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.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Ecuador: The Popular Rebellion Against the “Partidocracia” and the Neo-Liberal State

From Global Alternatives

A CENSA Strategic Study
By Roger Burbach

On January 15, 2007, Rafael Correa assumed the presidency of Ecuador after running against Alvaro Noboa, the richest man in Ecuador who’s company the Noboa Group is on the Fortune 500 list. Correa, who held no prior elective office, did not represent any political party. After his name on the ballot were the words “Alianza Pais” meaning Country Alliance, a name chosen when he announced his candidacy. Alianza Pais endorsed no candidates who ran for election in the country’s unicameral Congress.

Noboa represented what is called the “Partidocracia,” a system of government run by factious political parties dominated by oligarchs who pull the strings on a corrupt state that includes Congress, the Supreme Court, and a number of “autonomous” agencies, such as the Federal Electoral Tribunal. 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.” (1)

A renovated bourgeoisie/oligarchy consolidated itself during the oil boom of the 1970s when the petroleum corporations carved out their respective drilling enclaves in the Ecuadorian jungle, or the “Oriente”. Led by Texaco the companies crudely exploited the tropical rain forest where tribal Indians had lived for millennia, strewing it with contamination from thousands of seismic grids, oil wells and open waste pits. Like the sixteenth century Spanish conquest the Ecuadorian highlands, the corporations tore the indigenous communities apart through displacement, disease, corruption and the harsh exploitation of the workers, many of whom were brought in from the highlands because most of the rain forest Indians of the region refused to work for the corporations. (2)

With the rise of the Washington Consensus in the early 1980s the new oligarchy moved to the right and a Partidocracia emerged that began to adopt the neoliberal agenda, cutting social programs and privatizing state enterprises. The total sellout of Ecuador to neo-liberalism came in 2000 when the US dollar became the country’s official currency. With the Pentagon, the government assumed a particularly servile relationship, signing a treaty in 1999 for the establishment of the largest US military base on the Pacific Coast in South America. It is used as a center for sophisticated US intelligence gathering in the southern continent and Central America, and for coordinating the counterinsurgency war against leftist guerrillas in neighboring Colombia.

Rafael Correa is a political phenomenon who came out of nowhere, a university professor in economics who served as Minister of Economy for two months under the previous government until he was removed for trying to overturn neo-liberal policies. His professorial background belies his tremendous charisma, which enabled him to galvanize the electorate. His election is the second round was backed by the indigenous and social movements, several small political parties on the left and a vast unorganized popular mass called the Forajidos, an Ecuadorian term that means outlaws, or bandits who rebel against the established system. The central demand of this broad popular movement is for a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution that breaks up the current dysfunctional state, ends the reign of the partidocracia, refounds the country as a plurinational, participatory democracy, reclaims Ecuadorian sovereignty and uses the state to create social and economic organizations that benefit the people, not the oligarchy.

Even among Latin American nations, Ecuador is historically known as a country of popular mobilizations and upheavals. Simon Bolivar in 1822 declared that among the Andean peoples, “the Ecuadorians are volcanic and explosive.”

For most of the nineteenth century, the country was dominated by a landed aristocracy that ruled over a largely Indian population in the highlands that lived in virtual feudal conditions. Then during the first age of globalization beginning in the late nineteenth century, US and European demand for cacao lead to the consolidation of a planter class in the 1880s and 1890s on the rich coastal lands near Guayaquil. (3)

In 1895, Eloy Alfaro staged a revolution against a tyrannical archconservative government and adopted liberal reforms, ended the church/state relationship, implanted many political rights like freedom of speech, legalized divorce, built public schools and allowed civil marriage. He governed from 1895-1901, and then from 1907-1911. (4) He was brutally assassinated in 1912, and conservatives ruled in the face of popular opposition. To this day Eloy Alfaro is regarded as Ecuador’s greatest political hero, especially by the left.

In 1915 the cacao boom collapsed as plant disease and competition with new cacao producers in Latin America and Africa brought on a long period of economic stagnation lasted until the end of World War II. A limited degree of endogenous economic growth ensued during this period, creating a small artisan and working class, an incipient middle class and a peasantry that produced for the national market. In 1925 these social forces participated in an uprising know as the Juliana Revolution lead by junior military officers. This marked a break with the militaries in neighboring countries in that the Ecuadorian army became known for its reformist tendencies, based in the mestizo class, not dominated by the sons of the Creole aristocracy.

The new government lasted briefly, but it opened the gates for new social actors and the period from 1925 to 1944 was one of profound instability with a constant overturning of governments. The Communist and Socialist parties were founded shortly after the Juliana revolution, but they remained very weak because, unlike most of the Central and South American nations, there were no significant multinational mining or banana corporations where the unions could root themselves in a new proletariat. But other distinct types of social organizations emerged among the populace, particularly with the founding of 600 “comuneros” located mainly on the coast, although some were established in the highlands. The comuneros were peasant communities that seized plantation and hacienda lands, evening winning legal recognition. (5)

With the rise of banana production at the end of World War II, Ecuador once again became a dynamic enclave in the global metropolitan economy. Banana disease and worker militancy in the Central American countries and Colombia drove United Fruit and other banana companies to seek out new lands in Ecuador. Due to their adverse experiences in other countries however, the companies established direct control of only a limited number of large plantations, preferring to contract with a local planter class of large and medium sized producers for the bulk of the bananas they exported to the US and foreign markets. (6)

The export banana boom, which lasted from1945 to 1962, required a new governmental infrastructure and generated revenue for an Ecuadorian state that finally consolidated under the control of an agro-bourgeoisie centered around Guayaquil with the acquiescence and participation of the landed aristocracy based in the Sierras and Quito. The archetypical president of this period was Galo Plazo from1948-52 who represented a new pro-US ruling class. His fealty to the hegemonic power led to his becoming president of the US dominated Organization of America States from 1968-75. There were many popular revolts during this period, but once again the trade unions played a minor role because the local planter class, along with the multinationals, was largely successful in repressing trade union organizing.

With the Cuban revolution and the Alliance for Progress in the 1960s, agrarian reform was placed on the agenda in Ecuador, with even sectors of the coastal planter class supporting it in order to free up the indigenous labor force on the haciendas. As Philip Agee reveals, a number of CIA covert operations were carried out in Ecuador when he worked there out of the embassy. Several military governments with the support of the US ruled during the 1960s and 1970s, but they turned out to be largely benevolent regimes. Unlike most of Latin America, no guerrilla movements of any import emerged in Ecuador so there was no need for a repressive counterinsurgency army. In fact the first agrarian reform laws were enacted by a military government in 1964, leading to the expropriation of church lands and some of the more unproductive haciendas in the highlands.

The decade long oil boom from 1972 to 1982 that generated upwards of 10 percent annual growth helped create a new bourgeoisie in industry and agriculture. Over 50 percent of the state budget came from oil and some of this revenue did trickle down into infrastructure projects, food subsidies and some social programs for education, health care and water systems.

But then came the bust with the collapse of global oil prices, and Ecuador found itself with a foreign debt equal to 60 percent of its GDP, most of it accumulated during the boom. This was the perfect storm for the IMF and neoliberalism to step in and begin taking control of the country’s economy, imposing severe austerity policies that adversely impacted the popular classes, in the countryside as well as the cities. (7)

With the consolidation of neo-liberalism in the 1990s, a popular rebellion against the ruling class lead by the Indian movement erupted. A dramatic march took place in 1992, the five hundred year anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in the Americas. In the Oriente two thousand Indians began a 250 kilometer march to Quito demanding communal land titling and constitutional reforms, including a plurinational state. As the marchers passed into the Andes, numerous highland communities provided material support and joined the march. It became a national and international spectacle that attracted widespread solidarity as 5000 marchers arrived in Quito, passing by the Presidential Palace that was ringed by hundreds of soldiers clad in riot gear and armed with dogs, horses, and tanks. After a stand off, the president agreed to meet with a hundred Indians who presented their demands. (8)

The demands of course were ignored but the march set the stage for subsequent Indian mobilizations and organizing that has ensued up to the present day. Just as importantly, it emboldened many social sectors --peasants, students, Afro-Ecuadorians, ecologists, workers, human rights advocates, etc.-- to rally and join new social protest movements.

It needs to be remembered that this new spirit of confrontation in Ecuador occurred just as the Central American revolutions, Communism, and much of the Left imploded. The Ecuadorian upsurge was part of a larger emergent activist matrix comprised of Latin American and global indigenous and ecological organizing, augmented by many other national and continental social movements that began to articulate throughout Latin America, eventually leading in the first decade of the twenty-first century to the election of a number of “New Left” governments. Ecuador distinguishes itself in this continental process owing to the broad base of its popular movement and its continued explosiveness.

These social mobilizations along with the growing corruption of the “partidocricia” led to a period of profound instability. From 1997 to 2007, Ecuador had seven different presidents, three of whom were directly removed by popular insurrections. In 2000 Jamil Mahuad was tossed out with demonstrations by the dominant Indian organization, CONAIE, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, after being joined by a coalition of junior officers led by Lucio Gutierrez. Then in 2002, Gutierrez was elected President on an anti-neo-liberal reformist platform that was backed by the indigenous and social movements along with several small center-leftist parties.

Just weeks after taking power, Gutierrez went to Washington to meet with Bush and returned as a convert to neo-liberalism, backing a Free Trade Agreement with the United States, making new concessions to the petroleum corporations and endorsing Plan Colombia and the war against the guerrillas in neighboring Colombia. Corruption and clientalistic politics also came to characterize the Gutierrez government, dividing many of the popular organizations that had supported him, including CONAIE.

In keeping with Ecuadorian history, some sectors of society, many of which did not identify with the social movements, became disenchanted with the Gutierrez government. Urged on by the Quito community radio station, La Luna, they began to organize and form assemblies in their barrios. Then at midnight on April 13, 2005 a large group of demonstrators went to the home of Gutierrez’s wife, banging on their pots and pans. The next day Gutierrez denounced them, using what until then was a derogatory word, “Forajidos.” The demonstrators took this as the name of their movement. Coordinated by Radio La Luna, the demonstrations grew larger every day, adopting the slogan of the popular rebellion in Buenos Aires in 2001-2, “Que se vayan todos,” throw them all out. On April 20 with hundreds of thousands of Forajidos in the streets, the military high command withdrew its troops from the presidential palace and Gutierrez fled in a helicopter, replaced by an interim government that held office until Correa was elected. (9)

The Correa government marks the emergence of a radical anti-neoliberal axis in South America nations comprised of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. In his inaugural address he endorsed the concept of “socialism for the twenty-first century” and declared that Ecuador has to end “the perverse system that has destroyed our democracy, our economy and our society.” During his first month in office Correa announced that he will never sign a free trade agreement with the United States and that in 2009 he will terminate the largest US military base on South America’s Pacific Coast located at the coastal port of Manta. (10) He has signed an agricultural accord with Bolivia favoring small and medium seized producers, and a number of special trade and petroleum accords with Venezuela, of which the most important is a $4 billion dollar project for an Ecuadorian refinery backed by PetroEcuador (a state company) and PVSA, the Venezuela’s state company.

Like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia, the government of Rafael Correa is committed to “refounding to state” with a new Constituent. The main difference is that in Ecuador it will play an even more central and decisive role in the struggle between the popular forces and the oligarchy. Correa has tied his mandate as president to the Assembly: If political forces aligned with his project do not obtain a majority, he has proclaimed that he will resign the presidency.

With the collapse of Marxism-Leninism and its central tenant that the bourgeois state can only be transformed through revolution and the seizure of state power, the convoking of Constituent Assemblies in South America raises important theoretical and strategic questions. Perhaps the major critique of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” is that state power came to be concentrated in the party apparatus. Working class and popular organizations to the extent they existed, served largely as conveyor belts for providing information to the party and the state, and for transmitting “commands” back to the base.

The new model of state transformation emerging in South America is not rooted in the violent overthrow of the state but in the concept of building a broad political coalition based on a complex mixture of progressive social actors and movements. The very role of political parties in this process is the subject of debate. Many reject the centrality of all parties arguing that they are inherently hierarchical (and often patriarchal) and thus antithetical to authentic popular participation. Others assert that “parties of a new type” are needed, such as Bolivia’s Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), which defines itself as a “party of social movements.”

Given that the constituent assemblies draft new constitutions to refound the nation while the bourgeois-oligarchic state still exists, and that the traditional political parties continue to function, the question is how far are the constituent assemblies circumscribed in what they can achieve? In Bolivia, the right wing parties and the bourgeoisie in Santa Cruz have managed to tie up the assembly for months, even though MAS has 54% of the delegates. In recent months however the impasse appears to have been broken although the bourgeoisie seems intent on using the assembly to gain autonomy from the rest of the country.

Another critical debate is over the role of social movements, not only in the constituent assemblies, but also in political processes unfolding throughout Latin America. It is somewhat difficult to make generalizations, given that each country has a unique constellation of social movements, and that they also differ in the strengths and weaknesses of their historic political parties.

Ecuador, given the unique and volatile history of its social movements, constitutes a fascinating political experiment in the “new politics” of the 21st century. Its current political system is totally dysfunctional and detested, and the political parties on the left as well as the trade unions have been historically weak. The social movements, led by CONAIE, constitute a new pole of social and political effervesce and activism, but their participation in the Gutierrez government weakened them, and lead to a popular rebellion of “new type,” the Forajidos, or citizens rebellion, that actually has roots in Ecuadorian history dating back to the early twentieth century. These disparate, progressive political and social movements explain why Correa ran for president with only the words “Alianza Pais” after his name.

The political process leading up to the Constituent Assembly which will be installed in late October is the virtual opposite of the process that took place in Venezuela. In the latter, Chavez along with his Fifth Republic Movement and a few allied parties, dominated the assembly process from start to finish, drafting a constitution that substituted the old Congress with a National Assembly and replaced the old corrupt Supreme Court with a new one.

In Ecuador, it remains to be seen if Correa and Alianza Pais will have the same commanding authority. A manifesto, “Somos Poder Constituyente,” signed by a large number of representatives of the social movements, declared: “The Constituent Assembly is born out of the power of the people, and not out of negotiations with the oligarchy and the Congress. …The new point of departure is that sovereignty resides with the people, it is the only guarantee of an Assembly that is truly democratic, including the best men and women of our country.”

There is a tremendous potential in Ecuador for authentic participatory democratic institutions emerging as the social movements, the left political parties, Alianza Pais and the Forajidos all engage in the process of organizing, agitation, political discussion and grass roots campaigning.

An “Open Letter to Ecuadorian Society,” signed by many of the same people and organizations that endorsed the manifesto, declared: “The immediate task is to build a broad front--a front that is an amalgam of parties, the old fronts of national liberation, and the organs of popular power—that will become the force that would transform our country for decades to come.

“The Constituent Assembly should be an organizing process for the Ecuadorian people, including workshops, seminars, and discussions at the grassroots of society that spills over and include the different social sectors, women, the indigenous peoples, the Afro-Ecuadorians, workers, professors, students, informal merchants …

“Never before has it been so clear that it is the people who make history. Today we are at the beginning of an era of popular power, marked by the initial work of the Constituent Assembly. It flows out of the resilience of the Ecuadorian people. It is potent and tumultuous.”

1. Alfredo Vera, Politica, Editorial El Conejo, Quito, Ecuador, 2005. Quote from the prologue by Raul Perez Torres, p. 11.
2. Suzana Sawyer, Indigenous Politics, Multinational Oil, and Neoliberalism in Ecuador, Duke University Press, Durham & London, 2004, p. 13.
3. Alberto Acosta, Breve Historia Economica del Ecuador, Quito, Ecuador, Second Edition, 2001, pp. 58-62.
4. Enrique Ayala Mora, Resumen de Historia del Ecuador, Corporacion Editora Nacional, Secunda Edicion, Quito, Ecuador, 2005, pp. 89-20.
5. Steve Striffler, In the Shadows of State and Capital: The United Fruit Company, Popular Struggle and Agrarian Restructuring in Ecuador, 1900-1995, Duke University press, Durham & London, 2002, p. 66.
6. Ibid. pp. 33-39.
7. Alberto Acosta, pp. 120-129.
8. Suzana Sawyer, pp. 27-29.
9. For a narrative of the ouster of the ouster of Gutierrez and the uprising of the Forajidos, see Franklin Ramirez Gallegos, La Insurreccion de Abril No Fue Solo Una Fiesta, Taller El Colectivo, Quito, Ecuador, July, 2005.
10. Roger Burbach, “The Pink Tide Flows,” The Guardian, Comment is Free, London, March 16, 2007.
11. Carta Abierta a la Sociedad Ecuatoriana, Quito, Ecuador, February 27, 2007.

No comments:

Post a Comment