Ecuador: protests threaten imperialism’s plans

On 20 April, after a week of mass demonstrations during which two people were killed, corrupt President Lucio Gutiérrez fled to Brazil to be replaced by his deputy Alfredo Palacio. The US may now face obstacles in extracting interest payments, using Ecuador’s troops and bases for Plan Colombia or imposing the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Caught between the demands of imperialism and the rage of the impoverished 70% of its 13.25 million people, who have seen off eight governments in nine years, Palacio has little space for maneouvre. ALVARO MICHAELS reports.

Gutiérrez completely betrayed the peasant, indigenous and militant organisations which supported his coup against President Mahuad in January 2000, and who voted for him in 2002. In 2003, to reassure the US, he declared himself their ‘best ally’, rather than the anti-imperialist he pretended to be to his electorate. He offered a new military base, enthusiastically supported Plan Colombia and entered full negotiations over the FTAA. Oil prices rose, but none of that money reached the poor. Gutiérrez’s election allies abandoned him. So he worked with the reactionary Social Christian Party (PSC), but bickering over tactics led the PSC to propose impeachment of Gutiérrez in November for interfering with the Supreme Court.

Gutiérrez then agreed an alliance with the exiled criminal ex-President Bucaram, head of the populist PRE (Partido Roldosista Ecuatoriano). He packed the Supreme Court with allies to drop corruption charges against Bucaram, who then re-entered the country. This caused huge protests, uniting the middle and lowest social classes. Some twenty organisations, including the Left Democrats and NGOs, calling themselves the ‘Quito Assembly’, pleaded with congressional parties to restore the ‘institutional status’. This achieved nothing, but the anger of the poor, the slum dwellers, the hungry unemployed and pensioners forced the Assembly to steward regular demonstrations. In mid-February a Quito demonstration of over 100,000 demanded that Gutiérrez go. On 15 April Gutiérrez was forced to dissolve the Supreme Court as mass demonstrations intensified. He imposed a state of emergency in Quito and then reversed it as the army refused to intervene

Los forajidos, workers and youth dismissed as outlaws by Gutiérrez, who included groups of young anarchists and communists, fought against police through the night of 16 April and broke through lines of police and pro-Gutiérrez groups to the Presidential Palace. They precipitated the President’s flight to the Brazilian embassy. On 20 April, they surged past police to the Plaza Grande and then surrounded the International Centre for Communication Studies in Quito where 60 of the 100 Congress Deputies were meeting to replace Gutiérrez with Palacio. There the forajidos demanded that the whole political class be removed, a Constituent Assembly be established and a referendum held on Plan Colombia, the dollarisation of the economy, the US Base at Manta and the FTAA. They denounced Palacio, who had to run from them as they threatened to lynch the deputies.

On 3 May, Pablo Dávalos, the new Deputy Minister for the Economy revealed a secret agreement made by Gutiérrez with the IMF. Over 5,000 public sector workers were to be sacked, the petroleum sector, health and education privatised and workers’ limited rights removed. Without these actions the World Bank would refuse to provide $200m to improve ‘competitiveness’. Now Dávalos promises he will publicly renegotiate these agreements. He has no choice; workers are everywhere demanding an end to corruption. Thus technicians at the state electricity station Electroguayas seized the plant on 22 April demanding an opening of the accounts and dismissal of managers imposed by Gutiérrez. To placate opposition, the new government has refused the US a new base, but will allow the existing base at Manta to remain.

The widespread demand to change the whole system has not yet found expression in a revolutionary anti-imperialist organisation. Imperialism’s destruction of people and country must lead to the creation of such a leadership. The masses have nothing to lose but their chains.

Loan interest and oil

Oil accounts for nearly half Ecuador’s exports. A new $1.3 billion, 300-mile pipeline promises to make Ecuador one of the world's top ten suppliers of oil to the US. Its Amazon region reserves probably rival Middle Eastern oil fields. Net foreign direct investment in 2004 was $1.2 billion, twice that in Venezuela, as corporations reacted to anti-privatisation measures there. Vast areas of rain forest and wildlife have vanished and indigenous cultures have been driven to the verge of collapse. A trans-Andean pipeline has leaked over half a million barrels of oil into the rain forest – more than twice the disastrous Exxon Valdez tanker spillage. In 2003, lawyers representing more than 30,000 indigenous Ecuadorian people filed a $1 billion lawsuit against Chevron Texaco for dumping over four million gallons per day of toxic wastewater into open holes and rivers between 1971 and 1992.

For every $100 of crude taken out of the Ecuador, the oil companies receive $75. Of the rest, three-quarters is used to pay foreign debt. For over 20 years between 40% and 50% of Ecuador’s state budget has been consumed in interest payments to creditors. Once the rest of the budget has been used to fund the political class, 6% is left, and just 2% goes on the education and health of the poor.

Since 1995, imperialism has promoted the wholesale bribery of the political system, forced ‘dollarisation’ on the Ecuadorian economy in 2000 and pauperised the mass of the population. In the 1970s 50% of the population lived in poverty. Now it is 70%.

FRFI 185 June / July 2005


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