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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

 

Ecuador Anti-Mining Blockades Met With Repression, National Mobilization Called for January 20 January 9, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Environment, Latin America.
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Written by Daniel Denvir, Photographs by Ximena Warnaars   
Friday, 09 January 2009

www.upsidedownworld.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Indigenous anti-mining protests hit Ecuador January 7, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Environment, Latin America.
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Daniel Denvir    www.upsidedownworld.org
Wednesday, 07 January 2009
  Source: Indian Country Today

On Dec. 21, more than a thousand indigenous and campesino activists marched to the Ecuadorian National Assembly in opposition to President Rafael Correa’s proposed mining law. In the Southern Province of Azuay, campesinos blocked a number of highways, resisting police efforts to dislodge them. Protesters said that large-scale mining would damage Ecuador’s environment and pollute rural communities’ water.

The Mining Law, currently under debate in the provisional National Assembly, or Congresillo, would replace the Mining Mandate passed in May of this year. The Mandate froze mining operations and revoked a number of concessions to foreign corporations. The law would create a National Mining Company and increase state control over foreign corporations, which are largely Canadian. But the law would also allow mining to take place anywhere, including in protected areas and sharply limit community input.

In Quito, buses arrived from throughout the country to protest the mining law. Marching to the National Assembly, protesters clashed with police, who used pepper spray to push back activists intent on meeting with legislators. A small delegation was allowed to enter in the afternoon. The protests were organized by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and the Coordinator for the Unity of the Left and for Life, a new organization dedicated to regrouping social movements to confront Correa.

The march is possibly a prelude to a nation-wide uprising. While the protest was not large by Ecuadorian standards, representatives from many communities were present. Earlier this month, more than 30 organizations gathered in the Amazonian city of Coca and agreed to oppose Correa’s business friendly policies. Former Correa spokesperson and Assembly Member Monica Chuji said, “Today is a first step in a broader process of unifying social movements. Today we don’t have quantity, but we have unity.” Chuji, an Amazonian Kichwa, broke with Correa’s Alianza País Party in September, accusing the president of opposing indigenous rights.

Correa insists that responsible mining is necessary for Ecuador’s development. In November, Correa accused the indigenous movement of “losing their compass and playing into the hands of sectors that they have historically criticized, such as the Right, which the current administration is combating.” Correa has threatened to send the Mining Law to a national referendum if the indigenous movement alters it or blocks its approval, accusing the CONAIE of being anti-democratic.

But Dr. Byron Real López, an expert in environmental law, wrote in a recent report that the Mandate “is concerned with solving important issues. … such as the corruption surrounding the indiscriminate granting of concessions. But the proposed law ignores the ecological and social conflicts that mining activity causes. … and thus would tend to aggravate them.” López argues that the proposed law would violate a number of provisions in the new constitution, such as those protecting the rights of nature and indigenous communities.

Juan Francisco, a young Kichwa, traveled from the Southern province of Cañar. “We will never let them into our territory, which provides our water. Responsible mining is a miserable lie that the government wants to sell to us.” Juan Francisco said that the government should instead support sustainable and organic farming.

Despite Correa’s dismissive comments, it appears that the government is taking the movement seriously. Two days after the protests Ecuador’s interim legislature, the Congresillo, announced that they were considering extending discussion on the law by seven days – potentially pushing back a vote until Jan. 12. On Dec. 26, Congresillo President Francisco Cordero began a series of meetings with social movement leaders opposed to the project. The stated objective is to incorporate critics’ perspectives before the proposal undergoes a second debate, the last step before a vote.

But the CONAIE demands that the law be shelved so that a national debate on mining can take place. And protesters were adamant in their opposition to large-scale mining.

Carmen, a Saraguro Kichwa woman from the Southern province of Loja, said, “We oppose the Mining Law because we love nature. Mining will kill us, it will poison the water with chemicals. We all drink this water and we all will die. Water doesn’t belong to anyone. It belongs to us all.”

Campesino Jorge Marin traveled hours by bus from the Southern Amazonian province of Morona Santiago. “We’re here to stop the Mining Law, a law that will make it impossible for us to be owners of our land. We are here to defend nature and let the Congress know that we depend on the Amazon for life.”

Leaders of the CONAIE were scheduled to meet in a special assembly the first week of January to discuss a possible national uprising.

Salvador Quishpe, a Kichwa leader from the Southern Amazonian province of Zamora Chinchipe, told the crowd that mass mobilization would be necessary to stop the Mining Law. “If we have to celebrate Christmas in the streets to stop this law, we will!” Quishpe said that while it was impossible to bring thousands of people from Zamora Chinchipe to Quito, 1,500 delegates met in his province earlier this month and declared their support for nation-wide mass mobilizations

Adventure in the Andes 2 December 28, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Adventure in the Andes 2, Ecuador Personal Experiences, Ecuador Writing.
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(Now Carmen and I, having returned to our home in Playas, set off to launch “Aguaje” in Quito, Ecuador’s capital, an amazing city that runs lengthwise along a broad valley high in the Andes Cordillera.  I first visited Quito in the summer of 1961, when I was on a three month “deputation,” sponsored by my Presbyterian Church in Berkeley, to spend time with missionaries from the Wycliffe Bible Translators (Summer Institute of Linguistics) in the Ecuadorian Amazonian rainforest.  I was traveling with a classmate, Bev Carson, and we spent some days in Quito both on our way in and out of the jungle.

 

Our landing at the Quito airport early that summer was unforgettable.  By coincidence right next to us on the tarmac was a United States Air Force plane from which descended no one less that Adlai Stevenson, then the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.  He would have been on a good will tour to promote JFK’s Peace Corps.  In those days, one did not taxi up and deplane into a terminal, but rather descended from the aircraft’s stairs directly on to the tarmac and then walked into the modest terminal building.  So we literally almost touched elbows with Stevenson, who, a two time loser of the U.S. presidency to Dwight Eisenhower, had been a political idol of mine.  Those were the days, unlike today, when there were liberals at high levels in the Democratic Party of which one could be proud.

 

In 1961 Quito was little more than the historic old city surrounded by a few modern buildings.  We stayed with a missionary family well on the outskirts of town, and for a “sucre” (a U.S. nickel) one could take a collectivo into the center to walk around the historic old town that had been founded in 1534.  The missionaries lived in a bungalow down the road from a soccer stadium.  It was about a 20 minute bus ride to get downtown.  I have to mention that these missionaries told us with a wry smile about good folks back in their home churches who send them C.A.R.E. packages that included used (!) tea bags.  That part of town today is completely integrated into the urban sprawl that is today’s Quito, and which fills the entire valley.  There was absolutely no way in 2000 that I could identify where I had been in 1961.

 

Today (2008) Quito boasts a population of just over 2.1 million.  It could not have been one tenth that size in 1961.  The city’s history pre-dates the Conquest by several centuries.  Its origins date back to the first millennium when the Quitu tribe occupied the area and eventually formed a commercial center. The Quitu were conquered by the Caras tribe, who founded the Kingdom of Quito about 980. In 1462 the Incas conquered the Kingdom of Quito. In1533, Rumiñahui, an Inca war general, burned the city to prevent the Spanish from taking it, thereby destroying any traces of the ancient prehispanic city.

 

Quito is a city from which almost anywhere within it there is a dramatic vista of mountains.  In 1961 it was amazing to see how farmers had terraced and cultivated right up the mountains at steep inclinations.  I saw little of that on my current visit.  This letter was e-mailed to family and friends in July of 2000.)

 

 

One doesn’t realize how lacking is Guayaquil until one arrives in Quito.  It lies in a long north/south valley surrounded by snow capped mountains and active (!) volcanoes.  The city is about 9,300 feet above sea level.  People who live on the coast complain about how public resources are unevenly distributed in favor of the capital, and this appears to be justifiable just from the obvious differences in the infrastructure (in Quito the streets are cleaner, well paved, and mostly free of pot holes, and there are many parks and well landscaped public places, all of which Guayaquil lacks).

 

Although Guayaquil is considered to be the economic generator of the country, one finds in Quito more signs of prosperity and wealth (narcodollars?) and fewer (but enough) signs of abject poverty.

 

The Casa de la Cultura in Quito (government financed cultural center) was much larger, architecturally superior (as in Cuenca) and better staffed than is the one in Guayaquil.  We had a greater audience for the presentation of “Aguaje” on July 6, and as in Cuenca and Guayaquil the reception of both the poetry and artwork was marvelous.

 

In Quito we stayed with Alicia Ortega, a friend of Carmen who is a native of Guayaquil and who is Professor of Letters at the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar.  Alicia specializes in the city in literature, and she published a book from her masters thesis on the subject of urban graffiti (a subject, as you Torontonians know, that is close to my heart).  Alicia is a single parent with a super precocious nine year old daughter, Alejandra (nine going on thirty, as they say), who glommed onto me as do so many children here who lack a father figure in their lives (Alejandra’s father is a musician who studied in Russia and now lives in Spain with a new family – he  is expected to visit Ecuador next month and see his daughter for the first time since she was an infant, a fact which has produced a high degree of expectancy and anxiety in Alejandra).

 

We had only planned a week in Quito, but Alicia and Alejandra more or less kidnapped us (we were not that unwilling) to spend a second week there.  Quito is more spread out and hillier than Guayaquil, and a combination of the nine hour bus ride from Guayaquil and the first days of moving about was a strain on my back, so having a second week to rest up, spend time with folks and get around a bit more was most welcome.

 

Highlights of our time in the capital:

 

1) getting to know Alicia and Alejandra

 

2) getting together to party with friends of Alicia, including the

Managing Editor of Quito’s major daily newspaper, a very charismatic actress, and an Argentinean theater director who lives in Spain and was invited to Ecuador to direct a play in Quito.

 

3) spending time with Gerard Coffey, an environmental activist with whom I had worked in Toronto.  His Toronto group was helping to fund an Ecuadorian group (Acción Ecológia) which brought him here to visit several years ago, and he ended up marrying one of the leaders of the group, Cecilia Cherrez.  We had dinner with them at their home one evening, and on another occasion Gerard, who is British by birth, took me to an English Pub (!) in Quito where I downed two pints of genuine European style dark ale (this alone perhaps made the entire trip worthwhile).  Gerard and Cecilia are intimately involved with the political movements here, and they were amongst the Indigenous people, campesinos and rebel army officers who took control of the Congress on January 21.  They are in the process of trying to establish an alternative weekly newspaper, which is badly needed here (Gerard asked me to communicate that modest monetary contributions would be most welcome).  Gerard is also an artist, who, inspired by my example, has taken up the work again.  He recently exhibited in Quito drawings he had done at Central Tech in Toronto, and is developing a technique of making prints from raw potatoes!

 

4) a visit with Alicia Yanez, Ecuador’s finest woman novelist and a long time friend of Carmen.  She is a delightful, iconoclastic and liberated woman in her early 70′s, and we had lunch at her home with her son, who is an actor.  She loaned me a hardback copy of her one novel translated in English (Bruna and Her Sisters in the Sleeping City, Northwestern University Press), which, thanks to the second week, I had time to read.

 

5) visits with the two writers who had participated in the book presentation, Ivan Oñate and Simon Zavala.  Both are recognized literary figures in Ecuador, the latter is also a lawyer, and it was he who wrote and delivered an essay on my artwork.

 

6) Ulises Estrella is a poet who is also the director of cinegraphic arts at the Casa de la Cutura.  He took us on a tour of old Quito, and he also invited us to participate in a poetry workshop he coordinates, where Carmen was treated like a superstar.

 

7) a visit to the Municipal Museum to view an exhibit of the art of Ramón Piaguaje, the Secoya Indian from Ecuador who won the overall first prize in the Winsor and Newton international art competition.  He was supposed to be there, but was unable to make it.  The woman who coordinated the Ecuador aspect of the competition told of how it took nearly two months to find Ramón in the jungle to inform him of his success and to arrange for his trip to London to receive his prize from Diana’s ex-husband.  I had hoped to meet Ramón because I had spent a couple of weeks with his people in the jungle in 1961, a few years before he was born.  But I met a nephew of his who gave me the Secoya e-mail address!

 

8) visits with cousins of Carmen, Lupe and Patricia.  Lupe’s current companion is an advisor to the Izquierda Democrática (Democratic Left) political party, which is more centrist than left.  An ex-general, Paco Moncayo, who was an ID congressman and who supported the Indigenous uprising on January 21, was elected in May as Mayor of Quito with a huge majority.  Patricia’s husband is a doctor who specializes in natural healing techniques.  All very nice people.

 

9) a visit with Monica, a high school buddy of Carmen whom she hadn’t seen in over twenty years.  We had dinner (seafood paella, yummmm) with her and her husband and three daughters.  Jorge is an executive with Tesalia, which is a company that owns naturals springs and bottle and sell Tesalia (non-carbonated) and Guitig (carbonated) spring water.  Sort of the Perrier of Ecuador.

 

10) I have been informally invited to exhibit now at the Casa de la Cultura in Quito as well as Cuenca.  If I choose to follow up either or both invitations, I expect they will be confirmed and I will be kept busy at my easel for some time.

 

11) last but not least, the food, of course.  I had one of the best chicken tamales ever and empanadas made of morocho, a local variety of maize (corn) that is large grained and white.

 

We returned to Guayaquil on Saturday accompanied by Alicia and Alejandra, and spent the night with them at Alicia’s parents’ house there.  On Sunday we all took the bus to Playas, but unfortunately they could spend only one day with us as Alicia’s father took ill, and she needed to get back to Guayaquil.

 

I head back to Guayaquil tomorrow in hopes of picking up my t(rusty) 84 Chevy  Trooper, which for nearly three months now has been getting a body overhaul and paint job (the body shop man, and that is a euphemism since there is no shop, he works on the street in front of his house, replaces the rusted out parts of the body, piece by piece, soldering on new metal – the cost is next to nothing by N. American standards (two hundred bucks), but I should end up having a like new body — on the car, that is).

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 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.

From Ecuador: Good and Evil December 22, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Environment.
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A Conversation with Ecuador’s New President
by Greg Palast http://www.gregpalast.com/a-quechua-christmas-carol/ (no date)

[Quito] I don’t know what the hell seized me. In the middle of an hour-long interview with the President of Ecuador, I asked him about his father.

I’m not Barbara Walters. It’s not the kind of question I ask.Correa reading his daughters letter

He hesitated. Then said, “My father was unemployed.”

He paused. Then added, “He took a little drugs to the States… This is called in Spanish a mula [mule]. He passed four years in the states- in a jail.”

He continued. “I’d never talked about my father before.”

Apparently he hadn’t. His staff stood stone silent, eyes widened.

Correa’s dad took that frightening chance in the 1960s, a time when his family, like almost all families in Ecuador, was destitute. Ecuador was the original “banana republic” – and the price of bananas had hit the floor. A million desperate Ecuadorans, probably a tenth of the entire adult population, fled to the USA anyway they could.

“My mother told us he was working in the States.”

His father, released from prison, was deported back to Ecuador. Humiliated, poor, broken, his father, I learned later, committed suicide.

At the end of our formal interview, through a doorway surrounded by paintings of the pale plutocrats who once ruled this difficult land, he took me into his own Oval Office. I asked him about an odd-looking framed note he had on the wall. It was, he said, from his daughter and her grade school class at Christmas time. He translated for me.

“We are writing to remind you that in Ecuador there are a lot of very poor children in the streets and we ask you please to help these children who are cold almost every night.”

It was kind of corny. And kind of sweet. A smart display for a politician.

Or maybe there was something else to it.

Correa is one of the first dark-skinned men to win election to this Quechua and mixed-race nation. Certainly, one of the first from the streets. He’d won a surprise victory over the richest man in Ecuador, the owner of the biggest banana plantation.

Doctor Correa, I should say, with a Ph.D in economics earned in Europe. Professor Correa as he is officially called – who, until not long ago, taught at the University of Illinois.

And Professor Doctor Correa is one tough character. He told George Bush to take the US military base and stick it where the equatorial sun don’t shine. He told the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which held Ecuador’s finances by the throat, to go to hell. He ripped up the “agreements” which his predecessors had signed at financial gun point. He told the Miami bond vultures that were charging Ecuador usurious interest, to eat their bonds. He said ‘We are not going to pay off this debt with the hunger of our people. ” Food first, interest later. Much later. And he meant it.

It was a stunning performance. I’d met two years ago with his predecessor, President Alfredo Palacio, a man of good heart, who told me, looking at the secret IMF agreements I showed him, “We cannot pay this level of debt. If we do, we are DEAD. And if we are dead, how can we pay?” Palacio told me that he would explain this to George Bush and Condoleezza Rice and the World Bank, then headed by Paul Wolfowitz. He was sure they would understand. They didn’t. They cut off Ecuador at the knees.

But Ecuador didn’t fall to the floor. Correa, then Economics Minister, secretly went to Hugo Chavez Venezuela’s president and obtained emergency financing. Ecuador survived.

And thrived. But Correa was not done.

Elected President, one of his first acts was to establish a fund for the Ecuadoran refugees in America – to give them loans to return to Ecuador with a little cash and lot of dignity. And there were other dragons to slay. He and Palacio kicked US oil giant Occidental Petroleum out of the country.

Correa STILL wasn’t done.

I’d returned from a very wet visit to the rainforest – by canoe to a Cofan Indian village in the Amazon where there was an epidemic of childhood cancers. The indigenous folk related this to the hundreds of open pits of oil sludge left to them by Texaco Oil, now part of Chevron, and its partners. I met the Cofan’s chief. His three year old son swam in what appeared to be contaminated water then came outCofan Leader Criollo vomiting blood and died.

Correa had gone there too, to the rainforest, though probably in something sturdier than a canoe. And President Correa announced that the company that left these filthy pits would pay to clean them up.

But it’s not just any company he was challenging. Chevron’s largest oil tanker was named after a long-serving member of its Board of Directors, the Condoleezza. Our Secretary of State.

The Cofan have sued Condi’s corporation, demanding the oil company clean up the crap it left in the jungle. The cost would be roughly $12 billion. Correa won’t comment on the suit itself, a private legal action. But if there’s a verdict in favor of Ecuador’s citizens, Correa told me, he will make sure Chevron pays up.

Is he kidding? No one has ever made an oil company pay for their slop. Even in the USA, the Exxon Valdez case drags on to its 18th year. Correa is not deterred.

He told me he would create an international tribunal to collect, if necessary. In retaliation, he could hold up payments to US companies who sue Ecuador in US courts.

This is hard core. No one – NO ONE – has made such a threat to Bush and Big Oil and lived to carry it out.

And, in an office tower looking down on Quito, the lawyers for Chevron were not amused. I met with them.

Chevron Lawyers“And it’s the only case of cancer in the world? How many cases of children with cancer do you have in the States?” Rodrigo Perez, Texaco’s top lawyer in Ecuador was chuckling over the legal difficulties the Indians would have in proving their case that Chevron-Texaco caused their kids’ deaths. “If there is somebody with cancer there, [the Cofan parents] must prove [the deaths were] caused by crude or by petroleum industry. And, second, they have to prove that it is OUR crude – which is absolutely impossible.” He laughed again. You have to see this on film to believe it.

The oil company lawyer added, “No one has ever proved scientifically the connection between cancer and crude oil.” Really? You could swim in the stuff and you’d be just fine.

The Cofan had heard this before. When Chevron’s Texaco unit came to their land the the oil men said they could rub the crude oil on their arms and it would cure their ailments. Now Condi’s men had told me that crude oil doesn’t cause cancer. But maybe they are right. I’m no expert. So I called one. Robert F Kennedy Jr., professor of Environmental Law at Pace University, told me that elements of crude oil production – benzene, toluene, and xylene, “are well-known carcinogens.” Kennedy told me he’s seen Chevron-Texaco’s ugly open pits in the Amazon and said that this toxic dumping would mean jail time in the USA.

But it wasn’t as much what the Chevron-Texaco lawyers said that shook me. It was the way they said it. Childhood cancer answered with a chuckle. The Chevron lawyer, a wealthy guy, Jaime Varela, with a blond bouffant hairdo, in the kind of yellow chinos you’d see on country club links, was beside himself with delight at the impossibility of the legal hurdles the Cofan would face. Especially this one: Chevron had pulled all its assets out of Ecuador. The Indians could win, but they wouldn’t get a dime. “What about the chairs in this office?” I asked. Couldn’t the Cofan at least get those? “No,” they laughed, the chairs were held in the name of the law firm.

Well, now they might not be laughing. Correa’s threat to use the power of his Presidency to protect the Indians, should they win, is a shocker. No one could have expected that. And Correa, no fool, knows that confronting Chevron means confronting the full power of the Bush Administration. But to this President, it’s all about justice, fairness. “You [Americans] wouldn’t do this to your own people,” he told me. Oh yes we would, I was thinking to myself, remembering Alaska’s Natives.

Correa’s not unique. He’s the latest of a new breed in Latin America. Lula, President of Brazil, Evo Morales, the first Indian ever elected President of Bolivia, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. All “Leftists,” as the press tells us. But all have something else in common: they are dark-skinned working-class or poor kids who found themselves leaders of nations of dark-skinned people who had forever been ruled by an elite of bouffant blonds.

When I was in Venezuela, the leaders of the old order liked to refer to Chavez as, “the monkey.” Chavez told me proudly, “I am negro e indio” – Black and Indian, like most Venezuelans. Chavez, as a kid rising in the ranks of the blond-controlled armed forces, undoubtedly had to endure many jeers of “monkey.” Now, all over Latin America, the “monkeys” are in charge.

And they are unlocking the economic cages.

Maybe the mood will drift north. Far above the equator, a nation is ruled by a blond oil company executive. He never made much in oil – but every time he lost his money or his investors’ money, his daddy, another oil man, would give him another oil well. And when, as a rich young man out of Philips Andover Academy, the wayward youth tooted a little blow off the bar, daddy took care of that too. Maybe young George got his powder from some guy up from Ecuador.

I know this is an incredibly simple story. Indians in white hats with their dead kids and oil millionaires in black hats laughing at kiddy cancer and playing musical chairs with oil assets.

But maybe it’s just that simple. Maybe in this world there really is Good and Evil.

Maybe Santa will sort it out for us, tell us who’s been good and who’s been bad. Maybe Lawyer Yellow Pants will wake up on Christmas Eve staring at the ghost of Christmas Future and promise to get the oil sludge out of the Cofan’s drinking water.

Or maybe we’ll have to figure it out ourselves. When I met Chief Emergildo, I was reminded of an evening years back, when I was way the hell in the middle of nowhere in the Prince William Sound, Alaska, in the Chugach Native village of Chenega. I was investigating the damage done by Exxon’s oil. There was oil sludge all over Chenega’s beaches. It was March 1991, and I was in the home of village elder Paul Kompkoff on the island’s shore, watching CNN. We stared in silence as “smart” bombs exploded in Baghdad and Basra.

Then Paul said to me, in that slow, quiet way he had, “Well, I guess we’re all Natives now.”

Well, maybe we are. But we don’t have to be, do we?

Maybe we can take some guidance from this tiny nation at the center of the earth. I listened back through my talk with President Correa. And I can assure his daughter that she didn’t have to worry that her dad would forget about “the poor children who are cold” on the streets of Quito.

Because the Professor Doctor is still one of them.

Ecuador Defaults on Foreign Debt December 14, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Latin America.
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Written by Daniel Denvir   
Friday, 12 December 2008

ImagePresident Rafael Correa declared on Friday that Ecuador would not make a $30.6 million interest payment on $510 million in bonds due in 2012, calling the debt illegal.

The default on the Global Bonus 2012 bonds means that Ecuador is also defaulting on Global 2015 and 2030 bonds. The default totals $9.937 billion, 19 percent of the country’s GDP. Ecuador has assembled a legal team to fight expected lawsuits and hopes to use the default as leverage to renegotiate the debts.

Civil society organizations have long criticized foreign debt as a means of exploiting impoverished countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. The anti-debt organization Jubilee USA says “countries are paying debt service to wealthy nations and institutions at the expense of providing these basic services to their citizens.” In addition, lending institutions often use indebtedness to force cuts in social spending and impose business friendly economic policies.

The Confederation of Ecuadorian Kichwas (ECUARUNARI), the powerful Andean branch of the country’s indigenous peoples movement, has long called the foreign debt illegal and illegitimate. “We have not acquired any debt. The so-called public debt really belongs to the oligarchy. We the peoples have not acquired anything or been benefited, and thus we owe nothing.”

Mainstream analysts immediately predicted the move would hurt Ecuador economically, cutting off access to international credit from banks and multilateral institutions like the World Bank. Enrique Alvarez, head of research for Latin America Financial Markets at IDEAglobal in New York, told the Associated Press, “They were already sort of headed into isolation. Essentially now they’ve drawn shut the gate.” Critics also say that financial institutions will see Ecuador as risky and may be reluctant to loan to the country’s private sector.

But Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research argues that those claims are exaggerated. He says that the government does not currently require foreign funds and that any decision to not lend to Ecuador’s private sector would be purely ideological. “Ecuador doesn’t need to borrow right now, especially if they’re not paying the debt. They haven’t been borrowing on international markets recently.”

Osvaldo León of the Latin American Information Agency (ALAI) in Quito says that international banks and businesspeople are defending a corrupt and unjust system. “Of course the establishment is going to come out and protest this. This is going to affect the interests of capital. There’s going to be an offensive from both inside and out.” He charges that business friendly economists and financiers unfairly frame their arguments as scientific and opponents’ views as ideologically driven. “Ecuador has decided on a political response to a political problem. They always want things like this to be seen as a technical issue, a problem that only economists can deal with.”

Although Ecuador currently has the capacity to pay, dropping oil prices and squeezed credit markets are putting President Rafael Correa’s plans to boost spending on education and health care in jeopardy. Correa has pledged to prioritize the “social debt” over debt to foreign creditors.

Ecuador is undertaking a diplomatic offensive in an effort to win political support. Correa will be attending a summit in Brazil next week with presidents from throughout Latin American and Caribbean. Ecuador has called on Latin America to forge a united response to foreign debt. Venezuela, Bolivia and Paraguay have recently created debt audit commissions. Ecuador has also asked the United Nations to help develop international norms to regulate the foreign debt market.

But relations between Brazil and Ecuador have been tense since the September expulsion of the Brazilian firm Odebrecht over accused accusations of shoddy work on a hydroelectric plant and contract violations. Most recently, Ecuador filed suit in the International Chamber of Commerce to stop payment on a $286 million debt to The Brazilian National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES), credit that was allotted for Odebrecht’s hydroelectric project. Many activists in Ecuador see Brazil as a regional bully.

Last month, a special debt audit commission released a report charging that much of Ecuador’s foreign debt was illegitimate or illegal. The commission found that usurious interest rates were applied for many bonds and that past Ecuadorian governments illegally took other loans on. The report also accused Salomon Smith Barney, now part of Citigroup Inc., of handling the 2000 restructuring without Ecuador’s authorization, leading to the application of 10 and 12 percent interest rates. Ecuador’s military dictatorship (1974-1979) was the first government to lead the country into indebtedness.

Commercial debt, or debt to private banks, made up 44% of Ecuador’s interest payments in 2007, considerably more than the 27% paid to multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Daniel Denvir is an independent journalist in Quito, Ecuador and a 2008 recipient of NACLA’s Samuel Chavkin Investigative Journalism Grant. He is an editor at http://www.caterwaulquarterly.com.

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