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Ecuador: The Siege Goes On December 23, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador Politics, History, Government, Culture, Ecuador Writing, Ecuador: The Siege Goes On.
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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. 

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