in Ecuador drinking coffee at a café with a good view of this Jumbotron. After a month in the south, the slick nature montage appeared to me as the billboards in dystopian science fiction, a sunny, high-tech tourism version of “War Is Peace,” or Latin versions of the electronic messages projected into the dark, rainy worlds of “Blade Runner” and “Children of Men.” I was pulled out of this reverie by the appearance on the screen of a giant pixilated toucan. With wings spread wide, the bird reminded me of the Arutam statue above the bridge in Zamora-Chinchipe. As told to me by a Shuar shaman named Julio Tiwiram, the image of Arutam and the toucan comes from a bit of tribal folklore dating to first-contact with the Conquistadors.

Arutam, who lives in the rivers, the trees, the fish and the flowers, would also like to recline, Zeus-like, on a golden throne high above the mountaintop mists. One day, foreigners “with beards and large eyes” came into the area seeking food. But what they really coveted was Arutam’s golden throne. After eating their fill, the strangers searched for Arutam’s treasure. To thwart them, the spirit hid the throne deep inside the mountains. He told the Shuar to stay vigilant, that the strangers must be kept out, by force if necessary. The bearded men could not be trusted, he said. They would take everything and leave them nothing with which to live. He warned them that though he hid the gold, they would one day return. Arutam then mounted a giant toucan, looked in the direction of the Condor’s highest peak, and flew away.

Alexander Zaitchik is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, NY. 

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: A Philosophical Analysis December 23, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador Politics, History, Government, Culture, Ecuador Writing, Ecuador: A Philosophical Analysis.
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 (My political writing, I freely admit, has a schizophrenic character.  When I am attempting to place an article in a mainstream publication, I have no choice to try to “lay it between the lines.”  My major achievement in this respect was the oped piece of mine on free trade published by the Los Angeles Times in October of 2005.  In writing to “family and friends,” I am much more free to be explicit about my political revolutionary socialism, but I tone it down there as well – don’t want to turn people off with Marxist terminology [sadly, and for reasons which are too complicated to go into here, this is the reality].  However, I often write for the Marxist-Humanist periodical, “News and Letters,” and it is here where I feel under no compulsion to censor myself.  See for yourself the difference in style and content in these various efforts.)

 

ECUADOR ANALYSIS (June 2003) for News and Letters

 

What is occurring in Ecuador today is a classic example of the fate of philosophically rudderless progressive political movements.  It is characterized by the confusion and bickering within the ranks of the governing coalition (the Patriotic Society Party, organized by Gutiérrez, and Pachakutik, the political wing of the Indigenous movement,), but, above all, by the opportunism of the Right and its capacity to exploit philosophic debility through cooptation.

 

Colonel Gutiérrez’s dramatic and decisive electoral victory of November 2002 was nothing less than an expression of massive popular discontent with the neo-Liberal status quo.  His position as a viable presidential candidate in the first place arose directly and exclusively from his support of the aborted popular coup d’etat of January 2000, that was the culmination of decades of intense political organizing within the Indigenous communities.  The uprising was in response to a government that had overseen a major banking collapse which caused the loss of capital equal to the nation’s annual GNP and that was in the process of accelerating the implementation of the IMF’s economic plan for the country.  The demands of the movement (which was lead by the Indigenous and campesino communities but included the support of labor and other progressive social organizations) included a moratorium on payment of the external debt, and end to privatization, freezing utilities costs, fundamental restructuring of the nation’s political institutions through popular assemblies, and the reclaiming of sovereignty over the military base at Manta, which is in the hands of the U.S. military.

 

Both Pachakutik, which was in formal electoral coalition with Gutiérrez, and the Marxist-Leninist backed Movement for Popular Democracy (MPD), which backed the Gutiérrez candidacy, based their support on written and signed agreements that reflected the demands of January 2000.

 

Gutiérrez’s drift to the right began immediately after his stunning victory in the first electoral round (the pundits had him coming in fourth or fifth).  As with so many progressive politicians who begin to taste real power, he felt the immediate need to “assure” the investing community that had nothing to worry about from a Gutiérrez presidency.  Many of his supporters, with the naiveté that is a product of philosophical vagueness, saw this as a necessary “tactical” maneuver.  They should not have been surprised, however, when his first act as president was to worship at the shrine of Bush and the IMF.

 

Five months into the Gutiérrez presidency, both the government and, to a degree, the Indigenous and social movements, are in a state of disarray.  There have been scandals, nepotism, corruption, ministerial resignations, and a total of thirty-one strikes and work stoppages that have included teachers, public health workers, civil servants and oil workers in the public sector, and workers in agriculture and transportation in the private sector.

 

The advancement of the neo-Liberal economic agenda and the alignment with Bush and Uribe on the Colombia question are now fixed policies.  The pathetic ideology that Gutiérrez employs to mask his treasonous adventure speaks of including all Ecuadorians in the sharing of power, again a traditional approach when so-called progressives take power (e.g., Papandreou in Greece, Mitterrand in France, the NDP in Ontario, Canada). Thus he has given the socially oriented ministries (education, health, social welfare, etc.) to the progressives and the economic ministries (finance, international trade, etc.) to the Right (the chief of whom is Mauricio Pozo, Minister of the Economy, longtime Central Bank functionary and neo-Liberalism true believer).  Guess who has all the power, influence and budget.

 

There has been some bitter sweetness to all this.  Nina Picari of Pachakutik, a prominent and respected Indigenous leader, is Secretary of State, to my knowledge the first Indigenous woman ever to hold such a position anywhere.   The sweetness is to see an Indigenous person in traditional dress, representing a nation on the international scene, where she is taking leadership on the question of human right for Indigenous peoples.  She is no Colin Powell.  The bitterness comes from the fact that she lends credibility to a corrupt government that is certain to taint her own credibility in the future and contribute to disunity within her own movement.  The same can be said of long time Indigenous leader and fighter, Luis Macas of Pachakutik, who as Minister of Agriculture is making attempts to stop the flow of communal lands to agribusiness; and Wilma Salgado, who, as head of the banking insurance entity, is taking concrete steps to bring a degree of justice to those who lost their life savings.

 

Those who integrate themselves with apparently progressive governments or popular fronts usually do so based upon the naïve believe that they can do more “good” from within than from without.  What they end up achieving is confusion and conflict within the movements they represent.  They fail to recognize that it is the masses in motion, not leaders from above, that initiate fundamental social change.  In effect, they separate themselves not only from their initial base support, but also from libratory philosophy.

 

Marx spoke to this in his scathing critique (Critique of the Gotha Program) of the unification of the two German socialist tendencies (one of which was considered to be Marxist) based upon bourgeois and reformist principles with respect to the questions of labor, nationalism and the state; Marx re-enunciated the essential themes of true liberation from the oppression of capital: “the need to uproot the state machinery, the state form, to pose an international not a national viewpoint, the vision of the nonstate to be, ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,’ and the inseparable relation of theory and organization …”[i]  The adoption of

 

programs of contradictory and incorrect principles render such tendencies which adopt them at

best irrelevant and at worst counter-revolutionary.

 

Pachakutik has recently reaffirmed its support of and participation in the Gutiérrez government. 

It is doubtful, in the light of those who have the real power within the government, that this will be

sustained much longer.  However, the longer it is, the greater the damage to popular movements.


[i] Gogol, Eugene, “The Concept of Other in Latin American Liberation: Fusing Emancipatory Philosophic Thought and Social Revolt,” (Lexington Books, 2002) p. 363.  I highly recommend this important book by the former managing editor of News and Letters.  It takes a sweeping view of the Latin American scene, and speaks to the various dead end paths taken by failed revolutionaries, from Cuba to Nicaragua to Central America, etc.

 

 

 

Ecuador: The Siege Goes On December 23, 2008

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(After Mahuad was ousted and Noboa took over, a period of stunned silence over the betrayed near-revolution ensued.  However, with the same economic policies in place, protest was sure to break out soon; and when it did, I was “on the spot” to report to family and friends.  Maybe here is a good place for me to define what is meant by neo-Liberal economic policies.  We can trace modern day neo-Liberalism back to the 1973 (Sept. 11!) U.S. (CIA) supported, Pinochet led, military coup against the democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile.  Pinochet brought in Chicago Economist Milton Friedman to restructure the country’s economy.  It was what is usually and euphemistically referred to as “belt-tightening,” when a more apt metaphor, in my opinion, would be “neck strangulation.”  I compare it to that era in medicine when it was thought that cures could be achieved through blood-letting.  The major elements of neo-Liberal economics are threefold: privatization of utilities, natural resources and whatever else the government can get away with selling to the private sector; reduction in government funded social programs (health, welfare, education) and employee benefits; and the elimination of barriers to capital crossing national boundaries (i.e., free trade) with a concomitant bolstering of the barriers that prevent human beings from crossing from one border to another.  These policies are usually accompanied by bank “reforms” that usually end up in major scandals where national treasuries are looted and monetary policies that serve a similar function.

 

We are now almost exactly one year past the failed near revolution of 2000. New protests have broken out.)

 

Quito, 03 February 2001

 

Ecuadorian government tries to intimidate Indigenous groups

 

On the night of Wednesday the 31st of January, a truck full of food draws up to the gates of the

 

Salesian University in Quito. After a short discussion with two members of Congress, who press the police to let the truck pass, the captain commanding the 30 or so officers blocking the road sends the truck away from the university, and the 7,000 Indigenous men, women, and children lodged there. I only obey order he says, apparently oblivious to the historical implications of the phrase.  A European bystander asks the officer if he has ever heard of Adolph Eichmann, the second world war, or the Nazis. The captain shrugs.

 

In reality, the government strategy has more in common with the middle ages than the Nazis. There are elements of the classic siege. Cut off the water, the food supply, communications, and anything else you can think of. Starve them out. And if they do manage to get out then tear gas them until they run back inside. Fortunately a siege has its lapses, and in this case, before the police can counter, the truck finds another entrance where scores of volunteers speedily unload the cargo of hundred pound sacks of potatoes.

 

This is the almost warlike state of affairs in Quito, Ecuador, where the Indigenous movement has taken the lead in protesting the harshness of the economic measures imposed by President Noboa; measures which lead an incredible 49% of the work force to leave the country in 2000, at least temporarily, and to look for work in other parts of the world. Generally speaking, the Indigenous communities are the poorest in the country and the recent doubling of the price of cooking gas, and gasoline (which affects the price of everything else) has had a major effect on them. Not that they are alone. The urban poor who have no access to land are even worse off. The only thing saving them is the increased number of jobs available due to the huge migration under way. This is small comfort however, as unemployment rates are still high and even with a job there is no guarantee of sufficient money to cover the basic food and health needs. The latest figures from the National Statistics Institute show that an average family of four has 25% less income than it needs in order to cover its basic needs.

 

The government, on the other hand, is determined to show the native people a firm hand, by shooting them if need be, and by imprisoning their leaders. But up to now the strategy hasn’t worked. The shootings and the events in the capital have simply sharpened the resolve of the protesters. Primary roads have been closed in all the major mountain and Amazon provinces, and after a week there are no signs of slacking. Quite the opposite. The closures have now been extended to the secondary and tertiary roads. The army simply doesn’t have the capacity to manage the huge number of people involved in the closings and as Admiral Donoso, the spokesperson for the Military command admits, it’s a war of attrition. The roads are closed, the army opens them up, the native people close them again, etc, etc. It’s not difficult to understand the magnitude of the job; in only one stretch of ten kilometres for instance, one can encounter 15 barricades, always being rebuilt, re-dug, re-lit with burning tires.

 

Apart from the Chamber of Commerce of the Coastal Provinces (read: power groups from Guayaquil, the principal port) who demand even harsher measures (the “iron fist”) for those who block roads, almost everyone is calling for dialogue. The problem is that it’s not readily apparent how the two sides can talk on the principal issue of economic policy, which the government sees as its (and the IMF’s) sole reserve. While commissions have been formed to broker the talks, it seems unlikely that the native people will accept dismantling the barricades and settling for a series of talks. They’ve been taken in before (amongst others, by ex president Mahuad who never complied with his promises), and will therefore be extremely wary of abandoning the uprising without firm and controllable promises.

 

President Noboa, on the other hand, has virtually no room to move. Not applying the economic measures means not receiving the money from the IMF and other multilateral agencies (or debt swaps from the G7) that according to standard economic theory the country needs. Money which will serve to maintain, if not solvency (which is impossible) at least the fiction of solvency, thereby keeping the doors open for new credits with which to pay the old, and thus helping maintain another fiction, that of a healthy global financial system.

 

Although the government has backed off somewhat in the last few days (food and water are now entering the university) the two sides are still far apart. Given the context, the most likely outcome is that the government will keep on denying the position that it’s in, hoping that by maintaining a firm stance, or by praying to the virgin of Guadalupe, they can pull themselves out of the fire. Failing this, or a sudden about face in policy, the regime will probably collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. Its allies do not appear to be too solid. The army is apparently divided; the Air force Chief has told the president that he should negotiate. Only the navy and the police are firmly on side. How long this can continue is anyone’s guess.

 

(The Noboa government did survive to serve out the full term of ex President Mahuad.  In the 2002 presidential elections, Colonel Gutiérrez, the hero of the 2000 uprisings, came out of nowhere to soundly defeat banana magnate Alvaro Noboa.  He had formed a new political party and was supported by the Indigenous community and the traditional left.  His election raised high hopes.  We shall see if those hopes came to fruition.)

Ecuador: THE MONROE DOCTRINE IS ALIVE AND WELL December 23, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador Politics, History, Government, Culture, Ecuador Writing, Ecuador: The Monroe Doctrine is Alive and Well.
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(This is an analytic letter I wrote several months after the fact, with my interpretation of the significance of the events of January 2000.)

 

 

Subj: Fwd: Ecuador Bulletin 4

Date: 9/21/00 7:21:02 PM Eastern Daylight Time

 

 

In true Biblical fashion, before the cock crowed thrice, was the betrayal.  Antonio Vargas, leader of the Confederation of Indigenous Nations, made the mistake of taking the military at its word.

 

We went to bed Friday night with the military supporting a popular regime, and we awoke Saturday morning with the military in bed with its customary concubine (a U.S. approved Congress and President).

 

We have to interpolate, because what happens of importance happens behind closed doors.  Clearly, a new Ecuador, governed by a coalition of Indigenous (nearly half the population) peoples and one of the few judicial representatives not tainted with corruption and nepotism, was not acceptable to the existing power structure or its United States of America sponsor.  Peter Romero, the State Department’s Latin-American overseer, was giving interviews during the uprising to the effect that severe economic and political sanctions would result from a rupture of the sacred constitutional order.  Need I add that constitutional order and democracy are sacred only when they serve the geopolitical interests of the United States government?  Otherwise – and there are too many examples to list here – quite expendable.

 

Three hours into the “rule of the junta” General Mendoza withdrew the support of the armed forces thus ensuring its collapse.  I was critical of the inclusion of a General in the ruling group in the first place because it made it vulnerable to the criticism of being a military dictatorship.  The armed forces in support of (but not a member of) a popular based governing group, committed to creating new institutions backed up by popular referenda, to me was a viable option. 

 

Of course, neither Mendoza nor the military command ever intended to support a popular regime.  The ill-fated junta was a ploy to diffuse the uprising and it worked superbly.  Confused and disillusioned on the morning of the 22nd (Saturday), the protesters were easily dislodged from the Congress, Judicial and Presidential buildings.  That same morning the Congress met, considered that the presidency had been “abandoned,” and installed the Vice President, Gustavo Noboa as the new” constitutional” president.  Noboa lost no time in assuring the continuation of the economic policies of former president Mahuad that had lead to the massive protests in the first place.

 

Analysis: Although it has been hidden with all the clever rhetoric about the constitutional succession (i.e., the vice-president succeeding the president) which avoids a rupture of the constitutional order, this simply is not the case.  Had Mahuad resigned, everything would have been squeaky clean.  But he refused thereby forcing the military to depose him.  This constitutes a rupture of the constitutional order, and no amount of whitewashing can change that fact.  The hypocrisy of the U.S. government and its Quislings, the Ecuadorian political class and the Ecuadorian military, is transparent.

They are willing to gloss over the military’s deposing of a “democratically elected” president who has become a liability – in effect sacrificing him to calm the waters – as long as the replacement is acceptable, i.e., will not really rock the boat.

 

In 1997, when a two day general strike prompted the military to abandon then President Bucaram, they did not complain (the U.S. only mildly) about this rupture, nor did these same staunch defenders of the constitution cry out against the violation of the order of succession at that time (the then Vice President was a woman, Rosalía Arteaga, so the machista Congress appointed its own leader as the Interim President, who held the fort until Mahuad was elected in 1998).

 

In short, what matters to the US government and the Ecuadorian political/military class is not the constitution but who has the power.  To those of us who supported and support the notion of overthrowing an elected government it is incumbent upon us to demonstrate (and that is not so difficult to do here given the level of blatancy) the utter corruptness of the so-called democratic process.  In a country where there is a pathetically incompetent public education system (good private schools, though, for the elites), a totally inadequate public health system, and massive poverty, “democratic” institutions in the context of capitalist exploitation are largely a farce.  Because there are virtually no checks and balances, members of the government administration (from the president on down), Congress and the judiciary are virtually free to loot the public purse.  The judiciary is almost entirely politicized, judges are appointed by the ruling political party, and the major parties make deals with one another to convict and un-convict as power changes hands (one example, to gain the support in Congress of Bucaram for the economic package, Mahuad clearly had to promise PRE – Bucaram’s party – that the legal way would be cleared for Bucaram to return from his “exile” in Panama — his third exile, by the way). 

 

As well the extremes that the Ecuadorian “democracy” will go to achieve its ends extend all the way to murder.  Last year, a popular leftist Congressman was shot to death within a few blocks of the Congress.  The crime remains unsolved.  It should also be pointed out that Ecuador’s military elites, as just about in all of Latin America, save Cuba, are trained and indoctrinated in the infamous School of the Americas, which used to be in Panama but has moved to North Carolina.  President Monroe is no doubt smiling in his grave.

 

This ends the current chapter but not the story.  Nothing of substance has changed at the government level that will affect the levels of corruption, unemployment, inflation and poverty which cannot be ignored.  Although the opposition lacks cohesion and a unified philosophy, protests are continuing across the country.  The Indigenous leaders are saying that they will give the new government one month to show its colors before considering another serious uprising. 

Ecuador: The Night of Three Governments December 23, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador Politics, History, Government, Culture, Ecuador Writing, Ecuador: The Night of Three Governments.
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(This is my diary blow by blow account of the events of Jan. 21, 2000.  For weeks the Indigenous and campesino communities, the most politicized sectors in the country, had been planning a massive protest in Quito.  The government responded by blocking highways leading to the capital and searching buses that did get through.  It foolishly thought it could control the situation with such measures.  Despite this act of a desperate government, tens of thousands got through, and, evidencing amazing organizational capacities, found ways to feed and support themselves while living in city parks.  Finally they marched on the Congress building, which was surrounded by the army.  Their response was to surround the army, thus creating an interesting stalemate.  This was broken when some middle level army officers from a local training center, broke through the army lines and allowed the protesters to take over the Congress itself.  The military defenders of the Congress gave no resistance to the forces led by Colonel Lucio Gutiérrez, who apparently had won a high degree of respect within the military.  Once it was confirmed that Mahuad had abandoned the presidency the protesters inside the Congress declared a “Junta of National Salvation,” that consisted of Gutiérrez, the Indigenous leader, Vargas, and the head of the Supreme Court.  I was glued to our small seven inch black and white television for hours on end and watched as all this was telecast live from within the Congress.  My friend Gerard Coffey, who was inside with the protestors, told me that the tension there was palpable, given that there was good reason to believe that they might be attacked by the Ecuadorian Army at any moment.)

 

Subj: Re: From Ecuador Bulletin 3

 

On Sat, 22 Jan 2000 10:13:46 EST Rogerholla@aol.com wrote:

 

At 3:00 a spokesperson for the Joint Command of the armed forces announced that the joint command had withdrawn support from President Mahuad and were requesting his resignation.  This same general (the brother of retired General Paco Moncayo) was sent to give the president the news and apparently was put in charge of the Presidential Palace and the President’s security.

 

Minutes later the President went on television with the standard “never say die” speech.  If I had a million sucres (forty US dollars) for every time today I heard the words “democratic order” and “constitutional order” coming from the mouths of those in power, I would be a rich man.  According to the elites who defend “constitutional democracy” at all costs, he disorder and suffering caused by government policy apparently is legitimized by being sanctioned democratically and constitutionally, even if replete with corruption and antidemocratic administration.

 

Then from the halls of Congress, Antonio Vargas, the Indigenous leader, announced that within an hour or two they would be on their way to take the Presidential Palace.  Within minutes it was announced that the President and his aides had evacuated the Palace for a “more secure” location in Quito.  Unconfirmed rumors have him on the way to the airport.

 

10 PM: The Minister of Government insists that Mahuad is being protected by the military at a base in Quito and still has no intention of resigning. Meanwhile, it appears that more than ten thousand protesters have surrounded the Presidential Palace while their leaders are inside negotiating alongside the rebel Colonels with the Joint Command of the Armed Forces.  Apparently, Paco Moncayo [the head of the Joint Chiefs, and future Mayor of Quito] and ex-Supreme Court Justice, Carlos Solórzano (who sent ex-Vice President Alberto Dahik packing to Costa Rica and who has a populist profile) are also present.

 

In Guayaquil, two factions of the army are in confrontation over control of the government buildings.  There are street demonstrations, traffic blockages, car burnings and attempted take overs of government buildings all over the country.

 

One TV station is reporting a poll taken on the streets that has 65% of the

sample supporting the rebels (Indigenous and campesinos backed by the junior officers), 6% supporting President Mahuad, and 80% are against a dictatorship.

 

12:00 am (Jan 22)

 

They have emerged from the confab at the Presidential Palace (actually the Palace of Government) and given a press conference with the following results: with the full support of the full military command, a three man junta has been formed to rule the country and form a government.  General Carlos Mendoza, the current Chief of the Joint Military Command, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Carlos Solórzano, and CONAIE [the nation-wide Indigenous organization] president, Antonio Vargas.  At the news conference Mendoza took the lead, but made it clear that the three had equal authority.  Solórzano spoke to the legality of the junta and Vargas gave his remarks first in Quichua then in Spanish.  It was suggested that Colonel Gutiérrez might be the new government’s Minister of Government.  The question of what will happen to Mahuad was evaded (there is a rumor he is at the airport).  Solórzano suggested that with such strong popular support and the full backing of the military, the US would have no choice but to recognize the new regime.

 

At this moment it appears that, because of the decision of the military, Mahuad and the Congress have been left out to dry.  I guess we’ll know more when we wake up tomorrow morning.

Ecuador: Paradox or Paradigm December 23, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador Politics, History, Government, Culture, Ecuador Writing, Ecuador: Paradox or Paradigm.
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(This is an article I wrote (October 5, 1999) and submitted somewhere, I don’t remember.  In any case it was rejected.  It summarizes Ecuador’s political and economic climate and suggests that it might be a paradigm for the rest of Latin America.)

 

Whereas the vast majority of Ecuadorians would not know what a Brady Bond is any more than they could identify the Brady Bunch, it can only be fear of violent Ecuadorian public reaction to further “belt tightening” measures that prompted the fundamentally conservative center-right government of President Jamie Mahuad to default on $44.5 million in Brady Bond interest payments earlier this month.  While Ecuador may be one of the smallest and least economically developed amongst its Latin American neighbors and thereby easily dismissed as not comparable to the economic “giants” such as Brazil, Mexico or Argentina, to overlook the significance of this event for that reason is to ignore a continent-wide unrest of which Ecuador is as representative as any other Latin American republic.

 

The relatively mild international reaction to Ecuador’s unprecedented action would indicate that the world banking community is convinced that the tail is not likely to wag the dog.  This, on the one hand, overlooks several key characteristics that Ecuador shares with its Latin American neighbors – large gaps between rich and poor, entrenched governmental corruption and instability, deep poverty, small and shrinking middle classes, overwhelming external debt, and dependency upon unstable world commodity markets.  More importantly, it fails to take into account the single most critical factor that economists love to under-rate: the angry passions of desperate masses.

 

Ecuador is blessed with abundant natural resources.  It is the world’s largest exporter of bananas and is also a major producer of cocoa, coffee, fresh flowers, coconut, pineapple, rice, and sugar cane.  Its offshore and inland fishing industry yields massive quantities of lobster, shrimp, tuna, tilapia, and other high demand seafood products.  The discovery of large oil deposits in its tropical rainforests in the 1970’s has thrust Ecuador amongst the leading petroleum producing nations of the Americas.  The same Oriente region is potentially rife with precious metals such as silver and gold.  With such natural riches, a diversity of bio-geographic regions (tropical rainforest, the Andes cordillera, lush coastal plains, and the Galápagos Islands) that is amenable to high yield agriculture and aquaculture production as well as regional and international tourism, and with a small population of just under thirteen million, Ecuador should be among the wealthiest nations on earth.

 

Yet, it is one of the poorest and it suffers perpetual economic crisis.  Ecuador has both the highest inflation rate and per capita external debt in all Latin America.  It has high rates of infant mortality and illiteracy that reflect a minimal public investment in health and education.  Nearly one quarter of its adult population is unemployed and half of those employed are underemployed, managing a bare existence by selling everything from hard candy to tropical fruit, tooth paste to toilet paper, on city streets.  The poverty rate is estimated at 80 per cent, with more than half of that considered to be deep poverty.  It is not uncommon to see children as young as four and five years of age begging and/or working on the streets of Guayaquil, a seaport of over two million inhabitants, which is the country’s largest city and which suffers from a dilapidated infrastructure, disease epidemic due to inadequate sanitation, air and water pollution, and which is experiencing the proliferation of bamboo housing slums on its borders due to the influx of refugees from even more severe rural poverty.

 

Ecuador returned to constitutional government after a military dictatorship that lasted throughout the 1970’s.  Its political culture is characterized by corruption, greed and incompetence.  Its judicial system is almost entirely politicized.  Over a dozen political parties jockey for power, and the inability of the legislative and executive branches to find common ground leaves the country in a state of almost perpetual political paralysis.  There is constant labor strife, fueled, among other things, by the fact that government workers, particularly teachers and health workers whose salaries are embarrassing low to begin with, are compelled to initiate work stoppages to force government ministries to release their pay checks, which are often several months in arrears.  In addition, there is chronic unrest amongst students, petroleum and utilities workers, Indigenous peoples and campesinos, and other sectors of society as a result unpopular policies that are perceived as throwing the burden of economic crisis on the backs of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society.  Even the Catholic Church, despite its essentially conservative nature, often finds itself along side more traditional dissidents in chastising the government.

 

In 1996, Abdalá Bucaram, a demagogic and  unbelievably vulgar “populist,” representing a party with  left wing rhetoric and right wing policies, won the presidency and ring-mastered a governmental circus that was overthrown by a Congress-led, military supported and bloodless coup d’etat which followed two days of massive nation-wide general strike in February of  1997.  With more than a bit of theatric irony, Bucaram, who proudly calls himself El Loco, was ousted by the Ecuadorian Congress on the constitutional ground of “mental incompetence,”  and went into exile in Panama. Immediately, the Congress, in violation of the constitution, appointed its own leader, Fabian Alarcón, as interim president, bypassing the legitimate successor, the elected Vice President, Rosalía Arteaga, who had the misfortune to have been born of the wrong gender.

 

In August of 1998, under the banner of the center-right Popular Democracy party, Jamil Mahuad, a former mayor of Quito, Ecuador’s capital city, began a four year presidential term, having barely edged out Alvaro Noboa, heir to Ecuador’s largest banana fortune and the country’s wealthiest individual, a man with no prior political experience other than an appointed position in the government of Bucaram, who would no doubt have returned from exile should Noboa have won.  Mahuad proceeded to implement a “paquetizo,” a package of economic policies far more stringent and devastating than those proposed by and which lead to the ouster of Bucaram.  By mid-1999 the government had more than doubled the price of gasoline, devalued the currency, and raised the cost of public utilities as much as five hundred percent.  A nation-wide banking crisis in the spring had lead to a week-long closure of all banks and was followed by the freezing of bank accounts.  Hundreds of thousands of Ecuadorians lost their life savings.  Things came to a head in early July, when a two day general strike called for by transportation workers ended up shutting down Ecuador’s inter-regional transportation for nearly two weeks.

 

The only political party in Ecuador with representation in Congress that as a matter of policy advocates the cessation of external debt payments is the Marxist-Leninist oriented Movement for Popular Democracy (MPD), which draws its major support from the teachers’ union and middle class professionals.  A handful of so-called “center-left” parties, who always morph into center-right should they capture the presidency, will sometimes echo such demand while in opposition.  However, nothing less than extraordinary circumstances can explain the unilateral withholding of a scheduled debt payment, particularly when such an action is taken by a government with no pretence toward or prior history of radicalism.

 

It is interesting to note that Ecuador is not among those countries for which the IMF is seriously considering the forgiving of past debt.  Ostensibly this is because of Ecuador’s relative “wealth,” which fails to take into account its skewed distribution, and because of the endemic corruption within the political process.  However, even if Ecuador were to be magically freed of the Albatross of external debt, apart from some undeniable short term benefit, this would not begin to solve the structural problems that lie at the root of the nation’s tragic history.

 

Crippling external debt is the symptom not the cause of Ecuador’s woes, and it can be argued that the same is substantially the same for virtually every Latin American nation.   In short, given its history of external resource exploitation which presents us with today’s reality, a reality characterized by brutal discrepancies in the distribution of wealth and an overall dearth of both physical infrastructure (roads, utilities, sanitation) and social infrastructure (health, education, democratic government), Ecuador simply is not a viable political/economic unit. As government after government has proven, no amount of reform, be it of the strong armed neo-Liberal variety, which is the current style, or the more traditional borrow and spend (or steal) it variety, will get to the root of the problem.

 

Ecuador lacks a responsible leadership class.  Election to public office is considered tantamount to a license to accumulate wealth.  Presidents, Vice-Presidents, and Congressmen who leave office are almost as likely to go into exile in Panama, Chile, Costa Rica or Miami as they are to return to private life in Ecuador.  There is no sense amongst Ecuadorians that its crisis can be solved at the political level as it presently exists.  An example of this was the Popular Assembly, a by-product of the February 1997 uprising that lead to the ouster of Bucaram, which was seen as a way to reform the Constitution over the head of the Congress, which was considered too mired in corruption to achieve meaningful change.  The interim government, however, set the ground rules for the Assembly, which resulted in the existing political parties being able to get their loyal supporters elected to and in control of the Assembly, which in turn produced nothing that constituted genuine change.

 

On the other hand, one does find in Ecuador a relatively strong union movement, militant teachers, angry students, a highly organized and effective Indigenous movement, a nascent and growing women’s movement, a discontented and fearful professional class, and millions of suffering and disillusioned “ordinary people.”  Like the Guagua Pinchincha volcano, which as been on low boil for nearly a year and only this week has begun to spew tons of ash and dust over nearby Quito, the repressed and volcanic passions of this small but not atypical Latin nation may erupt at any moment, and without warning.

 

 And the rest of Latin America may not be that far behind.

Fears Rise Over Possible Ecuador Default November 23, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Latin America.
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AFTER READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE READ THE ARTICLE DIRECTLY BELOW IT (“THE CRUDE REALITY: CONFESSIONS OF AN ECONOMIC HIT MAN: HOW THE US USES GLOBALIZATION TO CHEAT POOR COUNTRIES OUT OF TRILLIONS”), WHICH IS ALSO POSTED ELSEWHERE ON THIS BLOG UNDER “Ecuador” and “Latin America”
 
By Polya Lesova, MarketWatch
Last update: 12:53 p.m. EST Nov. 19, 2008
 
NEW YORK (MarketWatch) — Fears are rising that Ecuador may default on its external debt, as a national audit commission has identified numerous irregularities in the country’s foreign debt and is likely to recommend Thursday for the suspension of payments.
 
The left-leaning government of President Rafael Correa chose not to pay the $30 million coupon on Ecuador’s Global 2012 bonds that was due Saturday and is now using the 30-day grace period to consider the legitimacy of its external debt.
 
The debt audit commission is due to present the full results of a year-long audit of Ecuador’s external debt Thursday.
 
The commission’s report has found “multiple irregularities in debt contracted between 1976 and 2006, such as double payments, abusive clauses, false justifications and negligence on the part of high-level government officials and multilateral institutions,” Patrick Esteruelas, an analyst at Eurasia Group, said in a note Wednesday.
 
 
Esteruelas, who has seen a copy of the audit report, said that it recommends that Ecuador suspend payments on all three of its global bonds, at least 45 multilateral loans and its debt to the Paris Club of international lenders.
 
“The government will likely use these findings to enter into talks with bond holders over restructuring terms, driving a very hard bargain that will hamstring any negotiations and could likely lead the government to default,” Esteruelas said.
 
Ecuador’s public external debt amounted to $10 billion in September, or 21% of gross domestic product, according to Eurasia Group.
Correa, who has been in power since January 2007, has vowed to implement a social revolution to improve the lives of the poor. Correa is a close ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is also pursuing socialist policies.
 
Ecuador is one of Latin America’s biggest exporters of crude oil, with the sector dominating the economy and accounting for about 60% of exports. As a result, the recent sharp slide in oil prices — from about $147 a barrel to $54 a barrel — is very negative for the country’s finances.
 
“I won’t give a probability, but I will say [debt default is] a material risk and that it’s unclear at this point what their true motive is and what the end result they are aiming for is,” said Nick Chamie, global head of emerging markets research at RBC Capital Markets.
 
“I’m not even sure they know that at this point. President Correa is probably trying to figure that out now,” Chamie said. “One very possible scenario could simply be that the government looks to extract significant concessions from its creditors and looks to reduce its debt burden. There may be a technical default, and in the end, what I expect is debt restructuring.  “Ecuador’s ratings cut Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s both cut Ecuador’s credit ratings Friday after Ecuador said that it would not pay the coupon on its Global 2012 bonds.
 
S&P lowered Ecuador’s long-term sovereign credit rating to CCC- from B- Friday, citing the severe uncertainty regarding the government’s willingness and likelihood to pay during the grace period.
If the government indicates an intention to pursue a restructuring of its debt with bond holders during this period, S&P said it will likely lower the ratings to SD or selective default.
“The combination of sharply lower oil prices and an expected hit to economic growth resulting from lower exports and remittances is expected to pressure fiscal accounts in 2009,” said S&P credit analyst Lisa Schineller. “However, willingness, not capacity, to pay is currently the overwhelming credit weakness.”
 
Meanwhile, Moody’s downgraded Ecuador’s B3 foreign currency government bond rating to Caa1 and placed them on review for another downgrade. The agency said Ecuador has “ample liquidity” and the move by the government underscores its “poor willingness” to pay.
 
“It seems that the government’s stance towards bond holders is motivated by political and ideological factors, given the very small fiscal relief that a default would bring compared to the damage to the government’s ability to access international markets,” Alessandra Alecci, a senior analyst at Moody’s, said in a statement. End of Story
 
 
THE CRUDE REALITY: CONFESSIONS OF AN ECONOMIC HIT MAN: HOW THE US USES GLOBALIZATION TO CHEAT POOR COUNTRIES OUT OF TRILLIONS

la-cruda-realidad-the-crude-reality

 “La Cruda Realidad” (The Crude Reality), Foto: Lou Dematteis

I regularly receive reports from www.amazoniaporlavida.org, an environmental organization that is waging a campaign to prevent exploitation of petroleum in Ecuador’s ecologically sensitive Yasuni region.

A recent e-mail made reverence to a former U.S. agent, John Perkins, who describes himself as a former “economic hit man,” in a tell-all book.

I found an interesting interview with Perkins on Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now!” radio program, which sheds light on the problem as seen by today’s Ecuadorian environmental and anti-neoliberal activists.

First, my translation of the “Amazonia por la Vida” Report:

“In the Agenda of the United States and Its Intelligence Services”

When John Perkins was contracted by MAIN (a CIA front) to intervene in the political economy of Indonesia, Ecuador and Panama, he was told that by using macroeconomic statistics, he should be able, for example, to inflate the rate of economic growth in Indonesia from 6% to 19%.  In the case of Ecuador, where he served as an economic advisor, he was told that, by manipulating its macroeconomic statistics, he should be able to put the country in debt to the point where they are trapped with the impossibility of repayment.

 

The CIA succeeded in manipulating Ecuadorian macroeconomic information to the point where in twenty years the country was in bankruptcy and had to over exploit and privatize its [natural] resources in order to deal with the debt.

 

In defining the statistics and the conditions of work in transnational corporations at that time [the 1970s] Texaco played an essential part.  The former agent [Perkins] has revealed how Texaco was able to enter Ecuador via the Instituto Lingüístico de Verano [ILV, Summer Institute of Linguistics, a U.S. evangelical missionary organization, also known as the Wycliffe Bible Translators, with ties to the CIA], with whom he was also associated.

 

The CIA strategy was to establish the conditions for the re-taking of natural resources after they had been partially nationalized.  Texaco, the company most affected, found itself in conflict with [Ecuadorian President] Jaime Roldós, who not only expelled the ILV from the country, but also refused the conditions to which Texaco aspired.  After the assisination [of  Roldós], [his successor] Oswaldo Hurtado reinstated the ILV and Texaco began its greatest campaign of explorations (John Perkins, “Confessions of an Economic Hitman,” 2004).

                                            

                                                                                                        (Table)

 

Evolution of the Total Ecuadorian External Debt (in millions of U.S. Dollars)

 

CEIDEX (Comisión Especial de Investigación de la Deuda Externa del Ecuador)
www.ceidex.gov.ec/

 

1970           217

 

1975           456

 

1980           3,530

 

1985           8,703

 

1990           12,107

 

1995           13,994

 

2000           13,717

 

2006           16,856

 

From: www.quiendebequien.org

 

Now to John Perkins:

From the prologue to the “Democracy Now!” interview:

John Perkins, was a former respected member of the international banking community. In his book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man he describes how as a highly paid professional, he helped the U.S. cheat poor countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars by lending them more money than they could possibly repay and then take over their economies.

20 years ago Perkins began writing a book with the working title, “Conscience of an Economic Hit Men.”

 

Perkins writes, “The book was to be dedicated to the presidents of two countries, men who had been his clients whom I respected and thought of as kindred spirits–Jaime Roldós, president of Ecuador, and Omar Torrijos, president of Panama. Both had just died in fiery crashes. Their deaths were not accidental. They were assassinated because they opposed that fraternity of corporate, government, and banking heads whose goal is global empire. We Economic Hit Men failed to bring Roldós and Torrijos around, and the other type of hit men, the CIA-sanctioned jackals who were always right behind us, stepped in.

 

John Perkins goes on to write:

 

“I was persuaded to stop writing that book. I started it four more times during the next twenty years. On each occasion, my decision to begin again was influenced by current world events: the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1980, the first Gulf War, Somalia, and the rise of Osama bin Laden. However, threats or bribes always convinced me to stop.

 

John Perkins, from an interview with Amy Goodman on “Democracy Now!”  November 9, 2004.

 

… I was initially recruited while I was in business school back in the late sixties by the National Security Agency, the nation’s largest and least understood spy organization; but ultimately I worked for private corporations.

 

… when the National Security Agency recruited me, they put me through a day of lie detector tests. They found out all my weaknesses and immediately seduced me. They used the strongest drugs in our culture, sex, power and money, to win me over. I come from a very old New England family, Calvinist, steeped in amazingly strong moral values. I think I, you know, I’m a good person overall, and I think my story really shows how this system and these powerful drugs of sex, money and power can seduce people, because I certainly was seduced. And if I hadn’t lived this life as an economic hit man, I think I’d have a hard time believing that anybody does these things

 

Basically what we were trained to do and what our job is to do is to build up the American empire. To bring—to create situations where as many resources as possible flow into this country, to our corporations, and our government, and in fact we’ve been very successful. We’ve built the largest empire in the history of the world. It’s been done over the last 50 years since World War II with very little military might, actually. It’s only in rare instances like Iraq where the military comes in as a last resort. This empire, unlike any other in the history of the world, has been built primarily through economic manipulation, through cheating, through fraud, through seducing people into our way of life, through the economic hit men. I was very much a part of that.

 

Well, the company I worked for was a company named Chas. T. Main in Boston, Massachusetts. We were about 2,000 employees, and I became its chief economist. I ended up having fifty people working for me. But my real job was deal-making. It was giving loans to other countries, huge loans, much bigger than they could possibly repay. One of the conditions of the loan—let’s say a $1 billion to a country like Indonesia or Ecuador—and this country would then have to give ninety percent of that loan back to a U.S. company, or U.S. companies, to build the infrastructure—a Halliburton or a Bechtel. These were big ones. Those companies would then go in and build an electrical system or ports or highways, and these would basically serve just a few of the very wealthiest families in those countries. The poor people in those countries would be stuck ultimately with this amazing debt that they couldn’t possibly repay. A country today like Ecuador owes over fifty percent of its national budget just to pay down its debt. And it really can’t do it. So, we literally have them over a barrel. So, when we want more oil, we go to Ecuador and say, “Look, you’re not able to repay your debts, therefore give our oil companies your Amazon rain forest, which are filled with oil.” And today we’re going in and destroying Amazonian rain forests, forcing Ecuador to give them to us because they’ve accumulated all this debt. So we make this big loan, most of it comes back to the United States, the country is left with the debt plus lots of interest, and they basically become our servants, our slaves. It’s an empire. There’s no two ways about it. It’s a huge empire. It’s been extremely successful.

 

[I worked] … very closely with the World Bank. The World Bank provides most of the money that’s used by economic hit men, it and the I.M.F.

 

Here is Perkins’ blood chilling account of the alleged assassination of Panama’s Omar Torrijos:

 

“Omar Torrijos, the President of Panama. Omar Torrijos had signed the Canal Treaty with Carter much—and, you know, it passed our congress by only one vote. It was a highly contended issue. And Torrijos then also went ahead and negotiated with the Japanese to build a sea-level canal. The Japanese wanted to finance and construct a sea-level canal in Panama. Torrijos talked to them about this which very much upset Bechtel Corporation, whose president was George Schultz and senior council was Casper Weinberger. When Carter was thrown out (and that’s an interesting story—how that actually happened), when he lost the election, and Reagan came in and Schultz came in as Secretary of State from Bechtel, and Weinberger came from Bechtel to be Secretary of Defense, they were extremely angry at Torrijos—tried to get him to renegotiate the Canal Treaty and not to talk to the Japanese. He adamantly refused. He was a very principled man. He had his problem, but he was a very principled man. He was an amazing man, Torrijos. And so, he died in a fiery airplane crash, which was connected to a tape recorder with explosives in it, which—I was there. I had been working with him. I knew that we economic hit men had failed. I knew the jackals were closing in on him, and the next thing, his plane exploded with a tape recorder with a bomb in it. There’s no question in my mind that it was C.I.A. sanctioned, and most—many Latin American investigators have come to the same conclusion. Of course, we never heard about that in our country.”

 

 

 

The Crude Reality: Confessions of an Economic Hit Man: How the U.S. Uses Globalization to Cheat Poor Countries Out of Trillions November 14, 2008

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la-cruda-realidad-the-crude-reality

 “La Cruda Realidad” (The Crude Reality), Foto: Lou Dematteis

I regularly receive reports from www.amazoniaporlavida.org, an environmental organization that is waging a campaign to prevent exploitation of petroleum in Ecuador’s ecologically sensitive Yasuni region.

A recent e-mail made reverence to a former U.S. agent, John Perkins, who describes himself as a former “economic hit man,” in a tell-all book.

I found an interesting interview with Perkins on Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now!” radio program, which sheds light on the problem as seen by today’s Ecuadorian environmental and anti-neoliberal activists.

First, my translation of the “Amazonia por la Vida” Report:

“In the Agenda of the United States and Its Intelligence Services”

When John Perkins was contracted by MAIN (a CIA front) to intervene in the political economy of Indonesia, Ecuador and Panama, he was told that by using macroeconomic statistics, he should be able, for example, to inflate the rate of economic growth in Indonesia from 6% to 19%.  In the case of Ecuador, where he served as an economic advisor, he was told that, by manipulating its macroeconomic statistics, he should be able to put the country in debt to the point where they are trapped with the impossibility of repayment.

 

The CIA succeeded in manipulating Ecuadorian macroeconomic information to the point where in twenty years the country was in bankruptcy and had to over exploit and privatize its [natural] resources in order to deal with the debt.

 

In defining the statistics and the conditions of work in transnational corporations at that time [the 1970s] Texaco played an essential part.  The former agent [Perkins] has revealed how Texaco was able to enter Ecuador via the Instituto Lingüístico de Verano [ILV, Summer Institute of Linguistics, a U.S. evangelical missionary organization, also known as the Wycliffe Bible Translators, with ties to the CIA], with whom he was also associated.

 

The CIA strategy was to establish the conditions for the re-taking of natural resources after they had been partially nationalized.  Texaco, the company most affected, found itself in conflict with [Ecuadorian President] Jaime Roldós, who not only expelled the ILV from the country, but also refused the conditions to which Texaco aspired.  After the assisination [of  Roldós], [his successor] Oswaldo Hurtado reinstated the ILV and Texaco began its greatest campaign of explorations (John Perkins, “Confessions of an Economic Hitman,” 2004).

                                            

                                                                                                        (Table)

 

Evolution of the Total Ecuadorian External Debt (in millions of U.S. Dollars)

 

CEIDEX (Comisión Especial de Investigación de la Deuda Externa del Ecuador)
www.ceidex.gov.ec/

 

1970           217

 

1975           456

 

1980           3,530

 

1985           8,703

 

1990           12,107

 

1995           13,994

 

2000           13,717

 

2006           16,856

 

From: www.quiendebequien.org

 

Now to John Perkins:

From the prologue to the “Democracy Now!” interview:

John Perkins, was a former respected member of the international banking community. In his book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man he describes how as a highly paid professional, he helped the U.S. cheat poor countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars by lending them more money than they could possibly repay and then take over their economies.

20 years ago Perkins began writing a book with the working title, “Conscience of an Economic Hit Men.”

 

Perkins writes, “The book was to be dedicated to the presidents of two countries, men who had been his clients whom I respected and thought of as kindred spirits–Jaime Roldós, president of Ecuador, and Omar Torrijos, president of Panama. Both had just died in fiery crashes. Their deaths were not accidental. They were assassinated because they opposed that fraternity of corporate, government, and banking heads whose goal is global empire. We Economic Hit Men failed to bring Roldós and Torrijos around, and the other type of hit men, the CIA-sanctioned jackals who were always right behind us, stepped in.

 

John Perkins goes on to write:

 

“I was persuaded to stop writing that book. I started it four more times during the next twenty years. On each occasion, my decision to begin again was influenced by current world events: the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1980, the first Gulf War, Somalia, and the rise of Osama bin Laden. However, threats or bribes always convinced me to stop.

 

John Perkins, from an interview with Amy Goodman on “Democracy Now!”  November 9, 2004.

 

… I was initially recruited while I was in business school back in the late sixties by the National Security Agency, the nation’s largest and least understood spy organization; but ultimately I worked for private corporations.

 

… when the National Security Agency recruited me, they put me through a day of lie detector tests. They found out all my weaknesses and immediately seduced me. They used the strongest drugs in our culture, sex, power and money, to win me over. I come from a very old New England family, Calvinist, steeped in amazingly strong moral values. I think I, you know, I’m a good person overall, and I think my story really shows how this system and these powerful drugs of sex, money and power can seduce people, because I certainly was seduced. And if I hadn’t lived this life as an economic hit man, I think I’d have a hard time believing that anybody does these things

 

Basically what we were trained to do and what our job is to do is to build up the American empire. To bring—to create situations where as many resources as possible flow into this country, to our corporations, and our government, and in fact we’ve been very successful. We’ve built the largest empire in the history of the world. It’s been done over the last 50 years since World War II with very little military might, actually. It’s only in rare instances like Iraq where the military comes in as a last resort. This empire, unlike any other in the history of the world, has been built primarily through economic manipulation, through cheating, through fraud, through seducing people into our way of life, through the economic hit men. I was very much a part of that.

 

Well, the company I worked for was a company named Chas. T. Main in Boston, Massachusetts. We were about 2,000 employees, and I became its chief economist. I ended up having fifty people working for me. But my real job was deal-making. It was giving loans to other countries, huge loans, much bigger than they could possibly repay. One of the conditions of the loan—let’s say a $1 billion to a country like Indonesia or Ecuador—and this country would then have to give ninety percent of that loan back to a U.S. company, or U.S. companies, to build the infrastructure—a Halliburton or a Bechtel. These were big ones. Those companies would then go in and build an electrical system or ports or highways, and these would basically serve just a few of the very wealthiest families in those countries. The poor people in those countries would be stuck ultimately with this amazing debt that they couldn’t possibly repay. A country today like Ecuador owes over fifty percent of its national budget just to pay down its debt. And it really can’t do it. So, we literally have them over a barrel. So, when we want more oil, we go to Ecuador and say, “Look, you’re not able to repay your debts, therefore give our oil companies your Amazon rain forest, which are filled with oil.” And today we’re going in and destroying Amazonian rain forests, forcing Ecuador to give them to us because they’ve accumulated all this debt. So we make this big loan, most of it comes back to the United States, the country is left with the debt plus lots of interest, and they basically become our servants, our slaves. It’s an empire. There’s no two ways about it. It’s a huge empire. It’s been extremely successful.

 

[I worked] … very closely with the World Bank. The World Bank provides most of the money that’s used by economic hit men, it and the I.M.F.

 

Here is Perkins’ blood chilling account of the alleged assassination of Panama’s Omar Torrijos:

 

“Omar Torrijos, the President of Panama. Omar Torrijos had signed the Canal Treaty with Carter much—and, you know, it passed our congress by only one vote. It was a highly contended issue. And Torrijos then also went ahead and negotiated with the Japanese to build a sea-level canal. The Japanese wanted to finance and construct a sea-level canal in Panama. Torrijos talked to them about this which very much upset Bechtel Corporation, whose president was George Schultz and senior council was Casper Weinberger. When Carter was thrown out (and that’s an interesting story—how that actually happened), when he lost the election, and Reagan came in and Schultz came in as Secretary of State from Bechtel, and Weinberger came from Bechtel to be Secretary of Defense, they were extremely angry at Torrijos—tried to get him to renegotiate the Canal Treaty and not to talk to the Japanese. He adamantly refused. He was a very principled man. He had his problem, but he was a very principled man. He was an amazing man, Torrijos. And so, he died in a fiery airplane crash, which was connected to a tape recorder with explosives in it, which—I was there. I had been working with him. I knew that we economic hit men had failed. I knew the jackals were closing in on him, and the next thing, his plane exploded with a tape recorder with a bomb in it. There’s no question in my mind that it was C.I.A. sanctioned, and most—many Latin American investigators have come to the same conclusion. Of course, we never heard about that in our country.”

 

 

 

Wayward Allies: President Rafael Correa and the Ecuadorian Left November 4, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Latin America.
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www.upsidedownworld.org Written by Daniel Denvir   
Friday, 25 July 2008

 

Outside of Ecuador, most progressives consider President Rafael Correa to be a Leftist champion of social and economic justice. Inside the country, however, conflicts between Correa and the social movement Left—the indigenous movement, environmentalists and unions, among others—have become increasingly heated. On June 23, Constituent Assembly President and long-time social movement ally Alberto Acosta resigned his post after high-profile disagreements with Correa over issues of procedural democracy and indigenous, economic and environmental justice. Acosta headed the legislative body charged with writing a new constitution.

The new magna carta was approved by the Assembly on July 24, sending the text to a popular referendum this September. While social movements have been sharply critical of Correa, it is expected that they will join the “yes” campaign in support of the new constitution, fearing a right-wing resurgence if it fails. Critics within Correa’s Alianza País party and Leftist members of the indigenous party Pachakutik unanimously voted to approve the text. Leftist Martha Roldos, a member of the Ethical and Democratic Network (RED) abstained, citing a top down process.

To the degree that it exists, popular perception in the U.S. and Europe has been colored by Correa’s stance against U.S. hegemony in the region, along with his forceful rejection of Colombia’s March 1 attack on a FARC camp on Ecuadorian soil. The mainstream media has simplistically lumped him in with the Spanish-speaking “axis of evil” stretching from Bolivia and Venezuela to Cuba. The Left media has, on the other hand, under the assumption that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, championed him as a man of the people. Greg Palast, a well-known progressive journalist, wrote an article in terms so emphatically glowing that it is clear he spoke to no one except the President and his spokespeople when he parachuted into the country. A five-minute conversation with any social movement leader would have significantly complicated his analysis.

I myself arrived in Ecuador this past January excited about being excited about Correa, assuming (or hoping?) that he was part of this social movement propelled Left tide sweeping across the region. For Ecuadorian social movements, however, the doubts and uneasiness were present from the beginning. In 2006, Patchakutik, the electoral arm of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), decided to run CONAIE leader Luis Macas for president. The CONAIE and other social movement groups only decided to endorse Correa in the second round where he faced right-wing Institutional Renewal Party of National Action (PRIAN) candidate Álvaro Noboa. A conservative Christian banana magnate and Ecuador’s richest man, Noboa represented everything that is socially and economically retrograde in the country.

Correa is a U.S. and Belgian trained economist who, before running for President was relatively unknown and had almost no history working directly with Ecuadorian social movements. As his dark horse candidacy gained steam, however, and he made it into the second round, he picked up some long-time social movement demands, including opposition to a Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. and a pledge to close the U.S. military base in the port city of Manta. He proclaimed a “citizen’s revolution,” promising to convene a Constituent Assembly to write a new constitution and to put an end to the “long night of neoliberalism.”

When Ecuadorians approved a referendum convening the Constituent Assembly in September 2007, social movements were cautiously optimistic. It was perceived as a chance to make gains on pressing social, economic and foreign policy issues. Social movements saw the election of economist and long-time environmental and social activist Alberto Acosta to the Assembly’s presidency as a particularly encouraging development.

Meeting just a few miles away from the soon to be closed U.S. military base in the town of Montecristi, the Assembly has been a mixed bag of progress, stasis, retreat and confusion. On the one hand, the Assembly has broken with the neoliberal model by increasing state participation in the economy, enshrining the right to education and healthcare and, in a historic move, forcing rich people to pay taxes. It has also taken some important steps for the environment, recognizing that natural ecosystems are themselves the subject of rights.

Many indigenous, women’s, labor and campesino leaders, however, feel that this was a missed opportunity to confront historic injustices and embrace a more social and sustainable economic model. In addition, social movements have not viewed this as a particularly participatory process. Few Ecuadorian have a solid grasp on what is going on in Montecristi and many proposals were generated from the top down. Most glaringly, Correa has exercised near total control over the majority Assembly Members from his Alianza País party. There is a sense that Correa has taken over a process of change that other people—namely social and indigenous movements—have painstakingly built over the past decades.

According to Ivonne Ramos, a leader of the prominent environmental organization Acción Ecologica, the social movements’ sense of cautious optimism has descended into an open conflict.

 
“There have been different currents in the Constituent Assembly, some defending capitalism and neoliberlism, and others pointing to a new model. We see that many of the proposals aiming to undermine social movements’ demands are coming from the President,” says Ramos. “The mining debate highlighted these different positions. The main power struggle isn’t between the President and the Right. It is between the President and the Left, including within his own party.” Acción Ecologica has close ties to the CONAIE and works with communities resisting mining and oil exploitation.

Economist Pablo Dávalos, who served under Correa when he was President Alfredo Palacio’s Finance Minister, says that Correa’s Leftist discourse conceals a developmentalist and neoliberal economic policy based on natural resource extraction. Dávalos has long argued that the forajidos, a new sector of the middle class created by dollarization, have been Correa’s base since the beginning.

 
“I think that the Correa government’s intention is to put the country in harmony with the new currents of global capitalism, particularly with regard to the exploitation of natural resources, the IRSA [multimodal infrastructural integration project] and territorial privatization,” says Dávalos. “Correa is doing everything possible to integrate Ecuador into this new global division of labor as a provider of primary materials, commodities and energy.”
 
The media often contrast Correa internationally with right-wing leaders like Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and nationally with characters like Jaimie Nebot, mayor of the Ecuadorian coastal metropolis of Guayaquil. In Ecuador and abroad, this leads to an inaccurate, black and white, Right versus Left framework.

The Ecuadorian Right, whose pricey clothing and snow white skin stuck out in the Assembly, has been weakened and discredited, having corruptly presided over decades of disastrous free market economic policies. The main criticisms of opposition parties like the Social Christian Party (PSP), PRIAN and the Patriotic Society Party are that Correa is trying to turn Ecuador into “another Cuba or Venezuela,” supports abortion and is centralizing power. The first two charges are patently false, while the question of authoritarianism is more properly a complaint for social movements than the Right, whose fall from power can only be blamed on its own incompetence and unpopularity.

Dávalos has persisently argued that Correa’s “citizen’s revolution” is focused on what he calls the “moralization of politics.” Rather than fundamentally change Ecuador’s economic model, Correa and his forajido supporters, who have risen up through what they perceive to be a free and fair market, are focused on making the government more transparent. One social movement activist told me that, “Correa just wants to formalize everything. If someone sells you bubblegum on the streets, he wants to make sure that taxes are paid and that you get a receipt.” But the disgrace of what is widely referred to as the “partidocracy,” tainted by decades of corruption, lends Correa support far beyond his middle class base.

While Correa was elected and has consolidated power through a Leftist discourse prioritizing socio-economic justice and national sovereignty, he has increasingly moved to break ties with organized social movements. Many analysts say that Correa, buoyed by high approval ratings, is intentionally demonstrating that he need not depend on any organized body. Seeing alliances with the CONAIE, environmental and labor movements as restrictive, Correa is building an institutionally unmediated and populist relationship to voters, allowing him to be the country’s sole decision maker.

Correa, long known for lashing out against opponents on the Right, has increasingly made verbal attacks against social movement activists and Leftist politicians. On June 7, Correa made some particularly harsh comments on his weekly radio program, stating that enemies of oil and mining are not part of the Alianza País led process of “revolution.”

“I hope that the Leftist radicals who do not believe in the oil companies, the mining companies, the market or the transnationals go away,” said Correa.
 
Ecuadorian sociologist Natalie Sierra noted that Correa’s “is a government that has declared itself anti-neoliberal, but I always thought that the main anti-neoliberal struggles were those against the extractive model.”

His revolution has, to the Left’s dismay, remained one comprised of individual citizens and not organized movements. Correa has explicitly discarded relationships with organized social movements and relied on high levels of personal popularity to push through policies.

Repression in Defense of Oil and Mining Megaprojects

Correa’s government has consistently demonstrated that it is willing to use the police and army to repress social movement resistance.

The Correa government’s first major act of repression took place in November 2007. The President declared a state of emergency in the Amazonian town of Dayuma after protests blocked oil operations. Residents set up roadblocks to a number of oil fields, angry about the government’s failure to follow through on promised infrastructural improvements in the town of poor mestizo settlers (colonos). Violent repression followed and 23 people were arrested, many of whom were dragged from their homes at gunpoint. Shocked social movement and human rights activists demanded an investigation of the abuses and amnesty for the arrested protesters.

Correa initially threatened to resign if government’s handling of the protests was investigated. In the end, Correa relented and the Assembly declared an amnesty for the arrested protesters along with hundreds of other jailed environmental defenders and social justice activists. The Assembly also determined that police had used excessive force against Dayuma residents. The repression in Dayuma put Ecuadorian activists on notice that Correa was committed to an economic model based on natural resource extraction and was willing to use force to defend it.

It was at this point, when his commitment to an economy based on oil and mining became clear, that activists and Leftist intellectuals increased their criticism of Correa. Critiques began to focus on the shift from U.S. and European foreign investment to the penetration of state companies, particularly from Brazil and China. The centerpiece of this realignment is the Multimodal Megaproject Manta-Manaos, referring to the cities in Ecuador and Brazil, respectively, that will be the multi-modal transportation and trade project’s two central hubs.

Unions have also criticized Correa’s economic policies, which they say are a continuation of the neoliberal, privatizing model. Oil workers union leader Fernando Villavicencio says that while he at first tried to believe that bureaucrats or functionaries misinforming Correa were causing problems at state oil company Petroecuador, it is now clear that these policies come directly from the President.

 
“The leader of the País Movement has consciously pushed an illegal project of privatizing oil…leading the public company Petroecuador to be dismantled,” says Villavicencio. “These policies benefit the same old mafia groups and some new ones…They are doing what the Right and the partidocracy could not accomplish over the past 25 years.”

The government has also repressed anti-mining blockades in the southern highlands, calling protesters “antipatriotic” troublemakers, “carried away by their ideological obsessions.” Protesters claim that mining will ruin their land and poison their water. It appears that conflicts over mining will increase over the next few years. Correa and Canadian mining companies have mounted a large-scale advertising campaign linking increased mining to better jobs and a strong economy. With many communities prepared to resist mining operations, a battle is on for the sympathies of the broader public.

Most recently, on July 8, the National Police arrested 10 protesters in the Ecuadorian canton of Chillanes for opposing the concession of a nearby river for the construction of a private hydroelectric dam. The villagers had peacefully occupied community land in protest over the last six months.

The conflict with Colombia has also led to heightened accusations of ties between Colombian guerrillas and Ecuadorian social movements. On May 6, Ecuadorian police arrested five members of Ecuador Indymedia, accusing them of maintaining ties to the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group in Colombia.

Conflict with the Indigenous Movement Comes to a Head

The CONAIE made it clear early on that its top priority for the new constitution was the recognition of Ecuador as a “plurinational” state, meaning a state made up of many nations. Rather than a hollow symbolic gesture, plurinationality would ensure land, cultural and economic rights. Social and indigenous movements have, in particular, demanded that the principle of “free, prior and informed consent”—requiring communities to approve any resource extraction projects on their land—be enshrined in the new magna carta. Indeed, prior consent is not only about community control, but about a larger debate over whether large-scale mining is a sustainable path for economic development.

While the concept of plurinationality has been included in the proposed constitution’s text, prior consent was not. The text instead requires “prior consultation,” meaning that communities cannot decide whether oil and mining projects take place on their land. “Prior consultation is rather paradoxical,” according to Ivonne Ramos. “If I come and ask you if I can come and mess up your house, you say “no”, and I still go ahead and do it anyways. It doesn’t make much sense.”

Plurinationality and prior consent have created divisions within Alianza País, as well as between Alianza País and the CONAIE’s political party, Pachakutik.

On May 12, the CONAIE broke communication with the Correa government, accusing the President of continuing neoliberal economic and racist social policies. Later that month, most of Ecuador’s prominent social movements signed a letter backing the CONAIE and articulating other problems with the government.

The most recent insult to the indigenous movement has been the rejection, at Correa’s urging, of a proposal to make Kichwa an official language alongside Spanish. In response, Patchakutik’s four Assembly Members walked out in protest. They were joined by Alianza País Assembly Member Monica Chuji, an Amazonian Kichwa long affiliated with the indigenous movement. Many have criticized Correa for showing off his basic knowledge of Kichwa on the campaign trail while rejecting indigenous movement demands. On the second to last day of the Assembly, CONAIE President Marlon Santi called Correa a “racist.”

At 2 a.m. on the Assembly’s second to last work day, a compromise proposal was approved. It declares Spanish the “official language of Ecuador, while Spanish, Kichwa and Shuar are official languages of intercultural relation. Other ancestral languages are for official use for the indigenous nationalities in the zones that they inhabit and within terms determined by the law.” Shuar is an indigenous language spoken in the Ecuadorian and Peruvian Amazon.

Chuji says that the included text maintains the rights established in the 1998 constitution—which were in danger of being eliminated—but does not necessarily constitute a step forward. She considers the phrase “official languages of intercultural relation” to be profoundly vague, but says that there is space for improvements when the constitutional text is elaborated into law by a future legislature. One analyst told me that Correa’s allies inserted Shuar at the last moment to undercut Kichwa, which spoken by two million Ecuadorians and the only indigenous language that could function as a national language. Indigenous activists were forced to accept the compromise, as they could not argue against the recognition of Shuar.

In an interview, Chuji criticized the Assembly’s failure to support indigenous rights, but nevertheless considers the new constitution a step forward. “While my analysis is overall positive, we’ve made very little progress on the topic of indigenous rights…but that Ecuador is a plurinational state has been included, even though it doesn’t include all of the content that it should, it is at least a first step and opens doors for future discussions.”

A majority of Assembly Members initially supported the proposition to make Kichwa an official language. But last week, Correa and the Alianza País executive committee pushed against it and succeeded in excluding it from the proposed constitution. Ecuarunari, the Kichwa federation of Ecuador, denounced Correa, saying “We, the indigenous peoples and nationalities, do not ask for a right just for ourselves. Rather, we demand that all of Ecuador assume and recognize its own historical, cultural and social value. To continue to not recognize the indigenous peoples and nationalities’ languages means the continuing displacement of indigenous cultures as tourist objects or as simple elements utilized to decorate the discourses at government inauguration ceremonies, for the inauguration of little infrastructure projects and political rallies. Kichwa is spoken while its legitimate representatives are insulted.”

The CONAIE sees language rights as central to preserving indigenous communities and cultures and criticizes opposition to Kichwa as motivated by racism. Just a few minutes before writing this sentence, I overheard someone in the Assembly pressroom make the linguistically improbable claim that Kichwa could not be included because it “does not have a grammar.”

In an interview on the Assembly’s second to last day, Pachakutik Assembly Member Gilberto Guamangate noted that gains on plurinationality and the rights of nature had been achieved but criticized the failure to recognize Kichwa as an official language. “We consider the fact that they have declared Ecuador a plurinational state” but not made Kichwa an official language “is basically making a body without a mouth.” He also emphasized that prior consent, while not achieved in the Constituent Assembly, could be fought for in the proposed National Assembly. Moreover, Guamangate noted that regardless of any political decision, stopping mining and oil projects would always be decided at the local level through community decision making and resistance.

Acosta’s Exit

Alberto Acosta’s resignation as President of the Constituent Assembly marks a break between social movements and Correa, leading to a major drop in the body’s approval ratings. Correa forced Acosta out after he insisted that the Assembly needed more time to finish the constitution, refusing to cut debate time.

While Alberto Acosta’s resignation as president of the Constituent Assembly was proximately caused by this procedural dispute with Correa, his departure reflects deeper divisions over economic and environmental policy within Alianza País. As disagreements over economic and environmental policies were building up between the two leaders, Acosta’s demand for an extension to finish the Assembly’s work infuriated Correa and led to the forced resignation. Acosta insisted that something as important as a new constitution should not be rushed. Correa, in contrast, thought that delaying the constitution—which will be sent to voters this September—would entail impossibly high political costs.

With three days to go until the end of the Constituent Assembly, Correa’s allies are rushing to fix a series of errors that the Editing Committee, in its hurry, missed. Instead of accepting responsibility for this predicament, Correa has attacked his own Assembly Members for allowing “barbarities” into the text and claimed that the errors were all made during Acosta’s tenure.

Acosta’s strong support for procedural democracy and refusal to engage in ad hominem attacks on his opponents has led to curious gestures of sympathy from the opposition Right and the conservative media, event though the Assembly’s former president is significantly to Correa’s left. Fernando Cordero, the Assembly’s new President, has aggressively limited debate and rushed to put the final touches on the proposed text.

As an Assembly Member, Acosta has been freed from his administrative and mediatory duties, speaking in favor of recognizing Kichwa and opposing cuts to teachers’ pensions. Correa has counterattacked, calling Acosta and other Leftist members of Alianza País “infiltrators” who should leave if they do not agree with the majority.

Chuji responded in a statement on Wednesday July 23, the Assembly’s second to last day, reminding Correa that Ecuador’s entire process of social change did not begin with his leadership. She emphasized that agreeing with the President was not the litmus test for Alianza País membership and that it was her responsibility to be faithful to her principals. She said it is strange that “they call us infiltrators or accuse us of having a right wing agenda for supporting human rights, social security, freedom of expression, the environment, justice, communication, the women’s agenda, campesino rights and the indigenous movement’s aspirations.”

As Ivonne Ramos notes, a strong disagreement over Correa’s proposed agricultural law was also a deciding factor in Acosta’s departure. The Assembly initially was debating and passing an Agriculture Law that would support food sovereignty and small farmers. It included the free circulation of seeds and government credits to small farmers.

 
“The President then launched a campaign pushing his own Agricultural Law,” which “favors the importation of agrochemicals, it favors subsidies to an agribusiness model. Those who will benefit from this are the importers of agrochemicals, producers of agrochemicals, the sellers of agrochemicals, the massive companies that own monoculture crop export operations, and the people who control the circulation of food in this country,” says Ramos. “This was in many senses the breaking point that led to Acosta’s resignation.”

The Agricultural Law, in its vision of development through active government support of national and transnational corporations, encapsulates Correa’s social and economic programs. While the increase in the state’s economic role is a break with neoliberal orthodoxy, Correa supports the basic contours of the current economic model, prioritizing “growth” through the exploitation of natural and human resources.

Intensive efforts by The National Federation of Campesino, Indigenous and Black Organizations (FENOCIN) and the CONAIE led to significant changes in the Agricultural Law. A shift towards supporting small farmers instead of agribusiness garnered Acosta and Pachakutik’s support, leading to the proposal’s overwhelmingly approval on the Assembly’s second to last day.

The mainstream media in Ecuador has tended to focus on these procedural issues instead of the social justice demands dividing Correa from the Left. I would guess that this is because it is one of Acosta’s only positions that the Right supports. But it’s not just Acosta’s legitimate demands on procedural questions, but “a fundamental difference over the model of economic development that Ecuador should follow” that, according to Ramos, has caused ruptures in the Constituent Assembly.

 
“Acosta was supporting a model that was friendly to people and the environment,” says Ramos. “What we’re seeing now is a model totally capitalist and that favors the large groups of power. We see this in two ways. First, from the presidential decrees directly from Correa and second, in his direct interventions into the Assembly’s work.”

The Constituent Assembly legally possesses what is known as plenos poderes, or full powers. Plenos poderes makes the Assembly the country’s highest power and replaces the former Congress, which was declared “in recess” for the Assembly’s duration. But Correa and Alianza País’s executive committee’s forceful interventions have undermined the Assembly’s work and reputation. As progressive journalist and Correa chronicler Kintto Lucas put it, “The impositions of power are not agreements.”

CONAIE Vice-President Miguel Guatemal argued that Acosta’s resignation was just one of Correa’s many strong-armed interventions into the Assembly. “There was an ideological and political conflict. While Acosta defended our proposals, the President has opposed them. The National Constituent Assembly, with its plenos poderes, should be above the President. But this is not happening. The President decides whether something passes or not. The Assembly is just a technical group.”

Ramos, however, emphasized that under Acosta’s leadership the Assembly was at times able to exercise its plenos poderes. “We saw Alberto Acosta’s presence in the Constituent Assembly’s presidency as an assurance that crucial issues would be addressed, issues like the rights of nature, plurinationality, water, food sovereignty, transgenics, protected areas and collective and environmental rights. Some of these have been incorporated. Especially in the case of amnesties for arrested environmental defenders, we actually saw the Assembly exercising its plenos poderes.”

In an interview on the Assembly’s second to last day, Acosta said, “I have a certain bittersweet feeling. While I’m happy with what we’ve done I’m not happy with how we are finishing our work. There are too many topics that were very rushed, without a clear idea of how we can respond to so many outstanding issues. We should have taken a few more weeks.” But he went on to say that there were innumerable achievements—in areas such as education, healthcare and national sovereignty—that make a “yes” vote on the constitution the right choice.

While all of the Left is expected to come around to supporting the “yes” campaign, it is unclear what is next for Acosta and his followers.


Social Movement Demobilization and the Upcoming Referendum

Correa’s meteoric rise and high approval ratings have put social movements and the Left in a complicated position. In previous fights like those against Free Trade Agreements and the U.S. military base, social movements were able to clearly define themselves against conservative governments. Correa’s Leftist discourse and occasionally progressive policies have demobilized the Left, who now face the September referendum without a coherent strategy.

According to Ramos, social movements must take stock of the good and the bad in the new constitution. In addition, the political costs of not supporting the proposal must be evaluated.

 
“There is the question of public sympathy, which is complicated when you have a president with such high approval ratings. Any action that a social movement takes can be read, understood or publicized as an action in support of the Right, since this government is supposedly a Leftist one,” says Ramos. “This has produced a climate of uncertainty over what positions to take, what actions to take.”

According to Dávalos, social movements have not articulated a united position because they have all been waiting until the final moment to see if the Assembly will support their priorities. 

 
“The only united opposition right now is from the Right, which more than anything helps the government,” says Dávalos. “This opposition allows the government to legitimize itself, to position itself against the Right, because the Right has little support and is so discredited.”

The president’s break with the social movements should not be read as accidental. As Davalos points out, “Correa is trying to form a solid center-left block and marginalize the radical left and take on the right-wing—Jaime Nebot and Lucio Gutierezz. Neither of whom will win. This is his calculus, which isn’t bad. It is within the possible.” Correa will go on a publicity campaign for the “yes” vote, banking on his personal popularity to compensate for the Assembly’s falling support. And he does not need to win by a large margin. Correa just needs to marginalize the Left and take on a weak Right. He has no one who can beat him in upcoming elections if the Constitution is approved.

And it appears certain that these conflicts between Correa and the social movements will only increase over the coming months. At the Assembly’s closing ceremony, the President attacked “infantile environmentalism” and “infantile indiginism” as obstacles to Ecuador’s development. Verbal attacks will not make social movements, built through decades of struggle, disappear.

While a “yes” vote may be necessary to ensure the Right’s defeat, Dávalos argues that the Left needs to get back to what it does best: organizing. “I think that the Left needs to recuperate political space, space that has been co-opted by Alianza País, and generate its own proposals.”

Daniel Denvir (daniel.denvir [at]gmail.com) is an independent journalist from the United States in Quito, Ecuador and a 2008 recipient of NACLA’s Samuel Chavkin Investigative Journalism Grant.  He is the Editor-in-Chief at www.caterwaulquarterly.com and reluctantly blogs at www.glocalcircus.blogspot.com

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