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Ecuador: Reflections April 4, 2017

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Health, Latin America, Uncategorized.
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Reflection 1) For many years now my mantra has been: no more voting for the “lesser of evils.”  I have dual U.S / Canadian citizenship, and in North American elections I vote Green, but with no illusions that if the Greens ever came to power they wouldn’t act any different than than the existing major parties.  We’ve seen this time and time again where Social Democratic parties that call themselves Socialists form governments, they soon don’t smell any different than the others.  Why is this inevitable?  Because governments of capitalist democracies are basically there to protect the interests of capital over people; and the parties that win elections are basically tasked with administrating those interests.

 Anything different would be, in fact, revolutionary.  Fidel Castro understood this, which is why the Cuban Revolution didn’t devolve into wishy-washy social democracy.

So my Green vote is basically a protest vote.

But I digress.  Back to the lesser of evils.  As a Canadian / American it has become painfully obvious over many decades of observation and participation that when it comes to the big ticket items (military, finance, commerce, labor, etc.) there really is no substantial difference between the established parties.  The Democrats in the U.S. and the New Democrats in Canada can only attempt to create the illusion that there is indeed such a difference.

Well I suppose mantras are made to be broken.  Because the minute Trump was elected (no, the mini-second), which I never believed could happen, I was sorry I hadn’t voted for Clinton (whose policies on major issues I detest).  The lesser of evils.

Which brings me to Ecuador.  Sunday’s presidential election pitted the government supported candidate against a far right ex-banker (which the former won with a slim two percent advantage).  While I do not support the Correa government’s actions with respect to environmental protection (its expansion of oil and metal extraction in sensitive areas) or its aggressive repression of protest; unlike any government before it, going back to the end of the dictatorship in 1979, it has invested heavily in health, education, housing and infrastructure and considerably reduced the level of poverty in the country.

On the other hand, the election of the ultra-right ex-banker Guillermo Lasso, who has ties with rightest governments across the hemisphere, the quasi-facist Opus Dei, and almost certainly our friendly CIA, would have signalled a return to the neo-Liberal economic policies so inimical to workers and the poor.  The Lasso campaign played on the manufactured-in-the-USA fear that electing the government candidate would be turning Ecuador into Venezuela.

If I had a vote in Ecuador it would have been for the government candidate, so much for my mantra.  The name of the president-elect, by the way,  is Lenin Moreno (I would have preferred Vladimir, but you take what you can get).

(On a side note, you may remember that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been living for several years in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he was given asylum by the Ecuadorian government.  Well, Lasso had commented before the election that, if he won the presidency, he would cordially give Assange 30 days to leave the Embassy.  Yesterday, upon receiving the election results, i.e., Lasso’s defeat, Assange made a statement calling for Lasso to cordially leave Ecuador in 30 days!)

Reflection 2) My friend, David, who is a professor at a state university in the States, vacations every year in the Galapagos Islands, which is a province of Ecuador.  This year, a week prior to his scheduled return home, he had a nasty bike accident and seriously injured his leg.  He was carried back to his hotel, where he remained bed-ridden and unable to stand up.  This was on the distant and less populated island of Isabella, which has a small under-supplied medical clinic and one doctor, who examined David and thought there might be a fracture.  David was hoping that it was only severe ligament or muscle damage that would ease up in days so that he could rest up and return home on schedule.

On the Sunday prior to his scheduled departure on Tuesday, things still didn’t look good.  The doctor suggested that they get him to the central island of Santa Cruz, where there is a hospital with an X-ray facility.  The idea was that if there were no fracture, he could fly home Tuesday on schedule; but if it was serious, then he would probably have to remain in Ecuador for surgery.

On Monday, David flew to Santa Cruz, where his X-ray showed that he had indeed fractured his femur.  However, in spite of this finding, David decided he would tough it out and fly home the following day loaded up with pain killers and have his operation in the States.  This he did and is now resting post-surgery in a New Jersey hospital.

The point of my story?  Here are the medical services that David received.  The doctor who attended him on Isabella provided pain killers and spent an hour with him every day at his hotel.  On Monday, an ambulance met him at the hotel and took him to the small Isabella airport, where he boarded for the island of Santa Cruz.  At Santa Cruz and ambulance and a crew were waiting for him to take him to the hospital.  When he decided, in spite of the X-ray result, to return home on Tuesday, he had to be taken from the hospital in Santa Cruz by boat to the Island of Baltra, where he would catch his flight to Guayaquil (Ecuador’s largest city) from whence he would take his American Airlines flight home to the States.

All these services: the doctor’s fees, the medication, the X-ray, the overnight hospital stay in Santa Cruz and the ambulance services were paid for by the government of Ecuador.  And when David was informed that policy did not allow him to use an ambulance to get from Santa Cruz to his flight to Guayaquil because he was not being transported to an Ecuadorian hospital, David contacted his best friend and chess rival on the Galapagos, whose brother was the head of tourism there, it was arranged for an exception be made for him.  Otherwise he could not have made it home.

This entire episode did not cost David a red cent!

Now I want you to imagine an Ecuadorian tourist to the United States experiencing a similar traumatic accident and what they would have gone through and what it would have cost them.  And tell me, which country is the Banana Republic and which the “civilized” nation.

I experienced something similar in Cuba many years ago, but I will save that for another time.


The Policeman Cometh:Yesterday’s insurrection by the police is over, but the results are far from certain. October 2, 2010

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Gerard Coffey


Quito . 1st October

Yesterday’s insurrection by the police is over, but the results are far from certain.

It felt strangely like a film, a very long film. It was exciting, at times dangerous, and had a good ending. The good President (Rafael Correa) was rescued after a gun battle between the army and the police, returned triumphant, and denounced the evil ex President (Lucio Gutierrez) as being the influence behind police units that took him hostage. So at ten o‘clock, when it was all over, I switched off the television and went to bed.

This morning it doesn’t seem quite so clear cut . On the radio I can hear talk about the next time, about the police and the military joining up with the civil servants affected by the new legislation that supposedly sparked yesterday´s insurrection. A friend warns me: “in Latin America “, he says “these semi coups are often followed by real ones”. He’s probably thinking about Chile in 1973. It was a long time ago though, and things have changed. Maybe. His words are worth pondering.

On the radio I can hear a repeat of yesterday’s  pronouncements by  the head of the joint military command, General Ernesto Gonzalez. He’s saying that the fault lies with the imposition of the legislation. Correa is not mentioned by name, but it’s evident that he’s the one implicated. General Gonzalez also suggests that the legislation be amended or shelved. It’s hardly a ringing endorsement of the government or a condemnation of the police. On another station, someone asks why the military took so long to act. We don’t know. It could have been nothing more than logistics. But the question is valid. It took from the time for the General’s declaration, around three in the afternoon, until about eight at night for the special forces to get to the hospital where the President was being held.

Once there, it has to be said that they did their job well. There was a lot of shooting. A lot. In total the confrontation lasted about five hours. Some members of the military were taken hostage by the police. But there was little bloodshed  (only two police and one soldier died- More recent figures but the overall total at 8 dead and 193 injured). The president was successfully rescued, ‘carried out like a corpse’ as he put it later. And if anyone seriously doubted that this was an attempted coup (at least by some elements of the police), then the long drawn out gun battle needed to get Correa out of the hospital must have put those reservations to rest. There seems no other explanation. This was not the result of a dispute over piece of legislation.

Today, there is some police presence on the streets, but little evidence of the military apart from the odd helicopter flying overhead. Things are quiet. Relief is the general sentiment. People are talking, exchanging stories. commenting on the events of the day before: the looting and bank robberies in Guayaquil; the robberies in Quito, where two banks were also broken into; the aggression of the police. A friend who took part in the march to the hospital where Correa was being held, says he´s never seen so much tear gas. I had my own stories. I was knocked over when I tried to intervene to save a man who being attacked by about ten police; I later had to escape when police charged with guns drawn and firing live ammunition into the air, as far as we could tell. There wasn’t much point in hanging about to make sure.  So we all ran, like hell.  I saw one man lying on the ground surrounded by a few friends. He looked seriously injured (he now appears to have died). There was no way to know; at that moment the police reinforcements arrived: a phalanx of motorcycles that chased the crowd into the park. I took shelter on the other side of the street.  My neighbor has his own account. He’s about 65, works as a carpenter´s assistant and can only be described as having humble origins. He tells me he was in the main square until eleven at night listening to the President when he returned triumphant. “We said we were going to stay and die there or wait till Correa came back” he tells me.

I was also there, but earlier in the day. The square was full, and most of the people were like my neighbour, working class, although that’s a bit of a misnomer. Most of them likely don’t have full time work, are sub employed as they say. The same thing couldn’t be said for the people I met a little later outside the National Assembly. They were evidently protesting and the red flags led me to think, somewhat naively, that they were Correa supporters. But no. These were judicial workers, also affected by the new Civil Service legislation, and they were also angry, and all well dressed. The flags belonged to the Marxist Leninist party and its political wing, the MPD, which seemed to be behind the demonstration. I asked one woman if they supported the police. She said yes. The world was off its axis. I shook my head and walked away. On television  I saw images of other MPD supporters confronting  ‘a palos’ as they say, a group of Correa supporters.

For Correa this is part of the problem. In his four years in office he has made a lot of changes , mainly for the good, but also a lot of enemies. He has never courted the social movements and they’re not on his side. Despite what the woman said to me outside the National Assembly it seems unlikely that the unions, the indigenous groups, the environmentalists , the majority of teachers , or even the majority of civil servants, actively support the police. There is general agreement that they are dangerous, often in league with thieves and recently the subject of accusations of Human Rights violations made by the Truth Commission. But these groups definitely don’t like Correa that much.  His major support is amongst the poorest least organized sectors, and that could be a bit of problem if it comes to another confrontation.

A lot of people have been affected by Correa’s confrontational, steamroller style. He´s a man in a hurry. And that causes problems. But because of it there have major positive changes. He far outshines the other do-nothing governments I’ve know. The country is no longer the banana republic it was for example in the time of President Bucaram, in the mind nineties. But the opposition, of whom many previously spent a lot of time calling for governability, doesn’t seem to understand that in a democracy the ruling party implements its agenda, and there is little the rest can do about it except shout. Or maybe they do understand. They just don’t like it. Which is fine, but even for them actions such as yesterday’s can hardly be called democratic. The police have no business taking control of the streets.

For their part the media are calling for more democracy, more dialogue, although it’s hard to understand what that means, unless you take it as a call for Correa to implement what the opposition wants. And for better or worse, ´dialogue´ is not Rafael Correa´s strong point.  As for the agents of law enforcement, no one seems sure of what will happen. What do you do with a group of armed and dangerous people in uniform?  In the long term the rebellious elemants, the kidnappers, have to cleared out and dealt with. But  in the short term it’s hard to imagine thatmuch can, or even should, be done. No one wants a repeat of yesterday, and that is still a possibility. It´s still a delicate situation. There is undoubtedly a lot of resentment. There is also the question of relations between the police and the military. The police will undoubtedly feel aggrieved that their ‘legitimate’ protest was put down by the army. But if the police do decide to take to the streets again, there is a feeling that the support of the military may not be that firm the next time around.

The most important point is that government is back in control. Plans will likely include a large scale march of support for the President, bringing people in from all parts of the country.  Correa himself is still very popular nationally, with approval ratings over sixty percent , and this may help to dissuade any further troublemaking.  But things do need time to cool down.  And for the time being at least, a more rational, less confrontation approach would seem the wisest course of action.

Ecuador: Left Turn? October 19, 2009

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Ecuador: Left Turn? Print E-mail
Written by Marc Becker
Thursday, 08 October 2009
ImageSource: Against the Current

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rafael Correa and a New Constitution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2009 Elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indigenous Movements in Opposition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twenty-first Century Socialism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the World Social Forum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many Lefts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

www.upsidedownworld.org, May 20, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada’s Glowing Reputation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ImageThe Environment, an Afterthought

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anne Marie was appointed to study the issue.

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

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

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

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

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

ImageSorrow is Ours, the Cows are Not

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Waterkeepers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jennifer MooreAccion’s Closure, a Red Flag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Extension of World Bank Policies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Change from Below

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


“If the world is upside down the way it is now, wouldn’t we have to turn it over to get it to stand up straight?” -Eduardo Galeano
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Ecuador: Mining and the Right of Way April 9, 2009

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


www.upsidedownworld.org, Wednesday, 25 March 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From chaos to closer alignment between Correa and Canadian interests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foolproof technology?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good living before big business

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mobilization, Repression, and Beyond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Arguments in Dispute

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Continental Uproar Against Mining

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

End Notes

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



Translated for the Americas Program by Eliot Brockner.

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

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




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 accuses US official of taking police files February 14, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Latin America.
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 Maria Eugenia Tello

GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador, Feb 10 (Reuters) – Ecuador’s leftist president, Rafael Correa, on Tuesday accused a U.S. diplomat he expelled of taking computers and sensitive police files from the country.

Correa threw out the embassy official on Saturday, saying the low-level diplomat had meddled in police affairs by trying to handpick officers involved in a U.S. aid project.

“A foreign embassy official takes computers with him … and information from the national police. We won’t stand for this. We will investigate and make a complaint,” Correa told navy officers in the city of Guayaquil.

“The days of colonialism are behind us,” said Correa, an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who faces re-election in April.

Correa, a U.S.-trained economist, has generally had good relations with the United States, but political analysts say he could bolster his poll ratings by taking a tough line on what he deems as foreign interference.

U.S. authorities have downplayed the incident, saying the official, Armando Astorga, had already left the Andean nation in January as part of a normal staff rotation.

Carlos Cordova, a pollster with Cedatos-Gallup said, “This shows you that Correa will use every tool to gain votes for his re-election. He wants to inflate the nationalistic spirit and portray himself as a strong leader.”

Many Ecuadoreans are critical of U.S. policy in Latin America, particularly Washington’s military aid to neighboring Colombia to fight a four-decade guerrilla war that sometimes spills across the border.

The United States is Ecuador’s main trading partner and the destination for much of its oil and banana exports.

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: 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.