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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.

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Ecuador Election: No Good Option for the Amazon March 31, 2017

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Latin America, Right Wing, Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note: This is a good, if limited, analysis of the Ecuadorian presidential run-off election that takes place this Sunday. In the first round of voting, the Government candidate, Lenin Moreno, needed 40% of the vote to avoid a second round.  He won by a large amount against the rest of the field, but with 39.3% of the vote, he fell short of election.  

Ten years of the Correa government has left the Ecuadorian left in shambles.  The coalition that brought Correa to power — the Indigenous and campesino communities, the environmentalists, most of the social movements and labor  unions  — have been shut out and for the most part are considered “enemies” by Correa, and not only to him personally, but to the Ecuadorian state.

Watching the Indigenous organizations and most of the political lefts coming out in support of the Banker, Guillermo Lasso, is almost surreal.  Lasso was the chief economic advisor (Superminister of  Economy and Energy) to Jamil Mahuad, whose presidency was responsible for the infamous “banking holiday” in 1999 where thousands of Ecuadorians lost their life savings.  Mahuad had to flee the country and landed at Harvard University’s Kennedy School, where he lectures on economics in spite of the fact that he is on INTERPOL’s wanted list (I am not making this up).

Candidate Lasso is connected to right wing governments throughout the region and to the alt-right Roman Catholic Opus Dei.  Regardless of what he has told the Amazonian Indigenous in order to gain their support (a la Trump), his election would certainly mean a return to the pre-Correa belt-tightening neo-Liberal corruption that plagued the country for decades.  For these reasons it is mind-boggling to see much of the left behind his candidacy.

Whether he wins or loses on Sunday, the Lasso phenomenon is another example of that notion that presidential elections in our so-called democracies do not give genuine options for social justice, that voters get fed up with existing governments and vote in whatever opposition option they are given, even those oppositions that are contrary to the self interest of those who vote them in (again, a la Trump).

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Photo credit: Amazon Watch

By KEVIN KOENIG

All over the capital city of Quito and throughout the small towns in the countryside, campaign propaganda is everywhere. Posters choke telephone poles, flags hang from windows, awnings, and corner stores, entire houses are painted with the respective colors of Alianza PAIS – Ecuador’s governing party of the last ten years – and those of the opposition CREO party, which is running on the promise of change. This Sunday, Ecuadorians will take to the polls and vote again for president, and the stakes couldn’t be higher for the country’s Amazon rainforest and its indigenous inhabitants.

The April 2nd run-off election pits Guillermo Lasso, a right-wing former banker against the former vice president of the outgoing and controversial current president, Rafael Correa. It will be the first time in recent memory that Correa, the country’s longest-standing elected president, won’t be on the ballot. The Alianza PAIS ticket is led by both vice presidents who served under Correa: Lenin Moreno and Jorge Glas.

Ten years ago, Correa embarked on what he dubbed a “Citizens’ Revolution,” the largest expansion of public sector spending in the country’s history, which included investments in schools, hospitals, roads and other infrastructure development like port expansions and hydroelectric dams. The administration also greatly expanded subsidy programs for housing and monthly cash payments to the country’s poor.

But it has all come at a price. To implement these popular measures, and to maintain the national economy after being shut out of the finance world due to a debt default, Correa borrowed heavily from China, amassing loans for more than US $15 billion. But many of these loans must be paid in oil, committing the majority of the crude the country extracts to China through 2024. As oil prices have dropped, the quantity of oil needed to repay those loans has increased, essentially guaranteeing new oil drilling in Ecuador’s pristine, indigenous rainforest territories in the Amazon.

In other words, Correa made poverty reduction depend upon the exploitation of natural resources in one of the most ecologically and culturally important places on the planet. Correa once promised to “drill every drop of oil” in the Amazon, ignoring the ecological and cultural harm this would cause as well as the “resource curse” and likelihood of corruption (which has occurred in Ecuador) resulting from relying heavily on oil, gas, or mineral extraction as the mainstay of a country’s economy.

For his part, opposition leader Guillermo Lasso, a former banker from the port city of Guayaquil, promises a return to U.S.-aligned, right-wing policies and reliance upon traditional lending institutions like the IMF and World Bank. However, these very same institutions deserve much of the blame for the country’s historic natural resource dependence and austerity policies favoring export-led development and “free trade,” and these policies provoked a full-fledged banking collapse that forced the country to dollarize its economy in 2000. The backlash against these neoliberal policies by civil society and the indigenous movement led to the ousting of several presidents and a period of great political instability that set the stage for the ascendancy of Correa and his self-described “revolutionary” agenda.

Despite this history, in this campaign Lasso has endorsed the platform of CONFENAIE, the indigenous Amazonian confederation, which calls for an end to new oil and mining concessions, an amnesty for indigenous leaders currently facing charges of terrorism for leading anti-government protests, respect for the right to Free, Prior, Informed Consent (FPIC), and several other legal reforms affecting indigenous rights. This endorsement came after direct pressure on all the candidates from CONFENAIEand Yasunidos, an active environmental coalition that made a series of viral videos pressuring them to take strong stances on environmental protection and indigenous rights, especially in Yasuní National Park in the Amazon.

How he would implement such policies while also fulfilling his neoliberal campaign promises is an open question. If Ecuador elects him, it risks a return to past policies that were historically hostile to indigenous rights, including a likely re-opening to multinational companies that have run roughshod over the environment and human rights, as exemplified by the notorious Chevron-Texaco case.

Moreno, for the most part, has been largely silent on these issues, and so Ecuadorians and observers are left to expect a continuation of Correa’s extractivist policies.

In the first round, most Amazonian provinces chose Lasso, in a clear rejection of Correa’s efforts to expand oil and mining projects on indigenous lands, his crackdown on indigenous rights that has seen several leaders jailed and persecuted, and a state of emergency that lasted 60 days in the ongoing conflict between the Shuar, the government, and the Chinese mining conglomerate Explorcobres.

Nationally, the polls for the run-off election currently show a statistical dead heat, with Moreno at 52.4% and Lasso at 47.6%, with a margin of error of 3.4% and roughly 16% of voters undecided. Moreno’s lead is surprising, given that first-round voting split the conservative vote among several candidates who were predicted to coalesce around Lasso for the run-off. Each side has accused the other of dirty tricks: Lasso has accused the governing party of using state-run media and coffers to support its campaign, and Alianza PAIS has promoted allegations made public last week that Lasso has suspicious investments in several offshore businesses and properties. Each side has warned of possible fraud and both predict widespread protests after Sunday’s vote.

Regardless of who wins, the response to the escalated social conflicts over extractive industry projects, rollback of indigenous rights, and criminalization of civil society protest will be an early and pressing challenge for the incoming administration. Further oil and mineral development will only make the country’s economy more vulnerable to fluctuations in the world oil market, whose recent crash has Ecuador reeling. This, combined with the country’s extreme wealth disparity, means that further income from oil alone will not solve the problems of poverty in Ecuador. The country must create a diverse economy that addresses wealth inequality in order to reduce poverty.

How the new president responds will serve as an indicator of whether Ecuador can transition to a post-petroleum economy, save what remains of its pristine rainforests, and respect the rights of its indigenous inhabitants, or whether it will continue to see the Amazon and the indigenous peoples there as solely a source of short-term financial gain.

As Domingo Peas, an Achuar leader, told me today, “No matter who wins, our agenda is the same: a platform based on indigenous rights, territorial protection and defense, and solutions that maintain our forests intact, keep the oil in the ground, and show the world how frontline indigenous peoples have been protecting the sacred for millennia.”

The future of Ecuador’s Amazon – one of the most ecologically and culturally important places on the planet – hangs in the balance.