[Marxism] Historic change in Ecuador

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Oct 1 06:43:55 MDT 2007

Left Triumphs in Ecuadoran Elections, Country’s Institutions to be 

By Roger Burbach*

“We have won an historic victory,” proclaimed President Rafael Correa of 
Ecuador. On Sunday the political coalition he heads won an overwhelming 
majority of the seats in the Constituent Assembly that is tasked with 
“refounding” the nation’s institutions. Taking office early this year in 
a land slide victory, Correa has repeatedly called for an opening to a 
“new socialism of the twenty- first century,” declaring that Ecuador has 
to end “the perverse system that has destroyed our democracy, our 
economy and our society.” His government marks the emergence of a 
radical anti-neoliberal axis in South America, comprising Venezuela, 
Bolivia and now Ecuador.

“The Assembly elections are a devastating blow for the oligarchs and the 
right wing political parties who have historically pulled the strings on 
a corrupt state that includes Congress and the Supreme Court,” says 
Alejandro Moreano , a sociologist and political analyst at the Andean 
University Simon Bolivar in Quito. Even Michel Camdesseus, the former 
director of the International Monetary Fund, once commented that Ecuador 
is characterized “by an incestuous relation between bankers, 
political-financial pressure groups and corrupt government officials.”

The victory in the Constituent Assembly is the result of years of 
agitation and struggle by Ecuador’s indigenous and social movements 
along with an unorganized, largely middle-class movement of people known 
as the “forajidos,” an Ecuadoran term meaning outlaws or bandits who 
rebel against the established system. In March when the Congress and the 
right wing political parties tried to sabotage the elections for the 
Assembly, tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of 
Quito, blocking the entrances to Congress and backing the disbarment of 
the Congressional members who wanted to suppress the elections.

The “Country Movement,” the popular political coalition lead by Correa, 
will convene the Assembly at the end of October. Its charge is to draft 
a new constitution that will break up the dysfunctional state, establish 
a plurinational, participatory democracy, reclaim Ecuadoran sovereignty, 
and use the state to create social and economic institutions that 
benefit the people. One of its first acts will be to abolish the 
existent Congress.

The Assembly will also facilitate an international realignment of 
Ecuador’s international relations. The Correa government has already 
moved assertively in its relations with the United States. María 
Fernanda Espinosa, the dynamic Minister of Foreign Relations, declared 
that Ecuador intends to close the U.S. military base located at Manta, 
the largest of its kind on South America’s Pacific coast. “Ecuador is a 
sovereign nation,” she said. “We do not need any foreign troops in our 
country.” The treaty for the base expires in 2009 and will not be renewed.

Thus far there have been no direct confrontations with the United 
States, but the Pentagon has manifested its displeasure. Every year 
since 1959, the US Southern Command, together with the Pacific coast 
nations of South America, have undertaken joint naval exercises called 
Unitas. This year they were to be hosted in Ecuador, but the United 
States opted to conduct them in Colombia, its closest regional ally. 
Ecuador responded by announcing it would not participate in this year’s 
exercises, with Correa proclaiming, “It appears the Southern Command 
believes we are a colony of the United States, that our navy is just one 
more unit controlled by their country.”

Correa is also standing up to Occidental Petroleum, a U.S.-based 
corporation whose Ecuadoran holdings were taken over by state-owned 
PetroEcuador last year for selling off some of its assets to a Canadian 
company in violation of its contract with the Ecuadoran state. With the 
takeover of Occidental’s holdings, PetroEcuador now controls more than 
half of the country’s petroleum exports, which themselves account for 
about 40% of Ecuador’s total exports and one third of government 
revenues. Correa has denounced Occidental’s “lobbying” of the Bush 
administration to regain its holdings. “We are not going to allow an 
arrogant, portentous transnational that doesn’t respect Ecuadoran laws 
to harm our country,” he said.

At the same time, Ecuador is negotiating special bilateral trade and 
economic agreements with presidents Chávez and Morales. Venezuela has 
agreed to refine Ecuadoran oil and help fund social programs in Ecuador, 
while the Bolivian government has concluded an agreement to import 
foodstuffs from small- and medium-size producers in Ecuador. Correa has 
also signed several petroleum accords with Venezuela, of which the most 
important is a $4 billion project for a refinery backed by PetroEcuador 
and the Venezuelan state petroleum company.

Alejandro Moreano of the Andean University worries that “that all of the 
interests involved in the Country Movement may not back the tough steps 
needed to end neo-liberalism and bring the banks and multinationals 
under control. This will depend on the strength of popular mobilizations 
as the Assembly undertakes its work.” For his part Correa has repeatedly 
denounced the private banks in Ecuador for their exorbitant 
profit-taking and high interest rates. And he has expelled Ecuador’s 
World Bank representative for meddling in the country’s affairs and has 
virtually terminated the country’s relations with the International 
Monetary Fund.

There is already a steady drum beat by the indigenous and popular 
movements to have the Constituent Assembly take over all multinational 
mining interests. In early June, the local populace in the gold-mining 
southern highland province of Azuay, backed by environmental and human 
rights organizations, blockaded major highways, demanding the 
expropriation of the mining companies, many of which are controlled by 
transnational corporations that have polluted local rivers and aquifers. 
Alberto Acosta, an internationally renowned anti-neoliberal economist 
who will be president of the Constituent Assembly, met with the 
protesters. He told them the mining concessions couldn’t be annulled 
outright. “This is a task of the Constituent Assembly,” he said. “It can 
establish a legal framework that will enable us to revise all the 
concessions.” This month on October 22 a national mobilization will take 
place that will call upon the Assembly to nationalize all foreign mining 
interests in the country.

*Roger Burbach is director of the Center for the Study of the Americas 
(CENSA), based in Berkeley, California. He has written widely on Latin 
America and U.S. policy and is currently working on a book titled The 
New Fire in the Americas. For more information on CENSA’s publications, 
projects, and activities, see http://globalalternatives.org/

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