Gutierrez presidency, Colombia war, and polarized Ecuador

Fred Feldman ffeldman at
Wed Jan 22 05:47:18 MST 2003

Ecuador's Lucio Era Begins (From NarcoNews)
Drug War, Plan Colombia, and US Air Base at Manta, Test the New President
By Ron Smith
Reporting from Quito, Ecuador
January 21, 2003

The new president, Lucio Gutierrez, was sworn in to the presidency
Wednesday, January 15th, and the country is ablaze with anticipation.
Unfortunately, the country may also become ablaze with exactly the kind of
anti-democratic activity currently gripping Venezuela. Additionally, Lucio´s
rhetoric has changed significantly since the days of the congressional
takeover by the indigenous and working class. The fact is that after the
inauguration, the future of Ecuador remains a question mark.

The hopes and fears of Lucio

Lucio Gutierrez is, much like his counterpart in Venezuela, a former member
of the armed forces in Ecuador. Like Chavez, he comes from the lower classes
and is of mixed ethnicity. In various places around Quito, one can see the
graffito, "Lucio = Chavez!" Lucio participated in the takeover of congress
initiated by progressive indigenous groups and enforced by the grassroots
concertacíon made up of labor and militant indigenous groups. The
revolutionary governing coalition was composed of three members, including
indigenous leader Antonio Vargas, General Carlos Mendoza, and Carlos
Solorzano, a former Supreme Court judge.

Lucio participated in the revolutionary uprising of January 2000, but
refused to join the ruling coalition. The revolutionary coalition soon found
itself in the impossible position of facing down the United States.

The US embassy here threatened a complete shut down of economic aid and an
economic blockade. Mendoza, representing the armed forces, backed down to
the demands of the United States, and the former vice-president, Gustavo
Noboa, was installed as the new president. Noboa is a classic
free-marketeer, has willingly aided the United States in the dubious Plan
Colombia, specifically by allowing the US special privileges in the Forward
Operating Location at Manta, and by increasing the Ecuadoran military
presence along the Colombian border.

The elections of 2002 found Ecuador in an extremely precarious situation:
The economy was recently dollarized, which produced drastic results for the
local population; Plan Colombia has been growing into the Andean Regional
Initiative, with accompanying escalations in violence. Lucio presented
himself as the rebels' choice in the Ecuadoran elections, and promised major
changes in the direction of the Ecuadoran state. The fact remains that at
this point, Lucio is a big question mark in terms of his loyalty to the
revolutionary forces that catapulted him to fame and then the presidency.

At the time of the failing of the coup, local indigenous groups, angry at
the unilateral decision of armed forces to dissemble the governing coalition
and accede to US demands, stated that they felt that Mendoza and the armed
forces had betrayed the revolution. The fact is that progressive groups all
over the country are holding their collective breath to see if Lucio will
remain loyal to the needs of the common Ecuadorans.

Many see the current political environment as a triple threat to the
heavy-handed policies of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who is hell-bent
on complying with US military objectives in the region. Chavez in Venezuela,
Lula in Brazil, and Gutierrez in Ecuador surely make for uncomfortable
neighbors for the hard-line Uribe. To signify the importance of this new
coalition, both Lula and Chavez were present at the inauguration in Quito on
January 15th to celebrate Lucio's ascendency.

Lucio and the His Cabinet:
Tokenism or Real Change?

Perhaps the two most confusing parts of the inauguration were Lucio's
address and his selection of cabinet members for the new government. Many
progressive sectors are hailing the new government as being more open, and
in the words of a retired general, an example for Andean nations.

Lucio's cabinet includes two indigenous members, a first for Ecuador and the
other Andean nations. Luis Macas is the new agricultural minister, and Nina
Pacari is the new Foreign Relations minister, both are members of CONAIE,
the indigenous organization that participated in the events of January 2001.
While this shows real progress for the Ecuadoran government, the fact that
only two indigenous people out of a cabinet of 16 ministers are indigenous
shows that there is still far to come in a country with over 6 million
indigenous citizens.

What's more disconcerting about the cabinet is the appointment of Ivonne
Baki and Mauricio Pozo. Ivonne Baki is descibed in the newspaper El Comercio
as a friend of Bill Clinton and advisor to Jamil Mahuad, deposed former
president. Baki has lived in Washington, D.C. for several years before she
was appointed as Foreign Commerce minister, and is a real neo-liberal force
for the new cabinet. She claims that her mandate is to improve the
competitiveness of Ecuadoran businesses and open the economy to foreign
investment. Many speculate that Baki was appointed as a means of placating
the neo-liberal right; Baki came in eighth in the Presidential elections.

Mauricio Pozo is also quite worrisome, in his new role as Economy and
Finance Minister, he worked for the Association of Private Banks, and is an
ardent defender of dollarization and the neo-liberal model. How this cabinet
will play out with Nina Pacari and her populist anti-neo-liberal model
versus Mauricio and Ivonne remains to be seen. Already, on the fourth day of
the Gutierrez presidency, Lucio announced that he was, with much regret,
going to increase the cost of gasoline, up to $1.98 per gallon for Extra,
and around $1.50 for Regular. This cost increase was mandated by the IMF,
and may have some very serious repercussions for the country's poor.

Does this indicate that Lucio has abandoned the poor? Perhaps not, if we
reflect on some of the more conservative actions of Hugo Chavez at the
beginning of his presidency. Again, Gutierrez is still an unknown.

Lucio's Unlikely Address

Lucio addressed the national congress during his inauguration, with members
of congress and invited presidents from South American nations present. The
invited presidents included the notorious Colombian President Alvaro Uribe,
Lula da Silva from Brazil, Hugo Chavez, and Fidel Castro. Also present was
Peruvian President Toledo and his wife. Uribe looked quite uncomfortable
during the presentation, perhaps a symbol of his discomfort with the change
in power in the neighboring nations.

Lucio covered all the big topics, including his position on the economy and
poverty in a nation with 80 percent of the population in poverty. Lucio
claimed that his goals included the alleviation of poverty and the
development of Ecuador for Ecuadorans, and decried the role of developed
nations in demanding payment of the external debt. At the same time, he
claimed that Ecuador needs to open its borders to more foreign investment
and eliminate taxes for foreign companies. These two goals seem fairly
incompatible, as the opening of the Ecuadoran economy is one of the root
causes of poverty in the nation and for the poor, the dollarization has been
a catastrophe.

At one point in the speech, Lucio claimed that "if to oppose corruption
makes me a leftist, then I am your leftist". He subsequently claimed that he
will not govern for the left or for the right, but for Ecuador, and that he
has no ideology. This last statement caused quite a bit of consternation. As
Colombian professor, Lilia Solano, stated in a post-inauguration interview,
"to claim not to have an ideology is to claim an ideology."

Lucio's speech indicated some of the deep divisions in Ecuadoran society and
in his cabinet. According to Coronel Jorge Brito, another progressive armed
forces member and former professor at the School of the Americas, Lucio
changed dramatically from the initial presidential campaign to the current
one. Coronel Brito also participated in the uprising and like Lucio, spent
several months in prison. One thing that is certain is that Lucio's
presidency will not be an easy one, as many of the most reactionary forces
in the country will not allow the changes that his electoral base is

Lucio and the Drug War

Ecuador plays a significant role in the US Andean Initiative; more than
being a neighbor to Colombia, Ecuador is the site of the US Forward
Operating Location at Manta, on the coast. Manta is considered a disgrace to
many Ecuadorans, a result of the Mahuad presidency.

One of the many actions that caused President Mahuad's removal in 2000 was
his signing of the treaty with the United States. Alexis Ponce, of the local
group Assemblea Permanente por Derechos Humanos, describes the base at Manta
as a step towards the Hondurization of Ecuador, referring to the major role
Honduras played in the Central American wars of the 1980´s. Ponce speculates
that the claims by the United States that "Andean intelligence agencies need
to improve their capacity and their coordination" could be a preamble to
another Operation Condor, the notorious US-supported intelligence plan of
South American dictatorships in the 1980´s. Following this logic, Manta
plays a central role in this intelligence coordination. Ponce has first-hand
knowledge of these intelligence operations, as he recently received a disk
from an unnamed source including transcripts of telephone calls and computer
images of his family members, all originating from the Ecuadoran Police.

According to retired General Rene Vargas Pazzos, former head of the
Ecuadoran Armed Forces and Lucio's former professor, Manta is a scar on the
face of Ecuador and is being used for all manner of covert and grey
activities by the US military and their notorious contractors, Dyncorp.
Pazzos noted that Manta is large enough for the largest US troop carrier
airplanes, such as the C-5 Galaxy, the C-130, and the C-140, an indication
that the base is intended to be used not just for drug interdiction, but for
staging a major invasion. According to Pazzos, the United States is far
overstepping the limits of the agreement, and is making Manta a staging area
for future US interventions in the Andes and beyond. Pazzos indicated that
Lucio is stuck with Manta, for the agreement that allowed for the US base
has a duration of 10 years. What Pazzos claims is that Lucio can push the
United States to abide by the agreement to the letter and only use the base
for anti-drug operations and prevent any more expansions of the base.

Along the Ecuador-Colombia Border

Remember Fusarium Oxysporum? You know, the nasty genetically-engineered
fungus that supposedly only affects coca and poppy (much like the Glyphosate
Fumigations were supposed to only affect large-scale coca growers) that the
US and Colombia claim is not being used against campesinos? Recently, Adolfo
Maldonado, a doctor working with the local group, Accion Ecologica,
conducted several tests in the Sucumbios region of Ecuador, which borders
Putumayo in Colombia where the heaviest fumigations are taking place. The
results of these tests showed the heightened presence of Fusarium fungus in
soil and plant samples. According to Maldonado, this does not necessarily
mean the US and Dyncorp are spraying fusarium, but he attributes it to two
possibilities; an unforeseen side effect of intensive fumigation with the
deadly Glyphosate cocktail, or someone is spraying fusarium fungus. The
Glyphosate side effect hypothesis seems unlikely. At this point, the results
are inconclusive, but several campesinos have reported a coffee-colored
powder emanating from the very same planes that fumigate with Glyphosate.
The seriousness of this possibility cannot be overestimated and could have
serious unforeseen ecological and medical ramifications.

A recent interview with an Afro-Ecuadoran mother from a community on the
border with Colombia illustrated that the supposed war on drugs in Colombia
knows no borders and affects the poor from all the surrounding nations. She
was kind enough to show this reporter the sores and burns covering much of
her 3-year-old son's body, the result of bathing in the San Miguel River
that forms part of the border between Colombia and Ecuador. A lawsuit is
currently being tried in the United States of Ecuadoran citizens against the
Dyncorp Corporation for illegal sprayings across the Ecuadoran border.
According to a treaty between the Ecuadoran and Colombian governments, no
Colombian fumigations may take place within 10 kilometers of the border, but
Maldonado claimed that he checked spaying damage and overflights with a GPS
monitor, and not only were the sprayings taking place close the border, he
also witnessed planes crossing the border to dump their load of Glyphosate.

The World Social Forum and Beyond

Many of the progressive groups operating here in Ecuador are participating
in the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Many groups from all the
Andean nations will be attending the Forum, and the forum has devoted a day
to Colombia and the issues regarding the current Andean conflict. These
groups see this as a way of continuing the internationalization of
resistance to the US plans in Colombia and beyond. Look for reports from
yours truly as I head for the Forum on January 23rd.

Copyright © 2003 Ron Smith and activ8media All Rights Reserved, Please
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