Ecuador: Correa faces more challenges

President Rafael Correa in London, 28 Oct 2009

On 17 February, the Ecuadorian people overwhelmingly re-elected Rafael Correa as their president. Correa’s governing PAIS alliance took some 70% the 137 seats in the National Assembly, including six for overseas workers and three of the country’s five Andean Parliament seats Correa received 51.17% of the total vote for president, 6% more than in 2009. It was more than twice that of the runner-up, banker Guillermo Lasso (23.3%), a neo-liberal figure deeply involved in the chaos and corruption of previous governments.

It is important to understand that Correa heads an alliance that took 52.24% of the votes for the National Assembly seats (with 98% returns counted). This makes his decisions more closely tied to social movements themselves than would be the case if he were heading a traditional political party. Since first taking office in early 2007, he has directed an energetic and radical reform process. He led the rewriting of the constitution and replaced the old corrupt Congress through a Constitutional Assembly. 64% of the voters endorsed the 2008 constitution. This created new rights for women, and indigenous and disabled people. The law now requires women to account for 50% of the party lists in national legislative elections. Subsequently, women took 40 of 124 National Assembly seats in the 2009 elections (32%). Correa’s political project is the ‘Citizens Revolution’ with five axes that are: Political revolution, Economic Revolution, Ethical Revolution, Social, and finally the Sovereignty Revolution and  Latin American Integration. With these postulates PAIS seeks to direct Ecuador towards 21st century socialism.

In an attempt to stop this, police and military regiments staged a one-day rebellion on 30 September 2010 on the pretext of protesting against altered salaries and benefits and physically assaulted Correa. In September 2011, three police officers were found guilty of the attempted assassination of the president.

In a national referendum held in May 2011, voters approved ten proposals including the abolition of casinos and bullfighting, judicial reform and the creation of a government media oversight body, the Council of Regulation, to prevent violent and explicitly sexual or discriminatory media messages.

On 20 November 2012, the national assembly approved Correa’s initiative to increase bank taxes to raise monthly cash payments to about two million poor workers, including the elderly and single mothers from $35 to $50.

The Correa government has worked to ensure the inclusion of all Ecuadorians in the new processes. It has not accepted that minorities should simply refuse to accept the reasoned and cautious application of a declared political programme by an elected government acting in the genuine interests of the mass of the people. The indigenous grouping Pachakutik, which is only one of the groups representing the broader indigenous peoples, has opposed the government and voted with the right wing in the National Assembly on a number of key issues thereby obstructing improvements for all Ecuadorians. This is understandably a result of deep-seated fears about changes in the country which are inevitably seen as intrusive. The government has tried exceptionally hard to design its programmes to support a pluri-cultural state, but such conservative movements fall easily into alliances with other very reactionary interests. Opposition to the proposed water law is a recent example. As a result the state cannot regulate the water industry in the country because of narrow local concerns which prevent it being removed from the neo-liberal arrangements under which it currently operates.

Ecuador and imperialism

In 2008 Correa declared a moratorium on Ecuador’s international debt service – interest payments on $3.2bn in foreign bonds – temporarily freeing itself from the debt entrapment schemes of imperialism. He has attacked the IMF, bankers and privatisations: ‘Ecuador is no longer for sale,’ he declared; ‘The country of despair has become one of hope’.

When PAIS gained power, 56% of the country's 13.4 million people and 80% in indigenous communities lived in poverty.. By using the rise in oil prices and other income in six years Correa has increased economic growth and raised public expenditures on new roads, hospitals, and schools (that on education more than doubling from 2.5% to 6% of GDP), and lifted millions out of poverty. Government revenues have almost tripled since 2006, but oil accounts for only about half of that rise, 40% of the country's exports and about a third of government revenues. By 2011, the proportion of the people living in poverty had fallen dramatically to 28.6%, and to 55% in indigenous communities, although there is still much to do. Today, 4.9% of the population live on less than $1.25 a day, compared to 8.16% in Colombia, or 7.16% in Paraguay and 8.7% in Guyana. The minimum wage has risen faster than inflation, and some two million poorer people (in a population now of 14.5 million) get monthly cash transfers. Free school uniforms and subsidised mortgages all help ordinary Ecuadoreans. Membership of the PAIS alliance is now over 1.5 million.

At a press conference held on the night of his election victory he asked ‘Why has Latin America not developed, if it has everything?’ and answered ‘Because the elite dominates our society’, adding that ‘The biggest goal in the next four years is to make the transfer of power to the majority irreversible.’ To make these changes – in mining and agricultural reform - he now has the majority in the Assembly he needs.

Correa has said that ‘We welcome the foreign investment that is arriving and arriving in droves… but if it does not arrive, we are still achieving our objectives. We can’t confuse means with ends.’ (This involves ending ‘resource dependency’ which has been the way that imperialism has imposed inequality not only on Ecuador but on the whole of Latin America. Correa recognises the importance and dangers of foreign investment, and understands that capital inflows cannot be an end in themselves.

International threats and opportunities

In February 2011, after an 18-year legal battle in both the US and Ecuador, a court in Ecuador’s Amazonian province of Sucumbios found the oil conglomerate Chevron liable for the oil spills and deliberate pollution arising from Texaco’s activities in the country between 1964 and 1990. It sentenced Chevron, which had taken over Texaco in 2001 to pay $19bn in reparations. This is part of a long and continuing set of court rulings for and against the corporation in the US and Ecuador.

Before it left Ecuador in 1992, Texaco dumped more than 18bn gallons of toxic wastewater, as well as spilling 17m gallons of crude oil, in a 500,000-hectare region of the Ecuadorian Amazon, one of the worst environmental disasters on the planet. This ‘Rainforest Chernobyl’, mostly affected indigenous people who suffered horrific levels of mouth, stomach and uterine cancers, birth defects and spontaneous miscarriages. On 21 February, an Argentine judge embargoed Chevron’s assets in the country in order to force it to start paying this compensation to Ecuadorian Amazonian communities. It upheld the petition for seizure under a regional pact, the Inter-American Treaty of Extraterritorial Enforcement of Sentences.

By controlling flows of trade and investment, the government has been forging closer economic and commercial ties with Venezuela, other ALBA countries and China. Large loans from China have allowed Ecuador to develop, despite its conflict with western creditors, and to address a budget deficit in 2013. Sino-Ecuadorean trade is currently valued in excess of $2bn, while Chinese investment in Ecuador has reached nearly $100m. These numbers are expected to increase.

Ecuador is striving to achieve donation targets of $3.6bn over 13 years in order to ensure the continuation of the Yasuní ITT project, which will prevent the excavation of oil valued at twice that sum in 2007 prices in the nature reserve. It is a fight for civilisation against global warming, to avoid the emission of an estimated 410m metric tonnes of CO2. It is also part of the battle against imperialism’s imposition of ‘resource dependency’ and to protect the environment and indigenous peoples. An economic reorientation of the country away from oil is necessary. Correa sees this and is leading the country to an economic development especially through relations within ALBA, implementing a new currency system for trade with the ALBA alliance to break from the US dollar, and an attempt to diversify industry through new agreements with neighbouring Peru which had proved almost impossible before its new president Ollanta Humala was elected in 2011.

The success of the majority of the Ecuadorian people in creating and pushing forward a progressive socialist political alliance with international allies, shows that, despite the tremendous tasks that remain to be fulfilled to achieve a full democracy, an economic democracy, it can be done against the manipulation and cruelty of imperialism.

Alvaro Michaels

Related articles: 
Interview with president Rafael Correa, FRFI 212 Dec 2009 / Jan 2010
Julian Assange and Wikileaks: Ecuador defends human rights, 19 August 2012
Ecuador: participatory democracy arrives, 2 June 2011  
Ecuador: Citizens' Revolution defeats coup attempt, 3 October 2010


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