[Marxism] Re: Ecuador Protesters are Optimistic over Oil Deal

Joaquín Bustelo jbustelo at bellsouth.net
Thu Aug 25 09:46:23 MDT 2005

Josh writes: "I'm sorry but that's pretty ridiculous.  Chavez is
scabbing on a popular struggle in Ecuador, one doesn't have to be in
South America to recognize that.  This is a good example of the way
Chavez's policy of 'integration' of Latin American economies runs up
against the requirements of international solidarity with popular
struggles," and refers us to a web write-up on Chavez's decision.

I think we should hold our fire, keep our powder dry, subject the
situation to serious and profound analysis, or any other cliché you can
think of, rather than jump to conclusions which may be, in part, the
result of imperialist misinformation.

Everything that is involved may be clear to someone in Ecuador but it
certainly isn't from the outside. And I say that as someone who has
devoted many hours the past few days to following events in Ecuador,
including discussions with people there and in neighboring countries on
just WTF was going on.

To start with, this is a protests movement that was said to have been
led by local and regional government officials. And, at any rate, they
are the ones negotiating a deal with the central government and the
imperialist oil companies. 

That in itself should suffice to make us cautious in our

In addition, there have been charges --charges, not proof, and moreover,
I can't really tell you how reliable those making them are-- that the
regional government people are allies of former president Lucio
Guiterrez, who showed himself to be an imperialist stooge despite the
leftist/nationalist rhetoric he deployed during his campaign. Which does
not mean that the demands of the people of the Amazonian provinces of
Ecuador are anything but just and fully justified. But it would not be
the first time that the just demands of marginalized sectors in Latin
America are manipulated by antipopular forces.

At any rate, Venezuela did not make the offer until AFTER a truce had
been declared by the protest movement and workers had begun returning to
work. This was in response to the central government and oil companies
caving in to the demand that they come to the bargaining table. That
cave-in appears to have happened on Thursday, the same day the
government of Ecuador was forced to admit it had suspended oil exports.
It was accompanied by the firing of the Minister of Defense who was let
go (depending on who you believe) wither for letting the protests get
out of hand, for repressing the protests, or both.

According to press reports, apparently based on what he had to say,
Chávez called Ecuadorian President Palacios with the offer during the
weekend, i.e., after he was already in Cuba, where he would have had the
opportunity to consult with Fidel and others on this matter. And I'm
willing to bet he took advantage of the opportunity. Because if there is
anybody who has a complete scorecard on everyone and everything in Latin
America, who has their finger on the pulse of the continent, it's the

And Fidel felt comfortable with Chávez taking this step: he was sitting
right next to the Venezuelan leader when the announcement was made, and
made nice-sounding but very low key references to it in his own remarks
(obviously very conscious of NOT wanting to upstage Chavez or have this
be portrayed as something Cuba was having Venezuela do, but enough to
make clear that this decision was o.k. by him). 

There have been no charges of scabbing from leaders of the protests that
I have seen, nor even suggestions that Chávez's offer was unwelcome or
inopportune. While I think the evidence we have is scant, my gut tells
me Fred Feldman's evaluation was essentially right. This was done in
such a way as to facilitate the Ecuadorean government granting
concessions to the protest movement and favor Latin American unity
against imperialist forces and corporations.

I could well imagine Chavez explaining to Palacios that of course
Venezuela would do nothing to interfere in Venezuela's internal affairs.
But IF Palacios felt that the government and the local authorities were
about to straighten out this unfortunate misunderstanding, Venezuela was
in a position to cushion the disruptive impact of the recent events.

In the negotiations, the protesters repreesentatives had been demanding
that ALL of the 25% tax that Ecuador gets from oil exports be spent in
the oil-producing areas, and that in addition imperialist oil companies
be responsible for building and/or maintaining certain roads, several
hundred Km. or roads all told.

By Tuesday night, an agreement in principle has been reached on 2/3rds
of the tax going to the region and on a specific list of roads the oil
companies would be responsible for. My information, and I think it is
pretty good, is that it was a done deal.

However, on Wednesday a new obstacle emerged: a government refusal to
grant an amnesty to those who took part in the protests. This is ALWAYS
a core component of a negotiated settlement in situations like this, in
fact a precondition to negotiations: if you're unwilling to let bygones
be bygones, then don't pretend you're negotiating in good faith.

Obviously *someone* intervened Tuesday night to blow up the agreement by
having the government back out of a concession it made when it agreed to
enter into *serious* negotiations. 

The last report I heard (around 6:30 PM eastern today, Wednesday) is
that the government negotiators had left the talks, apparently for
consultations, not a walkout, as the other parties stayed at the meeting
site. Meanwhile production today was said to be at 85% of pre-protest
levels, which suggests the claims made by the minister of petroleum,
about extensive sabotage and permanent damage of installations, may not
have been very well-grounded in the facts. If that is the case, it
suggests this person or someone close to him isn't playing a very
constructive role. It should be noted that on Monday and Tuesday, at
least, he was in Caracas working out the deal for Venezuela's help with
the Venezuelan oil company.

At any rate, it probably isn't too helpful to speculate. In this sort of
situation we're likely to find out soon enough anyways. The current
Ecuadorian administration is extremely weak, having come to office only
a couple of months ago when popular protests forced the ouster of the
elected president. But the vice-president became president by default,
not because of great support among the people. 

Chávez, in his comments on this offer, has been very careful NOT to
project himself into the internal affairs of Ecuador. 

Nevertheless that's precisely the accusation that's been leveled at him
by sectors of the Venezuelan opposition who have come out opposed to the
deal, and by anticommunist pitiyanqui reactionaries who have been
denouncing Chavez and his offer in the comments section of Ecuadorian
news organizations on the Internet. The class/political polarization is
very striking. However, what's been missing is any direct statement from
those involved in the protests themselves. 

One popular internet theses is that this is a tri-partite conspiracy
between Chavez, the protesters, and Palacios, the president of Ecuador
(who came to power recently after popular protests forced Lucio
Gutierrez to resign for governing like a stooge of the IMF despite
having campaigned around the idea he would be Ecuador's Hugo Chavez).

The underlying key issue is the use government oil revenues. Under some
cockamamie scheme cooked up by imperialist banks and the IMF, 90% of the
extra income Ecuador got from oil price rises was to go to a bond-paying
reserve fund, i.e., an account in the imperialist banks, until it was
time to hand the money over to the imperialists outright. This is what
President Lucio Gutierrez agreed to that got him run out of town.

The U.S. State Department briefings on Monday and Tuesday both featured
questions inviting condemnation of Chávez's offer to Ecuador. The U.S.
mouthpiece wasn't willing to go that far, limiting himself to vague
generalities in the general direction of that the U.S. hoped this wasn't
an attempt to interefere in Ecuador's internal affairs, as Chavez had
been doing using petroleum as a weapon in various countries in the past.

Robertson complicated matters, as Tuesday's briefing was dominated by
questions on the preacher's proposal to "terminate Chavez with extreme
prejudice," as the term of art in the CIA current in the 1960's and
1970's had it, and the mouthpiece was very much on the defensive.

For his part, what Chávez has done in his comments around this is to
explain the importance of forming a consortium of Latin American
petroleum producers and of Ecuador rejoining OPEC. In fact he said he
hoped this pact with Ecuador would be a stepping stone to a petro-andino
component of the consortium.

One of the publicly stated goals of Chavez's "petrosur" project that
Venezuela has embarked on is to greatly reduce or cut out imperialist
oil companies from the regional market. And in doing this, one of
Venezuela's strategic goals, for itself and others, is to increasingly
STOP exporting crude oil and export instead refined products: gasoline,
diesel, bunker and so on.

Partly this is technical. "Crude oil" can vary greatly from one field to
another. Refineries need to be specifically tuned to the kind of crude
they are processing. Refineries in the oil-producing country can be
specifically designed and optimally tuned for the crude oil to be
processed more easily than those in the importing, consuming country.
This complicates finding alternate clients for a supplier of crude if
there is a disruption in normal relations. You don't at all have the
same problems with refined product.

But of course, a big part of it is also economic. You get more by
exporting a finished product rather than a raw material. 

Apparently --I say apparently because press account are contradictory--
Ecuador is one of those countries that exports crude and imports
gasoline and diesel because its own refineries can't fully supply the
domestic market. (At least I believe it's gasoline -- the local media
calls it "Naphta," which although it is the name of a specific petroleum
product different from gasoline, it is the popular name for gasoline in
Argentina and a number of other countries and I assume, from these
reports, also Ecuador.) 

Part of Ecuador's pact with Venezuela is for Venezuela to supply refined
products, which has been highlighted in domestic reports in Venezuela
and Ecuador but not mentioned in the wires or reports sent to other
countries. Some reports suggest this will be an ongoing arrangement;
others speak only of the immediate requirements for September.

I would agree with Josh as a general guideline that efforts to promote
Latin American integration have to be carried out in the framework of
support for popular struggles. However, it is far from clear that this
has been violated in the current case.

However, he formulates his criticism more broadly, projecting this as an
*example* of the contradiction between "integration" and supporting
popular struggles. But I would respond, the only hope for Latin America
lies in "integration." This IS the road to liberation and socialism in
Latin America, and Latin America is today the scene of the most
conscious and advanced anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist and popular
struggles anywhere. 

The sweep and imagination and tactical flexibility coming out from the
dynamic duo -- Cuba and Venezuela -- are breathtaking. "Integration" --
Bolivarian style -- is the concrete, specific, transitional demand of
the revolutionary movement in Latin America now, OUR answer to
free-market-worship, neoliberal globalization and all the rest of it.

Just today in Argentina that sad sack of imperialist satraps, the BID,
or Interamerican Development Bank, had a conference on "integration" --
integration under the boot heel of yanqui imperialism, as far as I could
tell from seeing a report on a Spanish-language imperialist news network
-- with the same old tired argument: TINA, There Is No Alternative. 

But there is an alternative to ALCA, as the Free (for the imperialists)
Trade Area of the Americas in known in Spanish. It is ALBA -- the
Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas proposed by Venezuela and backed
by Cuba. And --frankly-- you can expect some pretty rotten bourgeois
types to maneuver with ALBA, in fact, any Latin American government that
has even an ounce of autonomy from imperialism, that isn't simply,
strictly and solely a sock puppet, is going to do so. Because it allows
them to get (at least a little) better terms from the imperialists.

The circumstance of the current speculative frenzy in oil has had the
happy repercussion that it has allowed one aspect of ALBA --an
integrated conglomerate of state oil companies-- to be rapidly

I watched a part of the report on this Buenos Aires BID gathering, an
interview with the woman who was in charge of the conference for BID.
And what was interesting about it was that the interviewer said there's
only a few countries against ALCA -- like Venezuela and Brazil and I
think he mentioned Argentina and one or two others. He left out Cuba, of
course. And it struck me the question was really about ALBA, the
elephant in the room that no one wanted to mention.

So I would say to Josh, let's be very cautious in coming to sweeping
conclusions about comrades like the Venezuelans or the Cubans making a
mistake. I'm sure they're capable of doing so, just like we all are, but
the imperialist news media are going to try to make it appear so even
when it isn't the case. Let's give the comrades our solidarity and the
benefit of the doubt. 

Because this detail I related about the exact sequence of events --that
the protests were called off FIRST, people started going back to work,
and THEN Chávez made the offer, which casts the Venezuelan initiative in
an ENTIRELY different light-- isn't something that's been reported by AP
or Reuters or CNN. On the contrary, they have implied --and perhaps even
said-- the opposite. I pieced it together from different reports and
then confirmed it with a responsible journalist covering this conflict
in Quito. And, frankly, I was able to do that because my current
assignment at my work is *precisely* to be on top of these sorts of

I think we all need to be a lot more cautious in drawing sweeping
conclusions and have a little more trust in our Venezuelan and Cuban


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