Ecuador: participatory democracy arrives

Ecuador referendumThe referendum on 7 May was a celebration of democracy in which the Ecuadorian people reiterated their continued support for the revolutionary project called the Citizens’ Revolution, led by President Rafael Correa. The population were asked to vote on ten proposals from the government:

1: Preventing manipulation of the legal process by lawyers (of wealthy clients) and judges who delay a defendant’s trial date in order to secure their release under constitutional guarantees that anyone not tried within one year must be released.

2: Standardising the pre-trial treatment of defendants according to the charges against them, so that only those accused of serious crimes will be detained in custody.

3: Prohibiting private banks from owning companies (or shares in companies) outside the financial sector and private media companies from entering non-media ventures.

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Citizens’ revolution defeats coup attempt in Ecuador /FRFI 218 Dec 2010 / Jan 2011

FRFI 218 December 2010/January 2011

The failed coup in Ecuador and the assassination attempt against President Rafael Correa on 30 September 2010 were another serious threat to the revolutionary process in Latin America. As investigations into the events proceed it is possible to fit together the complex and troubling pieces of the puzzle, as FIDEL NARVAEZ, Consul of Ecuador in the UK, writes.

In the morning, Ecuadorian police throughout the country went on strike to protest against the approval of a law to regulate public servants, which would apparently reduce police privileges. When President Correa went in person to the main police centre to talk to the strikers he was met with violence, being virtually kidnapped for more than ten hours in a police hospital nearby. At the same time, a section of the air force took control of the country’s international airports. Another group of police assisted government opponents attempting to occupy the National Assembly. The building of the public media was also attacked and seriously damaged. Several roads were blocked. The police refusal to work led to a break down of order and vandalism, looting and robbery occurred in the main cities throughout the country.

What the government’s opponents, with the assistance of the private media, tried to present as just a police protest actually involved all the elements necessary to be considered as an attempted coup. The objective was to create general chaos to justify the armed forces taking power. Once this strategy failed, they attempted to kill the President, as is clearly demonstrated in the audio and video records of the events.

Three main factors ensured the failure of the coup in Ecuador: 1) The coup plotters did not have popular support. Contrary to what has happened to previous governments in Ecuador, this time people took to the streets not in protest against the President, but to defend him. 2) The military forces did not support the protest; they remained loyal to the government and carried out a spectacular operation to rescue the President alive. 3) The President showed that he is a leader who is prepared to give his life for the Citizens’ Revolution and for democracy. He did not consider surrendering the power which he was legitimately elected by the people to exercise.

The real motive behind the coup was resistance to the profound changes that the revolutionary government has implemented at every level of society. In relation to the national police, for example, the direct link between them and the CIA no longer exists. Previously, under the pretext of the war against narco-trafficking, the Ecuadorian police received financial and material resources from the US embassy in exchange for information. Additionally, President Correa’s government has initiated legal proceedings against members of the police accused of grave human rights violations in the past. For the first time in Ecuador we see a serious attempt to make law enforcement accountable to civil power, but this will not be possible without a thorough restructuring of the police and the armed forces, in line with the revolutionary change that the people of Ecuador demand.

The main lesson is the need for the population to be organised into a political entity, to strengthen the revolutionary process and to defend it from the constant threat from the internal and external forces that are losing their privileges as Ecuador finally recovers its political and economy sovereignty. Today it is more important than ever to act in international solidarity with the government of Ecuador and the progressive governments of Latin America.

Ecuador: Citizens' Revolution defeats coup attempt

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30 September 2010: Ecuadorians march to the Presidential Palace to defend the government against the coup attack

On 30 September, a police strike in Ecuador escalated into an attempted coup d’etat as President Rafael Correa was surrounded and trapped in a hospital for 12 hours in the capital Quito. Tens of thousands of Ecuadorians poured into the street to block attempts to overthrow the democratically elected government, defending the Presidential Palace and facing tear gas and missiles thrown by police who had sealed off the area around the hospital where a defiant Correa was refusing to negotiate or surrender.

Correa was first elected President in November 2006. After introducing a new progressive constitution and changes to the system of political representation, he was re-elected in April 2009, with 51% of the vote, giving him a mandate to continue and deepen the unprecedented social and economic programme of reforms – the Citizens’ Revolution – to reverse the poverty and exploitation suffered by the majority of the population in a country which has been ravaged by neo-liberalism. Correa has announced that Ecuador is building socialism for the 21st century and joined the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), the regional trade and cooperation bloc set up by Cuba and Venezuela in 2004.

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Ecuador Oil workers organise

Alarmed by the popular expulsion of President Lucio Gutierrez in April, the governing class hurriedly substituted un-elected Alfredi Palacio (see FRFI 185). He made a series of promises, hoping to calm the national outcry against the ruination of the country by imperialism, but the workers have not waited for the privileged class to betray them. In mid-August workers revolted in the Amazon provinces of Sucumbios and Orellana, dynamiting pipelines and stopping extraction, demanding the retention of oil wealth for investment in local towns and infrastructure.
Palacio, trying to ride the storm that pushed him into the presidency, had already changed the law to reduce the drain of oil revenues as debt to international banks, although he doesn’t want a break with the World Bank. This was not enough for his Finance Minister, who resigned. Still Palacio pressed on, trying to show some independence from the US. Palacio has pressed Colombia to stop the aerial fumigation of coca and other crops in FARC-held areas near its borders. Ecuador has threatened to take Colombia to the OAS and International Court if it doesn’t stop poisoning rural communities and the environment. It is even considering no longer referring to the FARC as terrorists.

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Ecuador: Correa wins second presidential term / FRFI 209 Jun / Jul 2009

FRFI 209 June / July 2009

Ecuador: Correa wins second presidential term

Re-elected as President for a further four years on 26 April, Rafael Correa obtained 51% of the vote and a first-round victory, the first in 30 years. Following his first triumph in November 2006, Correa introduced an unprecedented economic and social programme – the Citizens’ Revolution – to start to extract the mass of the population from the miserable conditions imposed by previous pro-imperialist governments. A month after his 2006 landslide victory he said he wouldn’t ‘hesitate’ to default on the country’s debt in order to maintain government spending on the poor.

In less than two and a half years, Correa has achieved five election victories including one which approved the new constitution with 64% of the vote in September 2008. This gave the government much greater power to control key resources. Correa’s priorities are free health and public education services, and investments in social services greater than the service costs of foreign debt which amounted to 40% of the national budget in 2004-2005 under the previous government. 25% of the population consumes only 4% of GDP while the wealthiest 20% take 60% of GDP; 70% live in poverty. Unemployment and underemployment affect 50% of the people. In 2007, as Correa took power, 60% of homes had no drains, and 45% no drinking water.

The challenge is to throw off the country’s dependence on the US and build a country for the mass of its people. Ecuador has been economically trapped since 2000 by the use of the US dollar as its national currency. In just two years Correa has expropriated goods wrongly seized by banks, forced transnational oil companies to change their contracts to benefit the people, suspended payment of foreign debts that were deemed illegitimate, and stripped the Central Bank of its independence. In May, Ecuador agreed to pay just 35 cents on the dollar to holders of $3.2 billion of defaulted bonds, giving creditors a second chance to sell back their securities. Correa is also forcing the US to leave its military base at Manta when its 10 year lease ends in November this year, and has set up an enquiry into allegations of US abuse of human rights in its operations in the country.

In October 2007 Ecuador increased a 50% windfall tax on oil to 99% to obtain a greater share of crude oil revenue. The government said that the French oil company Perenco, which produces 25,000 barrels per day, owed $338m in back taxes, plus interest. In May 2009, in defiance of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes, Petroecuador auctioned 1.4 million barrels of oil seized from Perenco. The windfall tax has now been reduced to 70%.

The financial crisis of 1998-99, when GDP collapsed by 5%, sparked a mass emigration. Between then and 2007, over one million Ecuadorians sailed for Guatemala, from where they were smuggled across the Mexican border and into the US. Some headed for Europe; there are 90,000 in Britain. This from a country of 13.4 million. Such movement reflected an economic disaster; it has been compounded in recent years by the arrival of 250,000 destitute refugees fleeing Colombian state terror.

The current global economic crisis now makes Correa’s task more urgent as migrant remittances from the US and Europe fell by 27% from $759m in the first quarter of 2008 to $555m in the first quarter of 2009. Correa is now pressing ahead with his alliances within the Union of South American Nations. This May Venezuela and Ecuador signed new agreements to search for oil, and to create a system of compensation between their countries in the form of a system of trade integration. They also agreed to deepen agricultural cooperation in order to guarantee food sovereignty and security to their peoples. The two presidents discussed the creation of a Latin American Human Rights and Freedom of Expression Commission in the South American Union of Nations (UNASUR) to overcome what Chavez called the ‘manipulation by United States imperialism’ of existing institutions. Both leaders know who is obstructing progress.           

Alvaro Michaels