The people of Ecuador are rising up to refound their country as a pluri-national homeland for all. This inspiring movement, with Ecuador's indigenous peoples at its heart, is part of the revolution spreading across the Americas, laying the groundwork for a new, fairer, world. Ecuador Rising aims to bring news and analysis of events unfolding in Ecuador to english speakers.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Ecuador at a Perpetual Crossroads

by Julián Quito

From From Agencia Latinoamericana de Información, August 23, 2007.

Paradox of paradoxes: less than four months following the impressive triumph of the April 15th election in which the “yes” vote for the government’s proposed establishment of a Constituent Assembly achieved 82% of the vote and with the collapse of the prevailing political regime, the so-called "partidocracia," the government has been significantly weakened. It has suffered a defeat with regard to the fundamental theme of financial capital control and, even more seriously, appears to be without a clear direction or strategy.

Let us examine the process that has brought us to this singular paradox.

The struggle on the political stage

In the first round of presidential elections, economist Rafael Correa rode on the wave of the middle class democratic movement in Quito and Cuenca otherwise known as the “forajidos[1] who overthrew Lucio Gutiérrez.

Today, now that “forajidismo” has gone into decline, its significance and its limitations are becoming evident. As a result of media influence, the collective imagination – including the accompanying social struggle – focused on the political stage, turning Congress and the political parties into a target for protest – along the lines of the czarist pogroms which turned the hatred of the peasants and the plebian masses against the Jews. In this context the forajidos stole the leadership of social struggle from social movements, in particularly the indigenous movement, taking it down a road of confused hatred for the political regime, as viewed through a moralistic lens, respectful of institutions.

In contrast, the electoral triumph of Rafael Correa in the second round was reflective of a much broader and more diverse reality: the Ecuador of workers, peasants, indigenous, black people, cholos (mestizos), montubios (peasants from the coastal region), slum dwellers, mothers on welfare benefits, temporary workers, the unemployed, those suffering legal persecution... It was a powerful anti-oligarchic and anti-imperialist movement that brought together the great struggles of the social movements, with the indigenous movement in the lead, against the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), the US Base in Manta, Plan Colombia, transnational oil corporations and imperial power, embodied by Correa’s rival candidate, Alvaro Noboa.

However, within the first phase of the government’s mandate, marked by the struggle to convene a Constituent Assembly, the horizon of the first round of elections reappeared: the YES vote signaled the end of so-called "partidocracia," of the prevailing ruling system of the last 20 years which is now in ruins.

The struggle against "partidocracia" represents one aspect of the global crisis affecting Ecuador: that of the political regime which arose from the 1978 reform. At that time, the oligarchic regime, founded upon local political bosses (the conservative gamonales and liberal caciques) was coming apart, since their structural bases had been eliminated by agrarian reform and the economic modernization of the 60s and 70s. The referendum process to approve the new Constitution, direct elections for the President and national representatives of a single chamber parliament, the right to vote for illiterate people, along with other reforms, led to the emergence and consolidation of a new political regime. It was based upon new citizen parties such as the Democratic Left (ID), Popular Democracy (DP) and the Social Christian Party (PSC), as well as strong social organizations and renewed institutions reflecting the rise of an industrial bourgeoisie thanks to state intervention.

The change of the political regime also made way for an overhaul of elites. As historic figures such as Velasco, Plaza, Huerta Rendón, Durán Ballén, Asad Bucaram passed on to "the greater glory of God", they gave way to new leaders: Jaime Roldós, Rodrigo Borja, Osvaldo Hurtado, León Febres Cordero and others.

The splendor of the new regime did not last long. The crisis of 1982 and the move toward neoliberalism eroded their bases of support. The weakening of the State and of industrial development, the growth of the informal economy and the deterioration of older social movements, progressively undermined it. The erosion took place within the parties as well as in Parliament involving massive changes in party membership, a return to the past electoral clientelism, and the loss of any sense of project. “Globalization" affected all classes, and economically impacted on the poor. But it led to particular historic upheaval for the bourgeoisie. They lost any sense of nation building efforts, becoming an assortment of importers, bankers and minions to those in power. As a result of the crisis of 2000, a mortal blow was dealt to the country which, in addition to the huge scam that it represented, blew apart the nation’s financial capital, especially that of the oligarchy from Guayaquil. It turned the bankers who survived into national con men, through the process of dollar bonds. Set off course, leaders and parties became prisoners of corruption and anti-corruption, of politicking and anti-politics, both of these imperialist strategies to eliminate all national or regional development efforts.

This crisis led to the collapse of the Christian Democrats and sent the other parties down the tube. The overthrow of Lucio Gutiérrez, the election of Rafael Correa and the YES vote for the Constituent Assembly demolished the rest of the parties along with Congress as a representative institution. It was a sort of rebellion of the electors.

The power struggle

With the overwhelming triumph of the YES vote on April 15th, 2007 in favor of the establishment of a Constituent Assembly, the fight against "partidocracia" came to an end. It was understood by this vote that the government would confront the roots of the current crisis: the neoliberal project which has not only led to higher levels of poverty and unemployment, but also to the destruction of productive structures which only continue to survive as a result of high oil prices and remittances from migrants; funds that foster imports rather than genuine national development.

Neoliberalism has led to the erosion of the State as a factor of social and national cohesion, through the transfer of decision-making from the country to multinational capital and imperial power. The restructuring of global power that we are facing today is making countries such as Ecuador appear unviable. The idea of "micro-regional" fragmentation – Santa Cruz in Bolivia, Guayas in Ecuador, Zulia in Venezuela, Patagonia in Argentina – is emerging now on the horizons of imperial strategy.

The decisive triumph of the YES vote put this struggle in centre stage whether it comes about as a result of a new Constitution or through measures taken by the Correa Government to enact fundamental reforms.

In the early days following April 15th, indications from the government seemed to be headed in this direction.

Their declarations with respect to the UNITAS Naval Maneuvers, distancing Ecuador from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and the initial notice of rescinding the bilateral investment treaty with the US, were all aimed at setting a clear policy in defense of national sovereignty congruent with decided support for the Bank of the South, active participation in the creation of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and attendance, although only with observer status, at meetings of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), indicated their will to advance South American integration along the same lines as the continental left.

In addition, efforts to regulate and lower interest rates, and to designate a Banking Council (Junta Bancaria) independent of the large banks, gave signs of a direct confrontation with financial capital.

At the same time, the confrontation with Jaime Nebot, Mayor of Guayaquil and mastermind of oligarchic separatism, and with the mass media, seemed to be leading toward a parting of the waters that would have profound historical significance: addressing imperial dominance and financial capital and their entwinement with the mainstream media, central forces in the imposition of neoliberalism in Ecuador which has taken place through the indiscriminate opening of the economy, policies to promote privatization and the preeminence of North American investments, productive stagnation, and the predominance of speculative capital that have carried the country to the edge of the abyss and its exclusive dependence on high oil prices and remittances from migrants.

The right reacts

However, despite the decisive electoral triumph on April 15th, the economic and power structure was not seriously affected. Defeated on the political scene, the right concentrated itself at the nodes of power: the financial system and the mass media. It achieved a forceful victory with regard to the Banking Law, recuperating its control of Congress. At the same time, it has managed to weaken the significance of the Constituent Assembly by blocking any perspectives pertaining to the elimination of power structures resulting from two decades of neoliberalism.

And, in our opinion, the project of structural transformations that broad segments of the population hoped from President Correa appears to have been obstructed.

The government does exhibit some efforts to benefit the popular sectors: the increase of the solidarity and housing subsidies, the subsidy on electricity consumption for popular sectors, the provision of agricultural inputs for farmers, and preferential credits for small businesses. However, it has not undertaken any steps with regard to key areas: the external debt, oil and mining contracts, the structure of land tenancy… Furthermore, internationally, it has drawn closer to the governments of Brazil and Chile, while distancing itself from members of ALBA: Venezuela, Bolivia, and Cuba.

Instead of rallying popular forces toward a program of structural reforms, the government has also distanced itself from the left and from social movements, especially the indigenous movement. As well, repeated practice has established a style of government where the presidential rhetoric sets out the "maximum program", creating an atmosphere for negotiations that boil it down to a sort of "minimum program.” This is what happened in the end with the confrontation with the Guayaquil oligarchy and the Singapore or Hong Kong project of Mayor Jaime Nebot. It also occurred with the investment protection treaty, as well as with the Banking Law.

The confrontation with the mainstream media revealed the political and ideological limits of President Correa himself. Instead of a confrontation with owners of the mass media and their linkage with financial capital – the main television channels belong to financial groups owned by the Isaías family and the Bank of Pichincha – Correa became involved in a wearying boxing match with journalists.

The combination of verbal confrontation in public and negotiation - even surrender - in the realm of power, is a self-destructive and very dangerous policy that is leading toward an impasse for the government. The right has managed to recover after the terrible blows that it suffered and that left it without parties and without a social base: it has strengthened the power alliance and defeated the government. It has also begun recovering the support of the middle class, the social bases of the forajidos... If Correa obtained more than 80% of the vote in the April referendum, a percentage greater than that achieved by Colonel Chávez and Evo Morales, it is because under his banners, together with the popular sectors, he rallied the middle class that, in the case of Venezuela and Bolivia, provide the social bases for the right.

The right has undertaken an open conspiracy that is reminiscent of the Venezuelan right’s involvement in the coup d'État, the strike of the Venezuelan state-owned petroleum company, PDVSA, and appeals for political violence. The virulence of mass media has reached unimaginable levels. Their objective is to attract the middle classes, using the forajido tenets against the Government. It is not unthinkable that at some point they might even try to mobilize them in a move to challenge and even overthrow the government.

Without a doubt, the hatred of power – of political mafias, bankers, mass media – among the Ecuadorian people is sustaining the high popularity ratings of the government. But it is not the struggle against the Congress and the partidocracia – which are already dead and buried – which can keep this support alive. Only a change in strategy, that takes into consideration the alliance with social sectors and leads to a program of profound structural reforms, will maintain this support and defeat the right.

The Constituent Assembly is the other great front in this political struggle. The right has developed a highly focused program: regional autonomies, longer penal sentences, declaring dollarization permanent as well as the so-called social market economy. The center-left, which might well become the deciding factor, aims to focus the debates and resolutions around Political Reform. Regrettably, the government and the left have not managed to implant in the social imagination a program of economic and political reforms that would dismantle the neoliberal regime and alter the economic and power structure.

The only possible way forward

For several years, Ecuador has been living at a permanent crossroads between the survival of the neoliberal project in crisis and the emergence of another way. With the election of Correa and of the YES vote for the Constituent Assembly, Ecuador seemed to be setting itself on a clear course.

The left, social movements and current government have drafted the nature of this route:

Building people’s sovereignty over all aspects of national life, and Ecuador’s complete sovereignty over its national heritage, and with the strict prohibition of foreign bases or troops; sovereignty over natural resources, fundamental services and strategic areas; over the management of the economy, maintaining complete independence from international financial bodies, transnational conglomerates and US geopolitical pressure.

But such an aspiration will remain mere words if the external debt, whose ongoing payment condemns our countries to perpetual agony, is not handled decisively.

The banks and financial capital must be defeated which are sacrificing the country to luxury consumption with dependency on imports and which represents anti-national interests of bourgeois distributors who have lost their Ecuadorian roots.

The development of the country requires the reactivation of agricultural and livestock production starting with authentic agrarian reform, as well as of manufacturing and industrial production, particularly self-managed and community-based.

With the great mobilizations of indigenous peoples since the 90s and the active presence of Afro-Ecuadorians in diverse aspects of national life, the pluricultural and multi-ethnic character of Ecuador has become evident. The creation of political state structures that recognize this character and the rights of indigenous peoples and Afro-Ecuadorians is a fundamental demand.

The policies of flexible labor and the suppression of rights have condemned workers to oppression and poverty, to "garbage work." It is urgent that workers regroup their strength and dignity that has made them key actors in the history of the country.

The return to an ancestral vision of nature, the pacha mama of our indigenous peoples, of care for the environment, gender equity, the respect for sexual diversity, the protection of people with disabilities are all high-priority tasks at every level.

A fundamental condition of this path is the consolidation of a social and political force that confronts imperial and oligarchic power. The unity of social movements and of the indigenous movement together with popular sectors mobilized through the efforts of President Correa, is the way toward building this effort.

The two pronged strategy of the Constituent Assembly and government policy would be – should be – the driving force along this route. Unfortunately, the current process seems to be headed in another direction and the country continues to be stuck at the crossroads. (Translation ALAI).

Julián Quito is an Ecuadorian writer.

(This article is included in the August issue of América Latina en Movimiento, No. 423, focused on the theme “Ecuador en tiempos de cambio”, now in circulation:

[1] Forajidos: outlaws or bandits. A name assumed by the groups demonstrating against former president Gutiérrez, in 2005, when he branded them as "forajidos".

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