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Ecuador: Left Turn? October 19, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rafael Correa and a New Constitution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2009 Elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indigenous Movements in Opposition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twenty-first Century Socialism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the World Social Forum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many Lefts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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: The Siege Goes On December 23, 2008

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


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


Quito, 03 February 2001


Ecuadorian government tries to intimidate Indigenous groups


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Ecuadorian Commission Alleges C.I.A. Infiltration of Ecuadorian Police and Military November 1, 2008

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An Ecuadorian government agency, the Commission to Invistage Police and Military Intelligence Services (Comisión para la Investigación de los Servicios de Inteligencia Militares y Policiales) has issued a report accusing the United States government of illegal interference with its internal security (El Universo, Guayaquil, November 1, 2008).


The Commission’s report has been backed by Ecuador’s Minister of Defence, Javier Ponce, who has called for an investigation to determine those responsible for turning information over to the C.I.A.  Ponce further supports the Commission’s eleven recommendations, which include the restructuring of the nation’s intelligence apparatus.  He also has called for the dismissal from Ecuador’s intelligence service those who were directly involved with the actions of Colonel Mario Pazmiño.  Colonel Pazmiño, former Director of Ecuador’s intelligence service, was accused of withholding from the government intelligence about Franklin Aisalla, an Ecuadorian with alleged connection with the Colombia guerrilla army, FARC (Aisalla was killed earlier this year along with 15 others in a Colombian military raid on a FARC camp within Ecuador’s territory where they successfully assassinated FARC number two leader, Raúl Reyes).  It is assumed that he had passed this information on to the C.I.A.


The Commission’s report alleges that the Ecuadorian Police’s Special Investigations Unit (Unidad de Investigaciones Especiales  – UIES) is financed and controlled by the U.S Ambassador to Ecuador and that Ecuadorian military officers acted in the interest of the United States in order to conceal information, make evidence disappear, and confuse the government with respect to the Colombian incursion into Ecuador’s territory in March.


Ecuador’s National Police Commander, Jaime Hurtado, has denied that his organization turns over information to the C.I.A., and admits only that a collaboration does exist between the Ecuadorian National Police and foreign authorities, especially with respect to anti-drug investigations.  He added that he had no information about Ecuadorian police turning over information [to the United States], but should such evidence come to light, he would take the proper steps against those responsible.


Heather Hodges, the United States Ambassador to Ecuador has refused to comment on matters of intelligence, but she did add that the U.S. has and will continue to work with the Ecuadorian Police and Military on matters of mutual security.

Ecuador Overwhelmingly Adopts Progressive Constitution September 29, 2008

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Roger Hollander/September 29, 2008


In voting to approve a new progressive and nationalistic constitution, the vast majority of Ecuadorians have again scored a major victory against the traditional right and the capitalist “owners” of the country.


Last year an unprecedented 81% of Ecuadorians had voted to create a Constituent Assembly with a mandate to propose a new Magna Carta for the country, and then gave the supporters of President Rafael Correa a healthy majority in the Assembly.  Now, in a referendum held ysterday, September 28, by an overwhelming margin of nearly three to one, the people of Ecuador voted to adopt the new constitution.


The new constitution provides for the protection of the nation’s natural resources (including land and water), creates a pluri-national state in which the rights of women, racial minorities, and Indigenous communities are protected.  It places a major emphasis on human rights; allows for civil union for gays and Lesbians; free health care for seniors, women who are pregnant and nursing, and those with major illness such as cancer and AIDs; and free public education up to the university level.  It prohibits the establishment of foreign military bases within its borders (Correa has already made it clear that the large U.S. airbase in the major port of Manta will be dismantled when the treaty that created it expires in 2009).


Although the new constitution was put together in haste and is an unwieldy document of more than 200 pages (and it remains to be seen if the government can generate the financial resources or has the capacity to create the institutional infrastructure to comply with its objectives in a timely manner), its approval by the Ecuadorian masses represents another victory for Rafael Correa, a U.S. educated economist who refers to himself as a “Christian Socialist.”  It provides a base for continued reforms aimed at the various forms of capitalist imperialism that have plagued the country since its inception.  This includes a determination to re-distribute wealth through taxation and subsides, protective tariffs for local industry, and fair labor laws.  The government already has shown a determination to challenge unfair international debt and to expel industries that violate its laws and damage the environment.  Although the government is not without its internal critics, it is by and large supported by all the progressive social movements in the country, along with the Indigenous communities and organized labor.


What is perhaps most astonishingly refreshing is to see nearly seven out of every ten Ecuadorians say “Yes” to a constitutional initiative that resoundingly rejects the corrupt traditional political parties of the right, the financial and capitalist industrial sector, the traditional economic oligarchies, and the reactionary hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church.  This in spite of a Rovian type campaign against the constitution that was based upon distortion and fear; raised the spectre of dictatorship, rampant abortion, homosexuality and godlessness; and which had the support of the majority of the media, the Church, the banks, the industrial sector, the political pundits, and the far right Social Christian Party, which has ruled on the Coast of Ecuador for decades (I find it fascinating to ponder why Ecuadorians seem to be more “Rove-proof” than North Americans).


This, of course does not mean that the capitalist class and the right are acknowledging defeat.  As with the four separatist provinces in Bolivia, which have brought that country to the brink of civil war through U.S. supported sabotage and right-wing terrorism, Jaime Nebot, Mayor of Guayaquil and leader of the Social Christian Party has threatened to initiate a separatist movement (which is specifically prohibited by the new constitution) and has made it clear that continued resistance to progressive reform will continue with a vengeance.  However, his hand has been weakened significantly by the overwhelming “Yes” vote at the national level, and even a slim plurality over the “No” vote both in Guayaquil and the broader coastal Province of Guayas.


All this also does not mean that Correa necessarily understands the law of value and is prepared to lead a frontal attack against capital itself.  He is radically progressive in a nationalist sense, but not a socialist in the Marxist sense.  Nonetheless, he symbolically heads a movement that represents the masses of Ecuadorians who are passionate for fundamental change against the corruption and plundering of the nation’s wealth, which has left a legacy of poverty and hunger.  It is a movement that is not going to rest until a genuine humanistic society replaces that of inherent capitalist exploitation.





Elections in the U.S., Canada and Ecuador, and the Influence of Karl Rove September 24, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in About Canada, About Ecuador, About Repubicans, Canada, U.S. Election 2008.
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I have ties with three countries, the United States, Canada and Ecuador, which happen to be — all three– in the midst of election campaigns.


A single word comes to mind: Rove.  As in Karl Rove.  In the States Rove and his protégés are firmly in control of the McCain campaign.  And it’s all about Sarah Palin, who combines the characteristics of motherhood and apple pie at the same time as she comes across, as one commentator described her, as a toned down porn star.  Issues be damned.  It’s about Sarah, right to life (for the foetus if not for American soldiers and Iraqi and Afghani civilians), gay marriage, flexing American muscle in the face of terrorism, taking advantage of every vestige of racism that remains strong in the American psyche, and, of course, playing the religion card.  It’s a form of triumphalism that would make Joseph Goebbels proud.


In Canada, where a former Prime Minister, once famously said elections are no place to discuss issues, Conservative PM Stephen Harper has not forgotten the infamous Willie Horton commercial that sunk Michael Dukakis in the 1988 U.S. presidential election.  He is promoting life sentences for 14 year old gang members (with parole eligibility after 25 years – let no one ever say that Harper doesn’t have a heart).  In an attempt to paint his opponents as latte drinking, quiche eating elites, he has justified his cutting of funding to arts and culture because ordinary folks don’t care about the arts.  He went on to add: “average Canadians have no sympathy for ‘rich’ artists who gather at galas to whine about their grants.”


But it is in Ecuador, which is in the midst of a referendum to approve or reject a new progressive Constitution, that even Karl Rove could learn a thing or two.  The “No” campaign has stooped to lows that the master of lies, distortion and spin might not dare to descend.  The Ecuadorian right, along with its conservative allies in the Roman Catholic hierarchy, are shouting at the top of their collective voice (with the support of most Ecuadorian media) that the under the proposed new Constitution, the State will promote abortion, homosexuality, dictatorship, poverty and hunger (including the latter two is bitterly ironic in that those who for generation have held power and are desperate not to relinquish it, are the very ones responsible for the high degree of poverty and hunger that exist in the country in the first place).


Riding through the streets of Guayaquil, the nations largest city and principal seaport, I saw scores of humble apparently home-made “No” signs.  I said to myself that the “No” campaign must be somehow getting to ordinary people.  On closer look, however, I discovered that the signs, which appeared to be clumsily made with ball point pens, were in fact mass produced lithographs.  You might try that one some day, Karl.


No here is what for me is the most interesting irony.  In the U.S. and Canada, the Rovite candidates are poised to celebrate victory.  In Canada, Conservative PM Stephen Harper seems to be on the verge of converting his minority government into a majority one.  In the States, McCain still holds a slight edge over Obama, despite the fact that the popularity of the Republican Party is at an all-time low.  These campaigns are far from over, and could still turn around in favor of more moderate parties.


In Ecuador, however, despite the heavily financed campaign for the “No” vote coming from the traditional rightist parties and their corporate sponsors, and despite the backing of most of the media and political pundits for a “No” vote; the “Yes” campaign appears to hold a solid majority.  The majority of Ecuadorians, who live in a country where the levels of illiteracy and under education far exceed those of the United States and Canada, somehow have found a way to see through the lies and manipulations and have continued to support the Alianza País Party (which has created the proposed new Constitution) and its President, Rafael Correa, who have maintained high degrees of popularity despite constant attacks from the right and the media.


There is a powerful slogan that is often used at political rallies: “El pueblo, unido, jamás será vencido” (“the people, united, will never be defeated”).  In Ecuador, this seems to be developing into reality.  I have hopes for the same in the two North American alleged democracies.


More on the Bolivia Crisis from Newsweek September 18, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Ecuador, Latin America.
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Some of us remember the separatist in the mineral rich Katanga Province in the Congo in the 1960s.  The elites of that province waged a campaign to destabilize the country in the name of regional autonomy in an attempt to destroy economic reforms that would have benefited the poor.

It is with a sense of deja vu that we see what is happening today in Bolivia and Ecuador.  The Newsweek article below tells the story in Bolivia in a most comprehensive way.  As well, just today, Rafael Correa, the President of Ecuador, issued a warning with respect to his country, which is holding a referendum on a new progressive constitution on September 28.  Although it is widely believed that the people of Ecuador will overwhelmingly vote in favor of this new constitution, the Province of Guayas, which contains the country’s largest city and major seaport, Guayaquil, has been ruled for decades by the ultra right Social Christian Party (which is neither social nor Christian!) on behalf of the economic power structure.  It’s Mayor, Jaime Nebot, is leading a campaing to reject the constitution and is supported by the leadership of the Catholic Church, which is falsely claiming that the constitution is pro-abortion.  Correa rightly smells the shit in the wind and advises that if the population of Guayas Province votes NO, Guayaquil is likeley to become the center of a campaign of destabilization similar to what is happening in Bolivia.  As a resident of this area I can tell you that the Right and the Church have left no stones unturned in their campaing of lies and distortion.  This included a physical attack on the President organized by rightist students at the Catholic University in an attempt to create havoc and embarassment, and portray the president as anti-student.  Nevertheless, I see many signs that this campaign is not going to succeed, and I expect a narrow vote in favor of the constitution even in Guayaquil, where it appears that many are seeing through the base tactics of the Social Christians and their righist allies.  This will be very interesting to watch.


 Michael Miller, Newsweek, Sept. 13, 2008

Opponents of Bolivia’s President Evo Morales. (Photo: Dad Galdieri / AP)

    Despite winning last month’s recall election, President Evo Morales faces escalating violence from protesters who don’t want to share the nation’s natural-gas wealth.

    Relations between Bolivia’s President Evo Morales and the country’s wealthy easterners were tense from the start. Since Morales’s election in 2005, the eastern provinces, known as the “Media Luna,” or half moon, which have grown rich on natural gas, have fought bitterly over a new constitution that would redistribute some of that wealth to the western provinces. The opposition has recently waged disruptive strikes. Protests began to take a more violent turn after Morales trounced the opposition in last month’s recall election. This week at least eight Bolivians were killed in clashes. Opposition groups blew up part of a natural gas pipeline and vandalized government offices, causing millions of dollars worth of damage. They have also succeeded in disrupting trade with Brazil and Argentina, which rely on Bolivia’s natural gas.

    Relations between Bolivia and the United States have quickly deteriorated as well. Bolivia expelled U.S. ambassador Philip Goldberg for “conspiring against democracy” and in response the Bush administration sent the Bolivian ambassador in Washington packing. In a show of support, Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s president and staunch Evo ally, ejected the American envoy from Caracas. On Friday, Morales sent troops into the eastern provinces to restore order. To find out where it’s all headed, Newsweek’s Michael Miller talked with economist and Bolivia expert Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C.


    Newsweek: How serious is the fallout between the United States and Bolivia? I think it’s serious. I think that this thing was coming for a long time. There had been a number of incidents. There was the incident with the Peace Corps and the Fulbright scholar [asked to spy by the U.S. Embassy]. And then there are the meetings between the ambassador and the opposition. Obviously he’s the ambassador: he should meet with everybody. But the way he did and the timing of it was considered unfriendly. I think you have a bigger structural problem, which is that you have USAID funding groups in Bolivia but they won’t disclose who they are. They are doing this now in Venezuela too. These are polarized countries. So on that basis both of these governments [Bolivia and Venezuela] just assume that Washington is doing what it has always done, which is to fund the people that they are sympathetic to.


    How much influence do eastern Bolivia’s large estate owners have? What kind of pressure do opposition groups exert in Bolivia?

    Quite a bit. That’s what this conflict is really about. You have the most concentrated land ownership in almost the entire world in Bolivia, with around two thirds of the land owned by six tenths of one percentnot even one percentof the landowners. Obviously Evo Morales ran on a platform of land reform. He is not talking about confiscating huge amounts of land, but there is going to be some redistribution. There is the hydrocarbon revenue, which goes disproportionately to the Media Luna states with the opposition governors. So those are the two big economic reasons for this conflict.

     Which one, land or hydrocarbons, is really the central issue? That is a tough question. The hydrocarbons are more immediate because [the government has] already begun some redistribution there. Morales has not touched the landowners. So I guess you could say that [hydrocarbons] are the bigger issue. I was in Bolivia a couple months ago and I met with the Central Bank and the ministries. The government has $ 7 billion in reserves right now in the Central Bank, which is an awful lot [considering] their whole GDP is only $13.2 billion. Most of it is owned by the prefectures, the provinces, so they have a lot of money. So it is hard to explain why they would raise such a fuss over the government wanting to take a small part of that and use it for some pensions for people over 60, which also goes to their own residents.

     How does this tie into the recent recall election in Bolivia? Wasn’t that election meant to resolve this impasse between the Morales government and the opposition provinces?

    It did show some things. First of all, Morales got 67 percent of the vote, which is as big as you get in politics in the world without fixing the election. And the other thing it showed is if you look at the Media Luna provinces, while it’s true that the opposition won, the vote for Morales also went up enormously as compared to what he got in 2005. So his support, his mandate, really increased quite a bit since the 2005 election. What you are seeing right now is that the people who could not win anything at the ballot box are trying to use other means. They are cutting off the gas, which is very serious.

     What are the financial consequences of opposition groups disrupting Bolivia’s natural gas pipeline?

    It’s huge. It’s more of a problem for Brazil than it is for Bolivia: they get half their gas from Bolivia and more than half in the industrial region of Sao Paolo. For Bolivia it is quite a lot of money. It is a $100 million estimated just to fix [the gas pipeline] and $8 million per day of revenue lost as well. But it is even worse than that because the opposition can really sabotage the whole economy. Everything that the government is doing in terms of the next five years as far as extending gas supply to Brazil and Argentina, if Bolivia can’t be a reliable gas supplier then those countries are going to have to look elsewhere. So it is a form of serious sabotage. The [Morales government] is calling it “terrorism.”

     Will Morales’s mandate enable him to act more forcefully toward the breakaway provinces or is he going to have to wait for the constitutional referendum in December?

    I think he is going to have to do something. The government has been very pacifist and I think they don’t get enough credit for that. Most governments in the world would have sent in the military in force and a lot of people would have been killed. He has been extremely restrained. He has tried to avoid violence at all costs and the opposition has been emboldened by that. They just keep escalating. Now they are taking it to a different stage and I don’t know how much more the government can just try to ignore it. They really depend on these gas exports, as do Brazil and Argentina. Brazil issued a statement the other day that said they will not tolerate an interruption in the constitutional order in Bolivia. Whether that means they will send troops, I don’t know.

     Does this have a financial impact on the United States? Or is the decision to expel the Bolivian ambassador simply a quid pro quo response? Is there real money at stake for the United States?

    I don’t think there is really anything at stake for the United States. If [by antagonizing Morales] they push Chavez too far, there is always the chance that he could cut off oil. But it is unlikely.

     What type of fallout will there from Morales’ use of troops in the eastern provinces?

    It depends on what the [government forces do] and on their capacity for crowd control and using non-lethal weapons. Look at what happened prior to Morales: they are still trying to extradite the former president [Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada] for all the people who were killed in the demonstrations back then. Morales has been on the other side of this and he knows that things can get out of control. So he is trying to do everything to avoid that but it’s not easy when you have an opposition that is not operating by the same rules.


    Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, DC.

Stealing Elections for Dummies: the Referendum in Ecuador September 11, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in About Ecuador, Ecuador, Latin America.
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Stealing Elections for Dummies


©Roger Hollander, 2008


You will, of course, recognize the author of “Stealing Elections for Dummies,” a man whose name will go down in infamy for his gift to the American people and the world of none other than George W. Bush.


I have just returned for another stint in Ecuador, and if Karl Rove is not here in the flesh, his spirit certainly has arrived to haunt an important election.  For nearly a year an elected Constituent Assembly has been at work to hammer out a new Constitution for the country, one that will, if adopted, mark the beginning of a new era of government.  The thrust of the proposed new Constitution would be to create government where priority is given to social justice and human rights, in a country where poverty, economic inequality and corruption have ruled since time immemorial.


A nation-wide referendum will be held on September 28 to either accept or reject the proposed new Constitution.  Campaigns for “Sí” and “No” are in full swing.  The left-progressive government of President Rafael Correa along with allied political parties and virtually every civil social movement are hard at work to promote the “Yes” vote.  The ruling oligarchy and the traditional center and right parties are desperate to achieve a negative result.


And this is where students of the fine art of Karl Rove come into play.  Although the Constituent Assembly  worked diligently to put together a draft Constitution that deals with the economy, natural resources, health, education, culture, provincial autonomy, the military, etc.; the “No” campaign is talking (yelling, screaming) about only two issues.   You guessed it … gays and abortion.  In a country that is over 90% Roman Catholic.


The new Constitution would define marriage as that between a man and a woman; but it does allow for the equivalence of civil unions for gays.  “No” campaign bumper stickers boldly carry sweet slogans like “No to Faggots.”


But an alien visiting Ecuador right now might thing there is a referendum on nothing other than abortion.  The new Constitution protects the sanctity of life beginning with conception.  However, it allows for the right of families to limit the number of children, which in essence gives legitimacy to birth control; but it goes further to state the abortion is not considered a legitimate form of birth control.  This somehow is not good enough for the Catholic Church leaders in the country, who have allied themselves with the political right in the “No” camp.


By far the most ubiquitous “No” campaign slogan is a simple “No to Abortion.”


Such strategies in the U.S, along with other nefarious tactics (such as denying voting rights to minorities who would likely vote Democratic and outright manipulation of electronic voting where there is no paper trail) have worked for Professor Karl Rove and his eager Republican students; and the McCain/Palin campaign has already began to clobber Barak Obama with what is tried and true.


The same “consultants” who advise the Republican Party in the U.S. also made there way to Mexico in 2006, and majority opinion in Latin America is that the presidential victory of rightist Felipe Calderón over progressive reformer López Obrador by less than one hundredth of one percent was another example of electoral thievery.


In Ecuador, however, where the young charismatic and progressive Rafael Correa came virtually out of nowhere to win the presidency in 2006; and where the referendum to hold a Constituent Assembly to restructure the nation’s political system was supported by a whopping 80% of the population; and where the supporters of Correa won over two thirds of the Constituent Assembly seats; a victory for the “Yes” campaign is almost universally expected to overcome the lies and distortions and approve the new Constitution.  We will know on September 28.


Assuming this to be the likely outcome, it is nice to know that somewhere in the world, even in the political backwater of a small country such as Ecuador, with its population of only 12 million, the wisdom of ordinary people can see through the manipulations of those powerful interests that have kept them in poverty and misery for such a long time.