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

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 Narváez, 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.

 

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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

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.

 

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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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Ecuador: mining law splits the indigenous community

A recent spate of protests by some indigenous groups in Ecuador against a new mining law has ex­posed tensions with the radical government of President Rafael Correa. The ur­gency of the law arose from a decision by the former Constituent Assembly to cancel all existing legislation, thereby suspending all mining concessions while mandating a term of six months for the development of a new legal framework.

 

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