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.

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Ecuador: massive protests against US trade talks

Unelected President Palacio faces massive demands to stop his intended economic sell-out to the US. From 13 March daily mass demonstrations blocked roads in 12 provinces. On 18 March 10,000 workers marched on Riobamba. Everywhere demands continued to end the ‘Free Trade’ talks, the expulsion of the Occidental Oil Corporation – in breach of 30 laws – from the country and the creation of a Constituent Assembly. Palacio refused. Executive Minister Castillo resigned. Police and army attacks badly injured 30 protesters and killed one. 300 protesters were affected by gas. The government accused ‘foreign infiltrators’ of fomenting protest, and then apologised for implying Chavez was one.

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Ecuador: Presidential elections: neo-liberalism defeated

On 26 November Ecuador elected its eighth president in ten years. Rafael Correa, briefly an economics minister in the outgoing government and ‘left-Christian’ leader of the year-old National Alliance, defeated his neo-liberal billionaire opponent Alvaro Noboa with 57% of the second-round vote against Noboa’s 43%. Expected to win in the first round on 15 October, Correa lost to Noboa by 22.8% votes to 26.8% votes. The subsequent turnaround certainly came from a popular reaction to Noboa’s threats to privatise Petroecuador, the principal source of state revenue and the state electricity and telephone companies. His proposal to privatise social security as well would condemn 200,000 elderly people to immediate misery.

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Ecuador: Fighting for the constitutional referendum

President Correa won the Presidency with 56.8% of the November 2006 vote, as leader of Alianza Pais (AP). Yet AP ran no congressional candidates, being a political alliance based principally on the Ecuadorian Socialist Party. Correa’s central aim was to quickly build a new Constitutional Assembly. Defeating a determined effort to prevent it happening, a 15 April referendum approved the establishment of a 130-seat Constitutional Assembly to draft a new constitution. 5,354,595 people voted ‘yes’, 81.72% of the ballots cast. The victory clears the way for elections to the new body in June 2007.

Correa is fighting the corrupted and ‘dollarised’ political classes that have seen seven presidents rejected by mass protests in ten years. The President is hugely popular amongst the poor. His policies centre on meeting their needs: reclaiming the country’s oil from foreign corporations; objecting to draft US trade agreements and closing the US military base at Manta. Correa rejects IMF formulae, expressing solidarity with his partners in the new Banco del Sur, saying that it would end the region’s subjection to IMF and World Bank control: ‘...they don’t need aircraft carriers or bombers, only dollars’.

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Ecuador: Epoch-making change

An increasing number of Latin American countries are opting out of the neoliberal system. In the words of Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, ‘the continent of Latin America is today in the vanguard of global mobilisation and is asking the questions that really matter – “How do we escape the neoliberal model? And then what?”’

The global financial crisis, which springs from the speculative economies of the ‘North’, gives such questions a renewed urgency. In the absence of a united response, every Latin American nation is having to find its own answer. For Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa that has meant joining Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia in stating that the only escape strategy must be what they call ‘socialism for the 21st century’. Even if this is a model whose ‘theory’ will only be tested as it develops, the new Ecuadorean constitution approved by national referendum on 28 September 2008 offers the basis for the construction of a new society, founded on a participative democracy, with an economy based on human need, planned by the state, and no longer dominated by the market and consumption.

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